Sunday, September 29, 2002

Bengal fans petition for help

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Frustrated Bengals fans are signing another anti-Mike Brown petition, but NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue appears to lack the authority and desire to remove Brown from day-to-day management of the team.

        More than 2,400 people have signed the electronic petition at since Tuesday. And while some of the signatures are not legitimate, the anger is. The petition's author, G. Jordan, is asking Tagliabue to force Brown to sell the team or give up control of personnel decisions involving players and coaches.

        The Bengals, who play host to Tampa Bay this afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium, are off to an 0-3 start for the third time in four years and seventh in 12 seasons. They have a composite 53-126 record and have failed to make the playoffs even once since Brown assumed control of the franchise from his late father, Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown, in August 1991.

        “When you have a disappointing situation, fans react,” Mike Brown said Friday when told of the petition drive to oust him. “This is a hard time for the team. It is natural for fans to show discontent. I accept it for what it is.”

        Brown watched practice in a steady rain. His team has been outscored 84-16 and already has changed starting quarterbacks, benching Gus Frerotte for Akili Smith.

        “We need to correct things here on the field,” Brown said. “That is the answer.”

        One anti-Mike Brown Web site has had a standing petition link since 2000. The new one is circulating via e-mail in the wake of Sunday night's embarrassing 30-3 prime-time TV loss to Atlanta.

        The petition is listed on the front page of the Web site between a petition seeking induction of the band Journey into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and another urging British Prime Minister Tony Blair not to go to war with Iraq.

        “The people of Cincinnati and Bengals fans across the country, along with the NFL, deserve better,” the Down with Mike Brown petition reads.

        “Uncle,” writes one man.

        “Tagliabue, please help,” says another.

        Bob Dix, 41, of Newport, who attends two Bengals games a year, signed the petition Thursday.

        “Everything else about the Bengals has changed except Mike Brown,” Dix said. “I hold him personally responsible.”

        Rick Scott of Anderson Township has two Bengals season tickets and signed the petition, “although feeling that it will have no effect whatsoever,” he said.

        Tagliabue refused the Enquirer's interview request to discuss the state of the Bengals or the fans' frustration with Mike Brown.

        Additional requests to interview other NFL executives about the Bengals were declined as well.

        NFL communication assistant Keenan Davis, who fielded one phone call, did say the league hears “all the time” from angry Bengals fans.

        Petitions asking for or demanding Brown's removal as de facto general manager are largely futile. The NFL's Constitution and Bylaws gives the commissioner little authority to affect a team executive for poor on-field results. The commissioner's latitude would be limited to acting in “the best interests of the League or professional football,” as spelled out in Article 8 of the document.

        The commissioner does have more authority to act on financial matters, but economics clearly is not the Bengals' problem.

        The Bengals have a value of $507 million, Forbes magazine reports in its Sept. 2 issue. The franchise also had $130 million in revenue and $15.5 million in operating income.

        “Mike Brown is certainly a good businessman but not a good GM or evaluator of talent,” said fan and petition signer Todd Benadum of Anderson Township.

        Tagliabue did address the Bengals' losing ways when he visited Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 17, 2000. The Bengals were 0-6. Bruce Coslet had resigned as coach three weeks earlier.

        But Tagliabue's attitude then was to preach patience to fans.

        “I'm sure that the people who are most disappointed are Mike, the coaching staff and the players, and they've made clear their commitment to turning it around,” Tagliabue said. “The worst thing you can do is start to feel sorry for yourself. Tough times are when you have to get tougher.”

        The Bengals are 10-19 in the almost two full seasons since Tagliabue's pep talk.

        Bengals officials had said the team's fortunes would improve once it moved into the taxpayer-financed Paul Brown Stadium and tapped additional revenue streams not available at Cinergy Field. But the team is 10-25 since taking occupancy of the $350 million PBS facility (plus another $100 million for land acquisition). The Bengals have sold out just six of 18 home games since moving into the new stadium.

        To Brown's credit, he has signed top veteran players such as running back Corey Dillon, offensive tackle Willie Anderson and linebacker Brian Simmons to long-term contracts. The Bengals also have aggressively - albeit unsuccessfully - pursued top free agents.

        Among the complaints, many fans say: Brown is loyal to a fault. They say he lacks his father's keen eye for talent. They say Mike Brown sticks too long with unsuccessful coaches and hires ex-Bengals star players as assistant coaches even though they have no coaching experience on any level.

        “I'm done,” said Ron Morgan, a former Cincinnatian now living in Anniston, Ala.

        “I'm sorry for the wonderful city of Cincinnati. You all deserve much better. Mike Brown has successfully swindled us all. Enough is enough.”

        Brown does have his supporters.

        “Over the past two years, he's been pushing most of the right buttons,” said Bengals fan Mike Griffith of St. Louis. “We're close to getting it all turned around, (and) why in the world would we want to chuck it all now and start over? Absurd!”

        Absurd apparently is a word used by people on both sides of the Mike Brown debate.


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