Bengals president Mike Brown once called “The Boss” his boss and so Tuesday was a sad day for him as he remembered that summer more than 50 years ago he worked for George Steinbrenner.
“I’ve got a fondness for George. He was a very generous guy. Very good to the people that worked for him,” Brown recalled Tuesday as he reacted to Steinbrenner’s death at age 80. “I saw him do countless things for people that needed it. That’s the guy that I remember.”
Brown thinks it was the summer he was 20 when he went to Steinbrenner at his office in Cleveland looking for a job while he was home from Dartmouth College. Steinbrenner, who was running his family’s freighter company, hired Brown to be a deck hand on one of the ships.
“I saw him that summer when we were in port and he came out to the ship to talk to the crew about unionization,” Brown said. “He pulled me aside after the talk and he basically told me, ‘Well, I laid it out for them,’ but I’m not sure he convinced them. I know this: I’ve always been grateful that he gave me a job and I really enjoyed that summer.”
Both would become team owners and could there be two different owners in professional sports? Brown, 74, one of the last of the family-owned sports teams trying to win while holding the line in a small market in a league ruled by a salary cap. Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees in the nation’s biggest market that made free agency a way of life in sports when his spending translated into back-to-back world titles in the late ‘70s.
Yet the two had a good relationship the few times they came across each other, which wasn’t often. In the ‘80s, Steinbrenner wrote Brown asking him to put the Bengals at his hotel in Tampa, Fla., and they stayed at the Radisson Bay Harbor for several trips in the regular season and preseason, the last in 1995. Steinbrenner also got in touch when he was looking for Super Bowl tickets to one of the games in Tampa and Brown offered his help.
“He came to New York just at the right time. Just as cable television was coming on and he was able to harness all that income,” Brown said. “You have to admire what he did, although I don’t agree with it. The Yankees have half a track head start. He was in baseball and I’m in football, so it’s a different kettle of fish.
“I think there’s an imbalance there. It created some issues for all of us, but I don’t think George created those issues. I’m sure the people in New York don’t mind at all. They won a lot of championships with George.”