Sunday, June 25, 2000

Big move no big deal to Brown

        Moving day found Mike Brown unmoved. He has spent half his life prowling the sidelines at Spinney Field, but the place never prompted much nostalgia.

        The Cincinnati Bengals' original practice site was selected for its location, not its ambience. It sits on landfill in Lower Price Hill, just west of the Mill Creek, just north of the 8th Street Viaduct, just within the range of factory fumes and the distinctive aroma of the Metropolitan Sewer District.

Van moves office equipment into Paul Brown Stadium.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        “The city pollution department used to have this test,” Brown said. “They'd put a glass up to look through and if the smoke was darker than the color of the glass, that was considered polluting. This smoke wasn't black enough.”

        For 32 years, Brown has been breathing benzene once calculated at 81 times the federal safety level. If his health is any worse for the experience, he never complained about it as much as missed blocks or blown coverages.

Does new mean better?
        Brown grew up in an era in which diminished air quality was an accepted byproduct of industrial progress. Even now, as his team moves into its deluxe new digs, he questions the benefits of better facilities. He wonders if the comfort of swank offices for individual coaches produces more wins than brainstorming in cramped, shared quarters.

        Though the popular perception of Mike Brown is that he is dollar-driven and football-impaired, he thinks more like a coach than a financier. He wanted Paul Brown Stadium not as a monument to his own ego but because it could generate the cash required to keep the franchise in the family and field better teams.

        A stadium is a stage. The play's the thing.

        If it were left up to Brown, pro football would still be a seasonal job, and working conditions would still suggest Sparta. He loves training camp, deplores air conditioning and probably would have remained at Spinney Field forever had progress not been forced on him by fiscal responsibility.

        “Where we're going is newer, bigger — better space than we've ever had before,” Brown said. “But I don't know that it matters as to what the football team will do. Maybe I'm reacting as my father would a little bit.”

Honor thy father
        In reflecting on his years at Spinney Field, Mike Brown repeatedly was drawn to reminisce about PB. He remembered how, when his father's health began to fail, the old man summoned his sons to instruct them on his funeral.

        “Keep it short,” Paul Brown said. “I don't want people to be inconvenienced.”

        Paul Brown probably would have thought the stadium that bears his name too showy. He would have wondered about the need for canopies and designer furniture, and about its effects on his football team. He would have been appalled to have practice fields visible from thousands of office windows, and amused by the meaning attached to fluffier towels. Like father, like son. As he prepared to leave his Spinney Field office for the last time Friday, Mike Brown was less enthralled by his colorful new complex than by an old black-and-white film that had been found in the files.

        It was Great Lakes vs. Notre Dame, wartime football with his father calling the plays. Mike Brown had not known the film existed, and he was sufficiently excited by its discovery to have it copied on videotape.

        Some memories are worth preserving.

        “They beat Notre Dame to death,” Brown said.

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Brown's daughter preparing to take over Bengals
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