Saturday, November 10, 2001

Do the Bengals hate us?

        Do the Bengals hate us? They must. They spent all week trying to keep our kids off their grass.

        I am baffled. And sincerely honked off. What more could we have done for Mike Brown Inc.?

        Our elected officials have guaranteed the prosperity of the Brown family business. We built a splendid new headquarters for Mr. Brown's employees, with a river view and the right to blackball competing neighbors. We swallowed our pride and $51 million in cost overruns.

        Meanwhile, his product has stunk up the NFL for several seasons.

Wearing a white hat

        But no matter what we do, it's never enough.

        This week, the Bengals put together a deal with the Ohio High School Athletic Association to host the Division I football playoffs today at Paul Brown Stadium. This was after an initial rejection by the OHSAA.

        “We talked to the Bengals people, but the bid they submitted was prohibitive,” the association's commissioner Clair Muscaro said.

        But the Bengals persisted. Sort of.

        Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin says, “The county did the arithmetic, and we had to explain it to the Bengals.”

        After it was explained, “it all got worked out.” It looked like a win for the Bengals. Everybody was willing to let them wear the white hat. Then county officials met with the Bengals and athletic directors from the high schools in the playoffs. Just to iron out the details.

        The Bengals didn't want the high school bands to march on the field. They were worried about the grass. I guess they thought some high school girl carrying a flute could do more damage than a linebacker carrying 300 pounds of his own buffed-up self.

        With characteristic lack of grace, the Bengals fought down to the wire.

Squandered time

        All day Friday, the resources of Hamilton County — including various administrators, aides, the prosecutor's office and the board of commissioners — were devoted to further service of the Bengals football company. When they might have been working on low-cost home improvement loans. When they might have been planning riverfront development or discussing the Port Authority with Cincinnati's newly elected mayor. When they might have been considering routine matters, such as storm water, flooding and zoning.

        Instead, our elected officials were trying to get the Bengals to let four high school bands march on the field of Paul Brown Stadium for 28 minutes. Four local high school bands — kids from St. Xavier, Elder, Princeton and Colerain. The stands would be packed with their parents, who are paying the freight for this sports palace.

        But the Bengals were fighting for control — and, ultimately, money. A possible NFL fine for inferior grass. Maybe some new sod. And God forbid that the Brown family should risk a nickel of its own. Their nickels must be in the witness protection program — never to be seen again.

        “You're always concerned about what your community thinks of you,” said Troy Blackburn, Mike Brown's son-in-law and director of business development, “but you balance those concerns with the real risk — financially, to our reputation — of having more traffic on the field.”

        So, maybe they don't hate us. Maybe they just love money.

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