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A look at owner Mike Brown's untraditional approach to running the Cincinnati Bengals


When an NFL team makes the Super Bowl, who gets the credit? The players, sure, the coaches; what about the owner? Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown has taken an untraditional approach to running his team.

To talk about this distinctive character and his role in the team's 33-year journey back to the Super Bowl this Sunday, Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty joins us now. Hey, there.

PAUL DAUGHERTY: Hey, how are you?

SHAPIRO: Good. Paint a picture of Mike Brown for us. This guy is 86 years old. He took over the Bengals from his father. What's the man like?

DAUGHERTY: Well, let's try this for an image first, and then we'll try to proceed from there. He...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK.

DAUGHERTY: He was on the stage last week in Kansas City after the Bengals won the AFC Championship Game, and he was wearing a tan trench coat and sort of a pork pie hat. He looked like Columbo.

SHAPIRO: I was just going to say Columbo. I'm getting a Columbo image.

DAUGHERTY: That's sort of Mike in a very small nutshell.

SHAPIRO: So I said he's taken an untraditional approach to running the team. Flesh that out for us.

DAUGHERTY: Well, untraditional is a very kind way of putting it.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Well, I'm an unbiased journalist. How would you put it as a columnist?

DAUGHERTY: Old-fashioned, conservative, if it's a mom-and-pop operation, he's definitely pop, you know.

SHAPIRO: Frugal is a word that I've heard.

DAUGHERTY: Frugal is a good word, sure, better than cheap, right?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Yeah.

DAUGHERTY: But honestly, I will tell you that he has not been cheap. He has paid lots of good players going rate to stay in Cincinnati. Cheap is probably not accurate. Conservative is accurate. Columbo is accurate. Frugal is accurate.

SHAPIRO: Give us an example.

DAUGHERTY: Just on little things and little things equal big things. There was a time not so long ago when the team handed out towels to its players for use after showers. They were about the size of a hand towel, and you haven't seen sort of ironic comedy until you've seen a 320-pound offensive tackle trying to dry himself off with a hand towel.

SHAPIRO: And that was to save money? Like, bigger towels were just too expensive?

DAUGHERTY: I don't really know. But for the longest time, players had to, like, bring their own Gatorade, you know?

SHAPIRO: How do the fans, how do people in Cincinnati feel about him?

DAUGHERTY: (Laughter) You know, I think they could win the Super Bowl every year until Mike Brown is no longer with us and the fans as a whole would still dislike Mike Brown intensely.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Wow. OK. Go on.

DAUGHERTY: He gets no - well, he has a lot of making up to do, and I'm not sure that he can do it.

SHAPIRO: So at the end of the day, how much credit do you give him for the Bengals reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in more than 30 years?

DAUGHERTY: Well, you know, if you're going to bash him, which I certainly have, for them being really bad for a very long time, then you do have to turn around and say, you know what? Mike is, one, changing and, two, yielding power to his daughter and son-in-law, who are taking a much more active role and see things a little differently than he does.

That said, he did have to OK the money that they've spent in the last couple of years on free agents, and they've hit home runs with almost every free agent that they've bought. And that's a huge reason they're in this game. So if you're going to blame him for being frugal, you have to tip your cap to him now for helping them to be where they are.

SHAPIRO: That's Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty. Thanks a lot.

DAUGHERTY: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Andrew Mambo