Mike Brown left his private box with a security detail of three. They moved briskly along the concourse on the club level of Cinergy Field, four men in a formation that suggested the letter "L."
Eric Loeffler of North College Hill shows his sign at Sunday's game.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Brown walked in back, along the inside wall, his head bowed, his hands plunged deep in his pants pockets. The President of the Cincinnati Bengals has seen so many L's now - so many losses - that another one should not make much of an impact. But after Sunday's 34-17 loss to Jacksonville, and before Brown could reach the sanctuary of the elevator, he was spotted by a group of spectators fleeing Cinergy Field.
"Mike Brown Step Down," someone shouted, and a cluster of angry men took up the chant.
"Sell The Team," called another dissatisfied customer. Mike Brown kept moving. He did not respond to the derision. He turned right into an elevator lobby, and waited briefly for the doors to open. Within five minutes of the final gun, Brown strode through a security gate and started his Chevy Lumina. He was alone now, and he left the car windows rolled up.
A public man can attempt to insulate himself from the mob, but there comes a time when he must reckon with it. For Mike Brown, that time is at hand.
Sunday's defeat clinched the Bengals' fifth 10-loss season in Brown's eight years atop the organizational chart, and the mood was dark both in the stands and in the dressing room. There were caustic picket signs on the plaza before the game, and pointed bedsheet banners popped up in the blue seats during the second half. With about eight minutes to go in the game, a pair of fans began waving a white flag that partially obscured the game clock attached to the facade of the yellow seats.
The football customer is not always right - he is sometimes simplistic and quick to blame - but he must periodically be mollified. At present, the only thing Bengal fans can believe is that it is going to get worse before it gets better. If Mike Brown is not ready to step down - and it's almost inconceivable that he is - he must soon make some moves to show he's serious about winning.
There is no promising young quarterback on the premises, unless it's Eric Kresser of the developmental squad. The Bengals have three veterans quarterbacks variously inadequate, a limp offensive line, and a defense masquerading as a doormat.
You ask Bengals players what source of hope they see, and they look at you like dazed deer.
"I have no answers," cornerback Ashley Ambrose said. "I don't think any one of the guys have any answers. For some reason, we're not getting it done. I don't know what it is that's been hanging over our heads, but we can't get rid of it."
Is there hope?
The Bengals are 38-86 since Paul Brown died, and they have a chance to lose 14 games this season for the first time in their history. Sunday's loss stretched the current losing streak to seven in a row and may have represented the low water mark since the franchise was formed.
The natives have been restless before, but their frustrations are now compounded by the stadium sales tax and seat license campaign. The deeper the Bengals dig into the pockets of their fans, the more right those fans feel to rage.
"It's probably to be expected," Bengals coach Bruce Coslet said Sunday. "I don't feel too damn good about it, either. How do you think I feel about it? How do you think the players feel about it? Maybe it's not worth it to us, either."
With that, Coslet abruptly ended his postgame news conference. It was hard to fault him, for the Bengals are providing all the positive spin of a tornado in a trailer park.
"It's the same old thing, the same old song," said Takeo Spikes, the rookie linebacker. "It takes a toll on you. But I can guarantee you this: This is the last year it's going to happen."
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.