Fans want 'a little hope'

Monday, December 7, 1998

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A sample of fan banners at Cinergy Field Sunday.
(Michael E. Keating photo)

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Roger Glossner wore his heart on his sleeve and a grocery bag over his head. He had painted it orange, suggesting a jack-o-lantern, and he wore it to a Bengals game, suggesting masochism.

The West Chester man spoke of walking out Sunday afternoon, of joining the second-half demonstration of disgruntled fans departing Cinergy Field, but the third quarter was almost over and his feet were still planted behind section 126. He said he had decided against making his final payment on a seat license for Paul Brown Stadium, but he sounded like a man who might yet be mollified.

"What do you do?" Glossner asked. "We support the team, but you want the team to support you. All we want is for them to give us a little hope."

Sunday was a fine afternoon for the First Amendment on the riverfront, but not so impressive as a show of force. Dozens of derisive banners were hung from the railings -- most of them aimed at Bengals President and General Manager Mike Brown -- but the protest planned as a mass exodus following the second half kickoff was barely distinguishable from a bathroom break.

Much as Bengal fans are frustrated by the performance of their team -- now 2-11 following Sunday's 33-20 loss to Buffalo -- the overwhelming majority stayed in their seats until the outcome was irreversible. They would make themselves heard, but only a relative few made themselves scarce.

"We think of a football game like big-time wrestling," said Tim Helton of Mason. "We know who's going to win. We just come for the entertainment."

Helton was another fan wearing a grocery bag as headgear, and he helped craft a sign that was still hanging behind the south end zone long after the game had ended. 'No GM, No COAs," it read. What it meant was that unless Brown removes himself as general manager, Bengal fans should withhold payments on their charter ownership agreements (seat licenses) at Paul Brown Stadium.

Other banners required little translation: 'Down With Brown," "Circus Has Clowns, We Have Mike Brown," "Ho Ho Ho, Mike Brown Must Go," etc. Another was more cryptic: 'Battles Are Won In The Tent Of The General."

Some of the vendors along Third Street sold buttons urging Brown's ouster, and Mike Brown Step Down bumper stickers abounded. A man in the blue seats wore a T-shirt proclaiming, "Will GM For Beer." Late in the second quarter, some resourceful spectators in the upper deck lowered a sign directly in front of Brown's private box. The tacky message will not be repeated here, but it was mighty hard for Brown to miss.

"I learned to read about grade one," he said later.

Rather than squelch dissent with heavy-handed censorship, and risk turning a gripe session into a riot, Brown forbade only the vulgar signs and those that obstructed the view of spectators. He chose to leave his box by the same route that resulted in spontaneous abuse the week before, and he was again confronted by loud critics. "Nice job Mike," one fan shouted, sarcastically. "Keep it up."

Brown continues to lead with his chin, staying a course that has so far brought the Bengals 38 victories and 87 losses. He has heard the outcry for change, but he shows no sign of heeding it.

"This is the first time in my life I've rooted for the Bengals to lose the rest of their games," said Jeff Dannenberg, preparing to join the walkout as the third quarter started.

"This year, if they lose the rest of their games, Mike Brown will realize change has got to happen. We're not close to the playoffs right now. Cleveland (an expansion team) will be closer to the playoffs next year than we will."

There was no anger in Dannenberg's voice, only resignation. Bengal fans may have been disgusted with their team at one time, but a lot of them have since shifted to despair.

"I'm ever optimistic," said Tom Wehby on his way toward the exit. "But I've lost hope."

Behind Section 126, Roger Glossner removed his bag and revealed his frustration.

"You can not unseat Mike Brown," he said. "All you can do is voice your displeasure with him."

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

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