The Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1988. In fact, the last time they even won a playoff game, the first George Bush was president of the United States. Right around that time, Mike Brown took over as owner of the team, a role he’s served ever since.
How did Brown become the owner? And how has he earned his fortune? He has his father to thank for both.
Mike Brown was born on August 10, 1935, in Massillon, Ohio. His father, Paul Brown, was a football coach and executive for more than 60 years. The elder Brown was the first coach of the Cleveland Browns and he later helped in the founding of the Bengals. His teams won seven championships and Brown contributed to a number of football innovations, including the modern face mask, the draw play, and using game film to scout opponents.
After graduating from Dartmouth in 1957 and Harvard Law School in 1960, the younger Brown followed his father into football. Paul Brown co-founded the Bengals, an American Football League team, in 1968. Mike Brown served as the team’s assistant general manager, helping with personnel decisions and serving as a team spokesman.
When Paul Brown died in August 1991, Mike Brown took over as owner. The team has not performed very well since then, compiling just eight winning seasons in 30 years. This year’s Bengals squad has given Brown his first playoff victories as owner.
Among Brown’s first major moves were replacing popular head coach Sam Wyche with Dave Shula and working to negotiate a new lease with the city of Cincinnati. In 1995, Brown announced Cincinnati had breached its lease agreement after missing a $167,000 payment in concession receipts by one week. Brown threatened to move the team to Baltimore if the city and Hamilton County didn’t fund a new stadium. The city and county relented and added a tax increase of half a percent to make the new stadium happen. Brown named the new location Paul Brown Stadium in honor of his father.
After first taking over, Brown also served as the team’s general manager—this dual role was only employed by the Bengals and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The lack of on-field success has led to plenty of criticism of Brown, though in 2009 he stepped back from his general manager roles and ceded those duties to a committee. From 2011 to 2015, the Bengals made the postseason, though they never advanced past their first playoff game.
Brown has been a steadfast believer that a quarterback is the most important player on the roster, and a team can’t win a championship without a great one. The Bengals’ lack of success backs up that claim—they had a series of average to subpar signal callers and never saw a single playoff victory. Now, with Joe Burrow leading the charge, they’re one win away from their first-ever championship.
To get the Bengals into existence, the original founders spent $7.5 million in 1967. Today, the team is worth $2.275 billion. At 86 years old, Brown may not have many more seasons leading the team. A championship after such a long drought would be the perfect swan song.