Vote vindicates Brown
The following is a story written Sunday, March 30, 2008, and published in the March 31 Enquirer. (A reader posted a comment on this blog this morning that the rest of the NFL was indeed coming around to where Bengals president Mike Brown had stood all along.)
By Mark Curnutte
PALM BEACH, Fla. – Mike Brown and his daughter, Katie Blackburn, after eating lunch, walked Sunday afternoon through the lobby of the Breakers resort.
Brown didn’t call any attention to himself; it’s not his style. But he couldn’t have been blamed if he’d decided to pump his chest a bit and said to fellow owners, “I told you so.”
Two years after Brown and Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson were ridiculed for being behind the times and casting the only two votes against the league’s labor deal with the players’ union, these members of the NFL’s old guard now appear to have been ahead of the curve.
Though a league-imposed ban remains on team owners not to discuss the labor situation in public – lest they be fined – sentiment has swung among fellow owners toward Brown and Wilson’s position. The six-year extension from 2006 is not good for the league.
And for Brown and Wilson, it’s a matter of vindication.
Owners have until Nov. 8 to opt out of the six-year extension to their collective bargaining agreement with the players. They need only nine of 32 votes to get out of it. The prevailing wisdom is they will. Then the union will strike or use decertification tactics. The 2009 season would be the last with a salary cap.
Pat Bowlen, owner and chief executive officer of the Denver Broncos, is co-chair of the league’s compensation committee.
“I don’t know at this point because I’m on that particular committee, and we’re going to be talking about it a lot this week,” Bowlen said Sunday when asked if Brown and Wilson could take satisfaction in their votes. “But I have nothing but respect for Ralph and Mike.”
The CBA extension of March 2006 increased the players’ share of league revenue to 60 percent, adding another $850 million to $900 million to their take. It was approved 30-2 in a hurriedly organized vote against a union-imposed deadline.
Brown said “no” and was called cheap by national media. Wilson emerged from the vote at Grapevine, Texas, and said, “I don’t understand it. It is a very complicated issue, and I don’t believe we should be rushing to vote in 45 minutes.” The suggestion was made in the media that Wilson was senile.
“That took some courage,” Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chair of the competition committee, said of the twin no votes. “National media-wise they took some heat for it. I don't think they did internally. I think everyone respected what they said. It didn't mean that they voted that way, but they respected what they said.”
McKay has served on the competition committee with Brown. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis now is on the committee, which proposes rules changes and points of emphasis to owners for possible adoption.
“I don't think any one has more passion about the NFL than the Brown family,” McKay said. “And that passion carries over to every facet of their approach to the game. Mike has always been a guy who has dedicated a tremendous amount of time, not just to his team, but to league matters. He's a pretty well thought-out and bright person.”
The Bengals and Bills are two of the NFL’s smallest-market and lower-revenue teams.
The Bills, with league approval, have since moved eight games over the next five seasons to the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The goal is to create additional revenue for the club. They will play a preseason and a regular-season game in 2008 across the Canadian border.
The rest of the league, even large-market owners such as New England’s Robert Kraft, has come to better understand Brown and Wilson’s wisdom.
“They are well-respected. They don’t seem to hesitate when they have something to say to say it,” said Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, another relatively small-market team.
Tom Benson is owner and president of the New Orleans Saints.
“My feeling is there is 100 percent support of everything we’re doing right now, and it includes them, too. This period of time we’re going through right now, it looks to be that we’ve got a great thing going, and everybody (owners) is going to have something they like and something they don’t like.
“I think we’ve got 100 percent across the board, including those two (Brown and Wilson).”