Last Tuesday WDR Comrade BMN chimed in with an exhaustive guest post about how Mikey's record setting 200th loss as owner/GM stacked up againt other NFL owners. Now he is back with a post on his take on why Bengals fans have put up with the losing for so long. Enjoy.
Call this a frustrating psychological examination. Frustrating because it sounds like I’m about to go on a wild victim-blaming rant. Frustrating because it sounds a lot like the abused spouse going into a long-winded rant about all the things they have done to let the abuse continue instead of focusing on the douchebaggery that is the abuser. A condemnation of the “sheople” as many of my fellow MBSers like to say. I hope you believe me when I tell you it’s nothing of the sort.
Instead, I prefer to think of this article as a condemnation of Mike Brown’s diabolical (from a football standpoint, anyway) abilities to keep the city of Cincinnati in a stranglehold. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clearly obvious that Mike Brown isn’t exactly going to be elected mayor of the Queen City anytime soon. No one is suggesting for a moment that he’s the darling of the town.
Yet the anger towards him has ebbed and flowed and now it has dissipated to a certain degree. Fans have resigned themselves to helplessness. The recent news that the Bengals’ sellout streak will finally come to merciful end begs the question: how can a team that was en route to helping Mike set such a record of futility get such loyal support? Why weren’t fans boycotting in droves?
There are multiple reasons and if you comb the WDR archives, there’s wisdom to be gleaned from both the articles and the comments. So what you read below is really nothing new: it’s merely a condensation, an articulation, a grab-bag of ideas. If you could boil the motivations of the average “sheople” (ooopps..sorry, said I wouldn’t do that), you’d find five different psychological pieces of trickery courtesy of one Michael Brown.
1) IF I LEAVE YOU NOW (I TAKE AWAY THE BIGGEST PART OF YOU)
If there’s one sports meme I’d like to transform into a human being just so that I could flog it unmercifully to hear it scream, it’d be that of the “NFL Experience.” This ridiculous, trite marketing tool has left slobbering fools out of a pack of people that ought to know better. The meme thrives largely because people love to go to NFL games but usually the choice is very limited. This is where New York/New Jersey sports fans have an advantage: like choosing between two McDonald’s, they have two organizations they can choose to purchase football from.
Mike Brown very effectively waved this meme over everyone’s heads in the mid-1990s: “you can have one NFL team or you can have none. If I leave, you will have none.” There’s really no way to prove this but wow, a lot of people believe it. It scares them to death. Because of it, they complain endlessly about the team but remain convinced their lives would be 200% more miserable if they had no team. Mike used that fear to fleece the taxpayers into the current stadium that houses his definition of “competitive football,” which I’m relatively confident differs from most of the people that voted for the tax.
I’m a consumer and I freely admit that I consume a lot of the NFL. I sometimes hit up sports bars to catch multiple games at once. But if I lived in a one-horse town with only one sports bar in town and they spit in my nachos every week, I wouldn’t go back. I am not addicted enough to the NFL to tolerate something that negative, much less Mike Brown willfully changing nothing about the home organization while it irritates me.
Which leads to…
2) CALL ME ANYTHING, BUT DON’T CALL ME FAIRWEATHER!
Well, much of it has to do with how almost all of us became sports fans. When we were kids, we picked our favorite teams-- some for regional reasons (probably most of you reading this) and some for arbitrary reasons (those of you like me that lived in outlying areas). On the schoolyard, we learned the code of the sports fan-- once you have a favorite team, that is your ONLY favorite team, you are NOT allowed to give up and to change course anywhere along the way is desertion.
I don’t even say I’m a fan, I just use the phrase above-- “I follow the Bengals.” I follow them because I’ve been doing it so long, it’s part of my ritual. But I equate “fan” with: “I’m a fan of the Beatles. I like their music. I’m a fan of Domino’s. I like their pizza. I’m a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. I like their ????????????”
Blind Mike Brown enablers might label you if you tell them you boycott anything Bengals. It means you’re fair-weather, a bandwagon-hopper, you name it. It means you like the Pittsburgh Steelers (that’s so untrue, it’s libelous). There’s a big difference between being loyal when a team suffers through multiple years of losing trying to do the right thing vs. willfully sitting pat and changing nothing. That difference can get lost, however, in the psychology of our sports fan upbringing.
Mike Brown has been very insistent on manipulating this psychology. When WDR brought their protest to the practice fields of Georgetown in 2009, Brown dismissively suggested that the fans’ energy would be better spent at the games. That wouldn’t work anywhere but on the psyche of a sportsfan. The owner of a shoe store couldn’t foist this lie upon you: “the only way you’ll get better shoes is if you buy my crappy shoes.” But Mike Brown tells us all “the only way you’ll get a better team is if you use your energy to support my crappy team.”
Plus, let’s face it, sometimes being bad can be as marketable as being good. Mike Brown is salivating at recent bustings of championship droughts in hockey and baseball. It keeps his fans dreaming—and paying for that dream.
3) FLYING (JUST) UNDER THE RADAR
A compelling impetus to seek out the 100/200 statistic was this: most people need numbers to understand how bad anything is. For awhile, Mikey was acknowledged as a bumbling owner, but with no real crown of infamy to hang on him, there was always reason for some naïve fans to believe things weren’t as bad as they could be.
