And Brown himself tells the story of how one of his front desk clerks was driving down the road not long ago and came across a pickup truck with a sticker on the bumper on the inside. back that said:
“Mike Brown still stinks.”
Here in Los Angeles this week, national publications tapped into that sentiment.
“Tightwad versus the Big Spender,” was the title of a USA Today column comparing Brown and Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
“Avert your eyes, either Stan Kroenke or Mike Brown will manage to hoist the Lombardi” was the headline of a Deadspin column that berated both owners.
They say the Bengals are in the Super Bowl despite Brown, not because of him.
While I agree with Tim McGee — the Bengals’ standout receiver from 1986-95 who says some of those potshots are playing into a false narrative these days — I also know I’m approaching the argument differently than some of Brown’s harshest critics.
I don’t have to pay to get in games like fans do and I didn’t play for Brown like a lot of those Bengals did in the lost decade of the 1990s…and later.
Former catcher TJ Houshmandzadeh recently appeared on the FoxSports show – “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” – telling stories about the ways the Bengals pinched pennies over the past two decades:
How the team didn’t supply them with Gatorade and veteran players even went out and bought jock straps for everyone because only used ones were offered by the Bengals.
On the other hand, Boomer Esiason – the quarterback of the Bengals’ last trip to the NFL title game, Super Bowl XXIII in 1989, and now an analyst for CBS’ “NFL Today” and co-host on WFAN at New York – noted how Brown twice made him the NFL’s richest player.
He admitted that many teammates weren’t doing so well, but he made some good points about how things have changed these days in Cincinnati.
Patience pays off with Taylor
One knock on Brown is that he’s often held people back for too long – whether clumsy players like Vontaze Burfict or restless coaches like Dave Shula and Bruce Coslet – but now that tendency has paid off for him. .
In his first two years at Cincinnati, young coach Zac Taylor went 6-25-1 and now admits he would have been fired by almost any other owner after that.
Brown hung on to him and the magic happened this season.
Esiason noted that part of it is that Brown hates pulling the rip cord and ends up having to pay two coaches at once.
But he also said Brown, who attends every team practice and walkthrough, can see the growing dynamic between Taylor and wonderkid quarterback Joe Burrow.
“He knew how connected they were,” Esiason told reporters this week. “He saw something special in this couple.”
That kind of magic never really happened during Marvin Lewis’ 16-year tenure as Bengals coach. Critics say he should have left long before he gave way to Taylor.
But Lewis is wronged here. He brought the team back to respectability after one of the darkest decades in NFL history.
And Brown is to be applauded for his allegiance to Lewis – one of the very few black coaches in the league – when so many other owners, no matter how rhetoric, would not hire a coach of color.
In some ways, Brown is a pioneer:
He learned the lessons of running from his father, Paul Brown, the Hall of Fame legend who made the Cleveland Browns a powerhouse and then built the Cincinnati Bengals.
Paul Brown broke the color barrier in modern professional sports when he signed Marion Motley and Bill Willis to play for Cleveland in the All-America Football Conference in 1946. Before that segregation barrier had kept blacks from the pros for almost 15 years.
He had done the same while coaching Ohio State and re-entered the program when he made Willis a Buckeye in 1942.
“Bill played for my dad at Ohio State and Marion did the same at Great Lakes (Naval Training Center),” Brown once told me. “When my dad came to Cleveland, he knew who the best players were. He didn’t think about breaking color barriers, he thought about winning football games.
Mike has been on his dad’s teams since he was a teenager and every year he went to Browns training camp at Bowling Green State University.
At the time, Mike said he helped the men get geared up and was allowed to attend movie shows and meetings:
“I was an unpaid employee, just a kid, and I was gathering socks and t-shirts and jocks and putting them in the lockers.”
At night he would go upstairs and play with some of the guys he revered the most, the team’s pioneering black players, Motley, Willis and Horace Gillom.
“These players were my buddies,” he said. “They are always my heroes.”
“It means a lot to him”
While it might be an overstatement to call Brown a trailblazer, he made progress in a few areas where other owners didn’t. Fortunately, he gave considerable control of the team to his daughter Katie and her husband, Troy Blackburn.
If he hadn’t, the team definitely wouldn’t be in the Super Bowl.
Katie has served as the team’s executive vice president since 2001 and was the first woman in the NFL to extensively negotiate player contracts.
The current Bengals were built on lavish free agents who made it through the past two offseasons and savvy draft classes that brought in Burrow, receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins and ice-water kicker Evan McPherson.
There has also been a reconnection with former players and it was thanks to Brown’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, who pushed him to finally launch the long-awaited ‘Ring of Honor’ to celebrate former Bengals greats. .
Current players – too young or too new to the club to know all these negative aspects of the past – have a different view of Brown.
After the team beat the Las Vegas Raiders for the Bengals’ first playoff win in 31 years — a game Brown missed because he was at home battling a mild case of COVID — Taylor said awarded the owner a game ball.
Over the past few days, several players, including Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, Mike Hilton and Burrow, have spoken of their appreciation for Brown.
“He’s one of the guys,” Mixon said. “He cares about the team and wants to love the players.
“I know it means a lot to him. He is getting older. In the end, we just want his dream to come true.
This week, Brown has been keeping a low profile. He’s the complete opposite of an owner like Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys boss who never encountered the spotlight he didn’t like.
And luckily, Brown isn’t like Washington’s Daniel Snyder, Miami’s Stephen Ross, or the late Art Modell.
So there could be worse.
“It’s a wonderful thing for someone at my stage in life to be able to be involved in this,” Brown told Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer the other day.
The only time Brown has really been on stage in this playoff series was when he accepted the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the Bengals knocked out Kansas City to win the AFC championship.
He wore an old trench coat and a crumpled canvas cap.
“He got the coat, he got the shirt, probably 50,” Esiason said this week. “Part of that is the adorable Mike Brown.”
That Brown isn’t front and center this week comes as no surprise.
“Look, I’ve been up, I’ve been down, and I’ve been everywhere in between,” he told me. “Certainly being popular is better than not being popular, but do I get the credit for that.
“I wasn’t out there taking credit when things weren’t going so well, so maybe I should just shut up and not take credit when things are going a little better. But I’m happy when people don’t want to bite me.
That some of this is happening now is understandable, said former Bengals receiving the great Chad Johnson:
“Winning solves everything.”
I once asked Brown what it would mean to win a Super Bowl ring.
He thought about it for a second, then said:
“It would mean a lot. I didn’t succeed in that. That does not please me. It’s one of the things on my resume that’s not finished.
“It would make a nice entry on my tombstone.”
It would mean a season where he finally got it right.