Can one fan make Brown change?

Saturday, December 5, 1998

David Devine is a rookie at rabble-rousing. He is prepared to lead a walkout at Sunday's Bengals game, but his preparations end at the exits.

His notion of civil disobedience is extraordinarily civil. He would form a mob, only to disperse it.

"We're going to go back to our cars and grill some burgers," Devine said. "We're not going to march on Fountain Square. I'm not going to say I have the blessings or the gumption of Martin Luther King."

What he will say is this: Mike Brown Step Down. Devine hired a helicopter to carry that message to the Bengals president and general manager last month. Cost him $225. He hoisted a similar banner last week during the Bengals' 34-17 loss to Jacksonville. Security types told him he was obstructing the view of other spectators. Cost him his seat.

Whether Devine has the ability to cost Brown his job is doubtful. The advantage of ownership is that you don't have to answer to anyone if you don't want to. Still, if Devine can succeed in convincing thousands of fans to skip the close of Sunday's game -- to walk out en masse following the second-half kickoff -- even the bullheaded Brown may have to consider appeasement alternatives.

Walkout planned

That's the plan, so far as it goes.

"I would expect 10-15,000 people are going to walk out," Devine said. "I'm hopeful. It may be (just) me and my friends. But I think enough people have had it. As tone deaf as Mike Brown is, if his paying customers continue to tell him they don't like the product they've been served, he's got to pay attention."

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Devine, who owns a management consulting business, belongs to a group that owns eight season tickets in Section 143 on the field level. At $38 per seat, this represents a commitment of $3,040 over the course of a 10-game home schedule. Devine is also making Charter Ownership Agreement (seat-license) payments for eight seats at Paul Brown Stadium. He is the kind of customer who gets Mike Brown's attention.

"I have become tired of donating my money to what appears to be a worthless, endless cause," Devine wrote to Brown in a letter dated Oct. 28. " . . . If I do not see some forward progress, I will not renew my tickets or COA payments."

Two days later, Brown's response was in the mail.

"Please know that no one here is complacent with losing," Brown wrote. "Running the football team is the only business we have, and the disappointment you express is felt even more keenly by myself and members of our organization."

Mike Brown's stake in the Bengals -- both financial and emotional -- is substantially larger than that of any spectator. But when he successfully campaigned for a sales tax increase to build a new stadium, Brown provided every citizen of Hamilton County with a proprietary interest in his product. Brown claimed the Bengals could not remain competitive at Cinergy Field, and the voters agreed to subsidize him. It is not unreasonable that they now expect results.

38-86 since'91

For the most part, Bengal fans have been patient. But the wait for a winning team has reached eight years, with no sign of improvement. The Bengals are 38-86 since Mike Brown inherited control from his Hall of Fame father in 1991, a record of futility that rivals that of Wile E. Coyote. The 1962 New York Mets, generally regarded as the worst baseball outfit ever, were 30-94 after 124 games, but they at least had the excuse of expansion.

Mike Brown and his Bengals have only themselves to blame.

"I've sent him several letters about helping him draft better players," David Devine said. "We have tests that can help you identify if a person is assertive, decisive, hard-working . . . I would offer our services to that man for free if I thought it would help him win football games."

Sunday's walkout would suggest that the days of conciliatory gestures are done; that Bengal fans are growing progressively belligerent.

"Mike Brown, the last eight years, built the powder keg," David Devine said. "Maybe those signs we put up there lit the fuse."

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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