Bengals' Mike Brown is a classy guy

June 30, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

That Mike Brown decided to keep the Cincinnati Bengals in the place of their birth comes as a positive development. Brown would have made a change of address on only one condition: If he was convinced his stadium problems were going to be continually ignored by community leaders.

On strictly a personal basis, he stands above the crowd and is too honorable to cut and run. Quitting Cincinnati wasn't on his agenda. Only losers get out of town. They then claim some newspaper editorial writer forced them to leave -- or else put the blame on the public, elected officials or the fact they are forced to play in an antiquated stadium.

Do they ever stand up and admit to being a bad owner? Never. Look at the men and woman responsible for moving National Football League franchises during the last 15 years. The lineup includes Bill Bidwill, Al Davis, Georgia Frontiere and Bob Irsay.

Communities such as St. Louis, Los Angeles, Oakland and Baltimore have been robbed of teams they thought belonged to them. What followed was disillusionment, as the fans suddenly and painfully learned the cold, hard facts of life. They were being used.

Owners shop for better deals and haul away the franchises. Brown was above such pandering. He's a gentleman, the son of the late Hall of Fame coach and contributor, Paul Brown. He also had the benefit, by way of birth, of being raised in a football environment. Honesty and integrity are his inherited characteristics.

He's the kind of individual who, because of the straightforward way he deports himself, enhances the city he calls home. Having him for a neighbor brings comfort and trust. A handful of his kind are still around but, unfortunately, the suspicion exists they may soon become extinct.

To uproot the Bengals and bring them to Baltimore would have been the most difficult decision of Brown's life. A comfortable financial deal awaited but he turned his back and decided to remain in Cincinnati, hoping to bring about the realization that his desire for a new stadium was in the best interests not only of the Bengals but also the entire community.

Traveling music was playing in the background. But he realized if he pulled out now it would have been another negative development for the NFL, coming at the worst of times and compounding problems. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is in desperate need for stability to return to the league, which means he can't afford to have another franchise take its ball and, for whatever reason, real or imagined, go play somewhere else.

Having franchises floating all over the country does not inspire confidence and, right or wrong, is a reflection on the commissioner and the entire league. Tagliabue is going to have to step up and quickly endeavor to restore order. It won't be easy.

Trying to explain the movement of teams, in most cases, defies comprehension. It's bothersome to fans. They don't understand the machinations, this quest by owners to improve their already comfortable financial positions. None of the NFL moguls have to shop for dented cans or take a part-time job tending bar.

Whatever happened to love of the game, as once exemplified by George Halas in Chicago, Art Rooney in Pittsburgh, and the Maras, before they left New York for New Jersey?

Rooney, in 1952, actually considered bringing the Steelers to Baltimore. He had a racing stable, Shamrock Farm, in Winfield, Md., spent time at Pimlico, Laurel and Bowie and enjoyed the area.

All kinds of opportunities were available for him to do much better financially than he was doing in Pittsburgh. He pondered bringing the Steelers to Baltimore.

In the end, after making his decision, he merely said, "I thought about it and Baltimore would be good for me, but I can't do that to my hometown."

Too bad such expressions of civic binding are now considered to be out of fashion. It's now an insatiable rush by mad millionaires to make zillions rather than demonstrating a pride of ownership and returning a feeling of loyalty to the patrons.

Instead, the owners betray the ticket buyers. Tagliabue, as commissioner, has to take a tough stance and show strong direction. A crisis is upon him. How can Los Angeles, once such a monument to the game, be allowed to become a ghost city for pro football?

Now St. Louis and Oakland have received NFL reprieves. They get to start over, a second life, so to speak . . . St. Louis with the Rams from Los Angeles and Oakland with the Raiders, also from Los Angeles, but originally based in Oakland.

Mike Brown merits respect for doing what's best for Cincinnati. That means staying there. As for Baltimore, it needs to join Los Angeles in a two-city push for expansion rather than trying to court teams from other places.

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