CINCINNATI -- Mike Brown on Thursday did something he rarely does these days. He took the podium and talked about his team.
The occasion was the announcement of the the 50th anniversary celebration of the Bengals franchise. If you dropped a media consultant into the event, he or she would urge the Bengals owner to do more.
Brown isn’t going to hire any media consultants or listen to them. But by revealing more of himself, by flashing his sense of humor, by saying how much he appreciates his players, he could endear himself to the fans. Well, maybe not endear himself, but at least upgrade his public image -- which has long been in need of improvement.
The Bengals will celebrate their 50th year by naming the Bengals First 50 -- the top 50 retired players -- and honoring some of them at each home game. A media consultant would tell him he needs to do more of that kind of stuff, too.
Brown, the one guy who has been with the Bengals since the beginning, was a positively touchy, feely figure on Thursday. He got as sentimental as he gets in public.
“When I think back on those days, it doesn’t seem so long to me that the Bengals were a concept, an idea, a notion,” Brown said. “Led by my father, a small group of us took that notion -- it took us five years -- but we came up with the franchise that became the Bengals. A proud moment for us.
“The team has become entrenched as institution in Cincinnati. When we play our games, anywhere from a quarter to a over a third of people in this market -- that would be a half-million to 700,000 -- set aside time to watch the game on TV. More come down here and watch in person. Other people take it in on the radio. That’s a significant portion of Cincinnati.
“We are interwoven in the fabric of the town. I want to thank the people who are responsible for that.”
Brown mentioned Forrest Gregg and Sam Wyche. But football is about players and a lot of them showed up Thursday. Jim Breech, David Fulcher, Max Montoya, John Stofa, among others. Two original Bengals, Bob Johnson and Bob Trumpy, spoke.
“The old players, they are my guys,” Brown said. “I don’t know how they got so old. They shouldn’t have let that happen to them. I’m delighted to have them back.”
A sign that Brown is mellowing: He and Trumpy were talking and laughing before the ceremony started. The two butted heads for years.
“Bob was a splendid player,” Brown said. “All of you know him more honestly for his radio work. He was the original sports talk figure on WLW. He held that place up for a dozen years. He carried it on his back. He was good at what he did. That doesn’t mean I approved of much of it. But he could do it all right. I guess I feel about that like he feels about the salary I gave him.”
Here’s what Brown had to say about some of the players:
On Johnson: “My dad wanted him because he exemplified what he held dear in a professional football player. He had the qualities he respected. My dad was right. He’s been very successful and an important part of Cincinnati for 50 years.”
On Trumpy: “He reminds me of signing activities. I had gotten into it by the time I got to Trumpy. Trumpy for some reason was indignant at the sum of $15,000, which I thought -- and think today -- was a preposterous amount of money.”
On Max Montoya: “He was our best guard ever. My wife was a fan of Max’s. I didn’t altogether approve of that. She brought home poster of Max. I said, ‘what are going to do with it?’ She said, ‘I’m going to put it up.’ I said, ‘I’ll tell where you’re going to put up -- in the closet.’ She thought Max was cute.”
On Ickey Woods: “Ickey is forever a public figure in Cincinnati, all because he of that silly little dance. But he was a pretty damn good ball carrier, too.”
Brown ended by thanking the fans.
“They are the life’s blood of what we do,” Brown said. “We go out on game days to entertain them, to excite them. Really what we have given them more than that is a common experience that they can share with friends and family. But also it tends to bring the city together. When I think what justifies an NFL team, probably that’s what justifies it most.”
Even the staunchest Brown critic would admit that was well said.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org