Thursday, September 21, 2000

Bengals fans: Why do you take it?




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        I pledge allegiance to the Cincinnati Bengals and to the owner some folks can't stand. One franchise and one family: indivisible, intractable, unaccountable, unashamed.

        If Mike Brown needs a loyalty oath to keep his players in line, perhaps his next move will be to require consent forms of his customers. Maybe Bengals fans should be made to sign waivers before taking their seats, agreeing to absolve the team of any liability for being lousy, forsaking all claims to competitive football.

        It shouldn't be hard to arrange. Most Bengals fans are as compliant as sheep, and many of them are willing to be shorn twice for the same ticket. Some of them bought personal seat licenses for Paul Brown Stadium only to learn the seat they purchased was not the same as where they sat. All of them are witnesses to futility, and most come back for more.

        Next time someone starts whining about the Bengals — and the average interval is about three seconds — ask them when they're going to start ignoring them.

Undeserved loyalty
        More incredible than this team's ineptitude is its enduring grip on its audience. However poorly the Bengals play, however clumsy their operation, however galling their demands, ordinary citizens continue to pay top dollar for their low comedy.

        It's amazing. I stopped having an emotional stake in pro football the night Bob Irsay skulked out of Baltimore with the Colts, so maybe I've been jaded by being jilted. But I fail to understand Cincinnati's fascination with a franchise that asks so much and delivers so little.

        Until then, I'm serving notice: No more pleas for change, no more lectures about low-budget nepotism, no more treatises on the fluffiness of towels or the relative size of the scouting department. If you want to apply pressure to Mike Brown, newspaper columns are of no consequence. The way to get his attention, John Q. Public, is to withhold yours.

        Stop attending games. Stop buying Bengals merchandise. Stop complaining about things beyond your control and take charge of your spectating experience.

        If you can't make that commitment, you have no business telling Brown how to run his business. The way to make a monopoly responsive to its customers is for its customers to demonstrate they no longer need it.

Brown not going anywhere
        It won't happen, because Cincinnati needs its pro football fix the way it needs chili with its spaghetti.

        More than Skyline, more than Graeter's, more than Oktoberfest or winged swine, bashing Mike Brown is what binds us together as a community. He represents three things Cincinnatians distrust: inherited wealth, unchecked power and a birthplace outside Hamilton County. Like George W. Bush, he suffers from the perception that his chief accomplishment in life was clinging to his father's coattails. (Unlike Bush, Brown reads books and resists cursing reporters in public).

        Whether he is qualified to run a football franchise is a recurring question, but the wrong one. The only important qualification of ownership is being able to pay for your purchase. What an owner does with what he owns is pretty much his call to make.

        He probably should step aside for the sake of his sanity. He probably should hire someone else to make the moves and take the heat, and retire to his books and his birds. Yet it's hard to see this happening.

        Mike Brown is too stubborn. His customers are too content.

        E-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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