For much of the latter half of his tenure as Bengals owner, Brown has—in almost Machavellian fashion—been just good enough to be better than the joke owner of the day. Heck, even in the 1990s, Bill Bidwell was still around competing with Mike for irrelevance in the win column (failing, but competing). Having other dolts around is a great way to be ignored and keep fans apathetic. From 2003 until Matt Millen’s ousting, it was the Fords in Detroit. Since then, it’s been Al Davis in Oakland. No matter how bad Mike Brown is, there’s someone else around to make people try to forget just how bad he is.
Fact is: Bidwell’s sons came along and steered the Cards to some credibility (and a NFC championship). Detroit is, well, still pretty bad, but Matt Millen DID FINALLY GET FIRED. The arrow is headed in the right direction. Al Davis is crazy but at least the man’s accomplished something in his lifetime; what has Mike Brown accomplished? And if Katie will just run the team like Mike…what hope is there that there will be any dramatic turnaround?
One hopes that by bringing the 100/200 statistic to light that Mike won’t stand under the radar for anyone ignorant enough to think “oh, well our owner’s not THAT bad.”
4) WHERE’S THE GLITZ?
Surely most of you on this board have had the “annoying Dallas Cowboys fan” conversation. If not, let me summarize it in brief: you tell them you’re a Bengals fan and that you hate the owner. They retort that their team’s owner is the worst owner in the NFL. A man can have three Super Bowl rings and have been to the playoffs three of the last four seasons and yet he’s still the worst owner in the NFL.
Part of this can be attributed to every fan’s insistence that their suffering is more important than anyone else’s, but it can also be attributed to Dallas’ status as a frontrunner in national NFL coverage. Dallas fans don’t just hear about Jones micro-management shenanigans in the local papers, they hear about it all the time on national TV. On CBS. On FOX. On the NFL Network. But how much time do any of these networks devote, besides an offhanded joke or three, to Brown’s sheer ineptitude? You could do a mini-series on it (I nominate Jason Alexander to play Mike), but they wouldn’t touch it.
Dallas stories sell. Washington stories sell. New York teams’ stories sell. And so forth. Cincinnati’s woes seemingly have to take a backseat. Even when the aforementioned team’s owners have all (even Dan Snyder) accomplished far more than Mike Brown could ever hope to. Maybe those annoying Dallas fans wouldn’t be so annoying if they heard more about how bad they could have it.
Is there any cliché worse than “Hope Springs Eternal?” Probably not. Is there anything more aggravatingly worse about a team that embodies this than racking up whatever meager wins they can muster up when things matter least? Definitely not.
You can break down the Bengals’ post-exhibition games into two categories: those with and without meaning. The game has meaning for the Bengals if it is still mathematically possible for the team to advance to/in the playoffs. In games “without meaning” since Mike Brown took over, the Bengals are 28-36 (.438). This might be frustrating but wouldn’t necessarily place Mike in Hugh Culverhouse territory.
In games with meaning, the Bengals’ record plummets to 85-165-1 (.341). Here’s where Mike Brown’s teams have done the city of Cincinnati a great disservice. Hugh Culverhouse’s Buccaneers typically had the decency to keep losing and keep losing long after being eliminated. A .438 winning percentage would be a good year for most of his tenure.
Mike finds a glimmer of hope in every little win streak and he’s more than happy to lord it over you. His coaches help. When Coslet’s Bengals went 7-2 in 1996, Mike declared that he was the “one who pulled our oxen out of the ditch.” Come buy your 1997 tickets, folks, the Bengals are back! In 2001, Dick Lebeau declared the last two wins an indication of “(persevering) through a tough situation.” Marvin Lewis even had the baldfaced nerve of trumpeting the Bengals’ season ending win over the previously 1-14 Miami Dolphins as a win over “a better football team then what their record says.”
There’s typically been enough reason for a naïve interloper to overlook the organization’s fundamental flaws whenever the Bengals go on a mini-burst. “We lost because we didn’t have Jeff Blake! We lost because we didn’t have Bruce Coslet! We lost because Carson Palmer was hurt!” And so on. It’s time to face facts, the Bengals have been losing a lot because it’s a poorly run organization. As described on a Yahoo! messageboard (paraphrased): the margin of error for the Bengals is slim. When one or two things go wrong, the foundation simply isn’t strong enough to weather that storm.
Mike Brown could have devoted himself to making over his organization any time in the last 20 years. He didn’t. He played on every one of the aforementioned fan impulses in order to keep selling his product: You want the NFL. You want to be a “real fan.” You could have it worse. Look at the owners the writers are telling you are terrible. And hey, didn’t we just win the last game of the season? The analogy might be too creepy for some but the Bengals’ “Dead Cat Bounces” are like the flowers an abusive husband gives to his spouse: “No, really, honey, I’ve *changed* this time. Things are going to be different!”
Contrast this dark psychology with a more recent business example. I cited Domino’s earlier in the column: this year, it did a shocking about-face to improve business. They changed how they made their pizza. Now, make no mistake: I’m not about to give them a humanity award for this, it was strictly business.
But it was RESPECTFUL business. They didn’t have to do it-- surely Domino’s was profitable enough to keep selling the same pizza and to get by on having a overwhelming prevalence of locations and convenience. They could have played on all the familiar tropes to keep their consumers: “Hey, we’re more readily available. We’re open often. We’re familiar! All pizza is good!” Instead, they boldly came out and acknowledged: “you’ve tolerated our pizza instead of liking it for a long time, we’re not making it right, it’s time we made you good pizza.”
We’ve tolerated Mike Brown’s product for 20 years. In order to ever have a chance of liking it, he needs to stop playing psychological tricks and acknowledge that the way he currently makes his product doesn’t lead to good football. Then get to changing the formula to something that does.