Put aside your visceral reaction whenever the much-debated Bengals owner Mike Brown’s name is mentioned. Today marks the birth of the man who currently owns your favorite football team. Mike Brown turns 80 today and being that it is his day, walk with me down memory lane to look back at the top 8 (one for every decade of his life) + one for good luck, most important moments Brown has had with the Bengals (in order of occurrence, with one exception).
1) Many know Mike Brown assumed ownership of the team upon his father’s death in August 1991. While his role changed, Brown has been involved with the team from the beginning. As Paul Brown was fired from his Cleveland head coaching position, he desired to get back into football. So he worked with his son to help scout a location for a new team. Mike, being a Cleveland attorney at the time, recommended Cincinnati based on the market size and his father’s ties to Ohio.
2) One of the first major moves Mike completed was to fire popular coach Sam Wyche after the 1991 season. Mike opted to bring in a big name for a coach and settled on Dave Shula, son of outstanding coach Don Shula. While there may have been high hopes for an apple not falling too far from the tree, this failed to be the case in this family line. Shula compiled a 19-52 record during his time with the team.
3) There was also the way that Wyche was fired that rubbed many the wrong way. In the press, Brown originally implied that the parting was one of Wyche’s doing. was Another version of the story is that Wyche went into an end-of-year meeting with Brown and left claiming he was fired. Wyche had planned a vacation and on his way to the airport the Bengals press release said he resigned after a 3-13 season. Before the meeting, Brown told a reporter Wyche wasn’t going to be fired. Many people assume Brown wanted Wyche out without having to pay him the final two years of his deal.
4) Mike Brown has also been labeled as being overly loyal to his employees. There were times when the popular opinion was to fire a coach (Shula, Bruce Coslet) or cut a player and Mike was loyal. As maddening as it was for the fans, this is one of the areas where his reputation for not being football savvy was formed.
5) Then there was the 1999 NFL draft. In an overly aggressive move, New Orleans Saints head coach Mike Ditka offered the Bengals 9 total picks for their first round pick so that they could land coveted running back Ricky Williams. Nine extra picks during two years was the kind of windfall that could have changed the luck of an unlucky franchise. However, Brown passed and elected to take the biggest draft bust in Bengals’ history, Akili Smith.
6) But, Mike Brown isn’t always loyal. In his bid to finance a new stadium, Brown played hardball with the city and fans when he threatened to move the team to Baltimore. Brown strong armed the local politicians to approve a measure that would allow the fans to vote on a tax increase to pay for the stadium. As we all know, it passed easily and there is now fuel for future debate for years to come. In the language to justify the deal, Brown claimed the Bengals struggled to be competitive due to lack of seating and luxury areas. In the end only 6,000 seats were added (aside from club and box seats) so it seems the reasoning was about luxury revenue.
7) All is not bad when reviewing the career of Mike Brown. Few will argue that it was heart and not wallet that pushed the Bengals to sign Devon Still to the roster to ensure there was a strong medical plan in place to care for his daughter Leah. Fewer should argue that the Bengals could have dipped into the revenue of the wildly popular Still jerseys that instead was donated to charity to the tune of $1,349,582.63. In fact, Brown is often philanthropic. He has donated to help fund the areas of Cincinnati around the stadium. He also has been quoted as saying "When it comes to charity, you shouldn't brag about it".
8) Marvin Lewis brought change to this organization and earned respect for a team that had been considered a doormat for a long time. Lewis was a product of a long coaching search headed by Brown. While we credit Lewis for the sweeping changes to the organization, a hat tip must be made to the guy that brought him on board.
9) (The one for good luck!) By far, my favorite memory of Brown is one from the coldest game in Bengals’ history. Everyone remembers the Freezer Bowl. The Bengals faced the San Diego Chargers in an extremely cold environment in the AFC Championship game. It was so cold in fact there were pleas from Chargers owner Gene Klein to move the game to California. These pleas were ignored by Bengals owner Mike Brown who smiled as the Bengals proved their toughness in route to the win.
I have met Mike Brown personally on several occasions. In each meeting he has been cordial and willing to talk Bengals and football uninterrupted. He never dodged a tough question and I left each time thinking he does not resemble the image created when people rant about him in their corners of the web. Hopefully, the trend continues where he allows decisions to be shared with leaders in the organization and the team pushes on to continue their upswing with some post-season success. Thanks for the opportunity to have a team in Cincinnati goes to Brown and join me in wishing him a happy birthday.