Mike Brown waited everyone out.
For decades, he stood behind the counter of his mom-and-pop football team and smiled at his friendly customers that often complained loudly to him about his product. “If we stick to our way of doing things,” he would say wiping off his empty trophy cases, “we will come out on top in the end.
And while still a few feet from the true apex, for now, he’s right.
Joe Burrow happened along to the team like Luke Skywalker from Tatooine. There have been capable quarterbacks in much of the Cincinnati Bengals’ past, but not one like this, at least not in my lifetime.
Mike was convinced Carson Palmer was the ultimate answer, the chosen one that would elevate the franchise above all others, but the team foundation still proved too fragile. That 2005 roster was loaded with too many explosives, both in talent and personality and probably wasn’t sustainable even had Palmer not blown out his knee.
Mike the Redeemer failed with many reclamation projects along the way and Palmer ultimately turned against the organization, breaking the old man’s heart.
Slowly, he began to relent in his 1992 approach of team building. The drafts got a little better, a few key free agents clicked, there was more sanity in the building. The Dalton Era was an organizational success in terms of the draft-and-develop model. The team lacked an ability to concentrate in crucial moments that killed them every playoff game, but as football executives, something had improved.
Mike relaxed his grip on the team, but still remained doggedly loyal to Marvin Lewis, who had severely overstayed his welcome. The process got stale, the fans became bored and the roster eroded quickly once the winning stopped.
Here is the moment, though, where Mike Brown’s way has led us here to the Super Bowl. Zac Taylor was not a popular candidate. On the surface, he seemed affordable and maybe over his head. He had David Shula vibes which triggered many Bengals fans. He was Mike’s kind of coach, and everyone was unimpressed.
Taylor’s first two seasons are easy to mock. He was handed a disaster of a roster in 2019, complete with a veteran quarterback who had proven to not win big games even with the best possible team around him.
John Ross was being counted on to be a big part of the offense. John Ross. All the misery of that season, though, of course, led to Mike Brown’s Jedi Knight in Joe Burrow. He and Zac Taylor developed an immediate chemistry, and a joyous confidence began to wash around the locker room.
Over the course of this season, all the radioactivity of the franchise’s past was just kind of left behind. The team got new uniforms, embraced their legends more, developed a sense of humor and started winning again. The big games we Bengal fans would shrink from, tortured from being “almost” for so long, went shockingly well again and again.
Joe Burrow is phenomenal, no question. He’s a cool guy that teammates seem to wholeheartedly embrace, but I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t be Bengalized by Marvin Lewis if that were still the case.
Zac Taylor has allowed Burrow to fully spread his wings and become the elite player that he is, and the two need one another to fully maximize the entire potential of the team. And it was Mike Brown, doing it Mike Brown’s way, that gave Taylor the chance.
That isn’t to say that Mike is off the hook for such a long dark stretch of futility. While his way has indeed perhaps finally paid off, the prolonged failures of the team stem from a mulish stubborn nature that is neither effective nor endearing. His reputation of being cheap is founded in fact and his singular focus of winning football games has allowed the other responsibilities of being an owner to lapse to the point that it prevents him from winning football games.
But that focus is for another day. This Sunday, Mike can get cozy in his owner’s box, sitting by himself in that random country club dad hat he’s worn in public for the past 17 years, his flasher’s trench coat and striped tie, and sip his room-temperature water before heading down to the field to try to hoist the Lombardi Trophy long enough for the photographers to get a couple of decent shots. It’s his whole life’s work. The old man might even cry at some point.
Bengals 18, Rams 13
Mojokong – El Coronado