Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown on friends, life and reading

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There’s a basic kindness to Mike Brown. This will come as a shock to long-time Bengals fans. It’s decent old fashioned, which is rare now. I have met a world of people in 34 years here. Most of them have been wonderful. I’ve known Mike as long as any of them. He’s at the top of the list. If we hadn’t been adversaries, we could have been friends.

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Huge sacks of black sunflower seeds fill a corner of Mike Brown’s window-filled office at Paul Brown Stadium. It’s for the birds that hang out on the ledge. Not bird brain. Mike was called that. Not the boo-birds. Mike heard them. The birds. Specifically at this time of year, mourning doves.

Brown, who is 86, goes to his office every day between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. six days a week (Sundays he is there at 8:30 a.m.) and the first thing he does is feed the birds. “I only feed the birds for breakfast. They receive one spoon a day. That’s it. I’m not going to spend the rest of my day feeding the birds.”

Replace the words “guards” or “safeties” or “Andrew Whitworth” with “birds” and perhaps everything will become clear to you.

“I only give Jessie Bates breakfast. He gets one scoop a day. . . ”

We are not here to discuss it. Not today. Many times I have entered Mike’s bright and sunny sanctuary over the past 22 years, to delve into his brilliant and intimidating mind for answers to why he led the Bengals the way he did.

We would skirmish, I would lose. Of all the people I’ve written about, only Mike Brown intimidated me. It was his mind. I knew the lawyer in him had answers to every question I had, even before I asked one. I think it was like arguing with a Supreme Court justice.

Not that day. It’s over now. Bengals win; I go out. Verbal fencing is done. I want to know more about birds.

“The thrill is when one of Cooper’s hawks shows up,” Mike said. “You will get a bunch of feathers on the floor”. Woe to the hungry dove.

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor lifts the AFC Championship trophy alongside Cincinnati Bengals president Mike Brown, right, following the NFL Championship football game 'AFC on Sunday, January 30, 2022 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

For years Mike has fed the birds in the garden of his Indian Hill home. He stopped after the raccoons started trashing the feeders. Mike also fed the deer – “straight from my hands”, he said – until neighbors let it be known that the deer were not welcome in their gardens. Now Mike is content to watch the squirrels raid his apple trees.

“Doctor, so what? The fans don’t care. We just want him to win football matches.

It is the truth and it is indisputable. But over three decades of skirmishes with Mike, and what I remember the most is. . . is. . .

How much I love the guy. How grateful I am for our relationship. How interesting. How decent. As is normal.

In the summer of 1988, I interviewed Mike for the first time, in the Wilmington College dorm where he stayed with the players for training camp. It was at least 90 degrees and a bit warmer outside. Mike sat in a white T-shirt and shorts. A fan was blowing worthless hot air around his 12 by 12 room.

Cincinnati Bengals President Mike Brown presents Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor with the AFC Championship Trophy, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Bengals beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-24, to advance to the Super Bowl.

The players moved in. Every few minutes one of them would drag a window air conditioner past Mike’s door. (All except Reggie Williams. I don’t even know if Reggie had a ventilator.) I asked Brown when his window unit would arrive.

“I don’t like air conditioning,” he told me.

He didn’t have it growing up, he explained. He didn’t have it in his first home in Cincinnati, Glendale. When the family moved to Indian Hill, his father Paul urged his son to join the 20th century. Mike had central air conditioning installed. Then he opened the windows of his room and closed the door. His wife, Nancy, fled to another room that was so air-conditioned she slept under mounds of blankets.

I like that about Mike.

He still drives what I’ve called in the press a “meaningful, mid-size, American-made sedan.” He explained, “It gets me where I want to go. I’m just going home from here and back.”

OK, but I don’t think Elon Musk drives a Corolla to the office.

Nevertheless, I like that about Mike.

Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown watches practice during day one of Cincinnati Bengals rookie camp at Paul Brown Stadium's training ground in downtown Cincinnati on Friday, May 13, 2022.

He reads books. He is rarely without. Non-fiction, mostly. He’s reading one right now on the lives of historians. Why? Why not?

He doesn’t like to socialize, at least not in large groups. “I’ve never liked cocktails. They are painful. I can’t feel comfortable,” Brown says.

I really like that about Mike. My next door neighbor for 25 years said to me one day: “I have a friend. That’s one too many.” We got on well.

But above all, Mike is a good human being. His kindness is understated, in an almost elegant way. He spent years trying to help Greg Cook, a brilliant quarterback turned tortured man.

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He has maintained a relationship with Chris Henry’s family since the day Henry died. He urged Boomer Esiason to fill the analyst position in the ‘Monday Night Football’ stand, even as Esiason, in his second incarnation as Bengal, had just wrapped up a remarkable five-game streak as a substitute for Jeff Blake in 1997. not help Mike sell tickets. This launched Boomer’s successful media career.

Mike has been kind to countless other people who will remain anonymous because Mike wants it that way. “I am not a philanthropist. We give money. I give a few small amounts myself. I would rather help a person than donate to charity. I can see the impact,” he explained.

For Christmas a year after a controversial summer of losses and criticism, current Reds owner Bob Castellini gave me a bouquet of black roses and a bottle of Jameson. Marge Schott tried to ban me from Riverfront Stadium in 1990 and banned me from the press dining room. Carl H. Lindner Jr. invited me to his office, taught me the economics of baseball, and sent me away with a box of note cards with his favorite sayings, most of them said by him.

Mike sent me handwritten notes. At the birth of my daughter Jillian, born with Down syndrome. On the publication of my memoir on Jillian’s upbringing. (Mike read it as soon as it came out.) And most recently, a note of congratulations on my retirement.

He writes to people, by hand. I like that about him.

I ask him if he has any close friends. He said, “Not many.

“I have a few that I have lost. I’m 86, soon to be 87. It’s the nature of life. You lose your friends when you’re that age.’

I mentioned our relationship, 35 years in its formation. If circumstances had been different…

“I think we would get along well,” Mike said. “We have a lot of the same outlook on life. We don’t always agree, but then?

If we hadn’t been adversaries, we could have been friends. Maybe now we will be.

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