Small Market Owners Concerns Were Spot On

Only 2 owners voted against the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. Find out why more owners should have taken a stand.

Never one to gloat, and with a franchise that has provided him only modest excuse for much braggadocio in the four-plus decades under his family's stewardship, Mike Brown might have ample reason now to puff out his chest a little bit.

Not that he would - the Cincinnati Bengals' owner typically moves unobtrusively through the rock-star-sized crowds that accompany his NFL fraternity brothers through hotel lobbies - but, if Brown did, well, the time certainly is right.

No one wants labor peace, and a resolution to the failed CBA negotiations that have dimmed the NFL's lights, more than Brown. At the same time, no one has more reason than he to look his peers square in the eye and note: "See, I told you so."

In 2006, when the NFL approved an extension to the CBA in the waning days of Paul Tagliabue's commissionership, Brown was one of only two league owners who voted against the accord. The other was Ralph Wilson of Buffalo, who explained that he didn't understand the agreement, and who was dismissed by his legion critics as an octogenarian incapable of comprehending the nuances of the plan. Brown was seen, well, as he always is: Penurious is the kinder, fancier, word.

Little more than two years later, everyone else came to understand what Brown seemed to divine from the outset, that the labor deal was lopsided, and the owners voted unanimously to opt out of it. Two years after that, the game is in lockdown mode and, while everyone seems to agree there eventually will be a 2011 season, there are no guarantees.

Mike Brown was - c'mon, admit it - ahead of the perilous curve that the league and its players now travel.

That's certainly a term one doesn't readily attach to the Bengals' 75-year-old owner, and the son of legendary Hall of Fame coach and fertile mind Paul Brown, but one that he might earn by the time the ongoing labor battle reaches an end-game truce. At the league's annual meetings last week in New Orleans, other owners seemed to regard Brown in a different light.

"We should have listened to him," New York Giants president/CEO John Mara, who seems to have adopted the role of moderate leader among the owners, told the Bengals' official website.

Indeed, Brown had the rare sense to apply cleats to his shoes while trying to climb what has become a slippery slope.

Said one AFC owner, much younger than Brown, when asked about the Bengals' boss and his objections to the '06 bargaining agreement: "The prevailing sentiment at the time was kind of, 'Oh, there goes Mike again.' But he's looking pretty smart right now, isn't he?"

Brown, who loves the game and doesn't possess some of the outside interests that have turned other owners into billionaires, would probably prefer not to have been so prescient about the CBA deal. But a guy who has so often been tabbed for being wrong deserves some credit for his foresight, even at a time like this.

It's always been easy, even for many of his peers, to write off Brown as overly thrifty. Brown and has family were always the ones running the corner mom-and-pop grocery, while stores of their ilk were being gobbled up by warehouse-style purveyors. Several years ago, forward-thinking Dallas owner Jerry Jones suggested the Bengals' profit-and-loss ledger might be more attractive if the franchise sold the naming rights to Paul Brown Stadium. But the last time we checked, Jones had yet to secure some pricey, corporate name for his billion-dollar football Taj Mahal.

During the scouting combine, when most owners dine nightly at one of the more famous, franchise steakhouses in Indianapolis, Brown has been seen taking his grandkids to Steak-and-Shake. Unlike a lot of owners, Brown still funds pension payments for his employees. While some clubs are furloughing front-office staffers to compensate for the lockout, the Bengals have experienced no layoffs.

Mike Brown, a visionary?

Yeah, who'd have thunk it, huh?

But it's true.

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