Saturday, October 09, 1999

Brown not going despite what you say




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mike Brown is going nowhere fast. He keeps losing, and he won't leave. He would rather run the Cincinnati Bengals into the ground than allow someone else to steer.

        He is as stubborn as rust, too proud to relinquish his power and seemingly powerless to improve his performance.

        The going rate for NFL franchises has reached $700 million, but Mike Brown is in no mood to sell. Spectator abuse intensifies with each setback, but Brown declines to delegate authority or designate a hatchet man. He seems slightly more sensitive to criticism than he once was, but that criticism has never been more personal or more threatening.

        “It comes with the territory when things are going badly,” Brown said. “Especially when they've gone badly for too long. I think people are disappointed, and they voice their opinion. I think that's not a bad sign but a good sign.”

        Indeed, the amount of emotion the Bengals generate is a remarkable thing in light of their persistent losing. In other towns, fans might be apathetic. Here, they are angry.

        Some of this has to do with the public funding involved in the construction of Paul Brown Stadium, a project which has made some taxpayers feel extorted and others feel entitled to a better team. Some of the anger is attributable to the perception that Brown and his employee-relatives are pocketing money that might be better spent on players.

        But the main source of fan frustration is the sense that no amount of chaos can convince Brown to change; that ownership makes him unaccountable and arrogant; that he can do as he pleases no matter how many fans he displeases because of the NFL's television revenues and Hamilton County's ticket guarantees.

        Brown does not help himself here. While the Reds' Jim Bowden is a spin doctor deluxe, Brown resists making his case directly to the public. When some electronic media types complained about their access to the Bengals President, his terse reply became a press room catchphrase: “Guess what? So what?”

Worth the aggravation?
        Brown's aversion to microphones often leaves the Bengals without a high-profile advocate. Worse, it is a waste of wit.

        When he makes the effort, Brown reveals the persuasive power of a Harvard lawyer and a self-deprecating sense of humor. These strengths might not be sufficient to soothe some season-ticket holders — particularly those who have purchased seat licenses — but they might be put to better use.

        “I'm not going to volunteer for the dunking booth,” Brown said. “But on the other hand, I'm not ignorant of what's going on. There's got to be a tail for the donkey and there's got to be somebody to pin it on. And I'm it.”

        You wonder how it can be worth the aggravation. You wonder why Brown would not sell his stake in the Bengals and save himself all this stress. You keep coming back to the father, and the size of his footsteps.

        Paul Brown was a hard act to follow, and an impossible standard to match. Whatever Mike Brown accomplishes in football will be attributed to his inheritance. Whatever failures he experiences will be exacerbated by his family name. The son of a famous father is almost doomed to disappointment.

        “I know very few people who, looking at their life, think they accomplished much,” Mike Brown said. “I would have to include myself in that group. Those that do feel they accomplished much I always find overbearing because they think that way.”

        Paul Brown accomplished plenty, but he never thought of football as much of a career. Mike Brown's misfortune was to fall in love with it.

        “I doubt I'm the best at anything,” Mike Brown said. “I try to do my best. Maybe I'm best at that — trying to do my best — however good that may or may not be.”

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