Like he does most late afternoons, Mike Brown went running Thursday.
He ran his usual three or four times around the .7-mile perimeter ringing the Spinney practice field. The Bengals' 64-year-old president was alone, but it almost seemed like he wasn't. While he ran, his kids, Katie Blackburn and Paul H. Bown, conducted the contract negotiations for first-round draft choice Peter Warrick.
For once, Brown seemed to be outrunning some of the myths.
"This is a pattern that I went through with my father," said Brown of those days in the late '60s when Paul Brown handed all player negotiations to him. "It's bittersweet because what am I doing now? But this was my goal. To have Katie and Paul do this stuff and now it's been achieved. Time marches on."
So do the myths.
You know these new kinds of myths. These 21st century myths. In an age when information flows quicker than a Norm Nixon fast break, interpretation has been known to merge with opinion to create myths. Facts can get swept away in the 24-hour blur of sound bytes, endless numbers rolling through the bottom of the TV screen, and yes split-second shots on the Internet.
Mike Brown is supposed to be The Emperor. The dictator who sits on a throne throwing lightning bolts at players and agents in torture-rack negotiations spawning career-wrecking holdouts and hurting his franchise with open hostility to agents.
But the Warrick talks are humming. The cliff notes of NFL history will always saddle Brown with the training camp-long holdouts of quarterbacks David Klingler and Akili Smith. Yet an imminent Warrick signing would quietly mark the fifth time in seven years a Bengals' first-round pick didn't miss more than the first two practices of training camp.
So Mike Brown went running even if the myths stand still.
Before he left, he saw Warrick's agents outside his office cooling their heels during a break, and waved in Norm Nixon and Jim Gould.
They talked about working out. Nixon, just a few pounds over his weight when he teamed with Magic Johnson to win NBA titles for the Lakers, said Brown looked to be in pretty good shape. Gould offered to take Brown and Nixon running at an Indian Hill track where Gould occasionally bumps into Brown. Brown reminisced about watching Elgin Baylor play for the Lakers at Boston Garden while Brown was at Harvard Law School in the late '50s, and how he thought Baylor was the best athlete of the NBA players of that time. Nixon reminisced about the Celtics of the '80s and how Larry Bird was the biggest trash talker in the league.
Then Mike Brown went running without once mentioning one clause or decimal point. Gould and Nixon returned to the table, where Blackburn prepared to finish a week in which she'll dole out $70 million if you include right tackle Willie Anderson's six-year, $30.6 million extension. That's added to Warrick's potential seven-year deal in the $40 million range, one of those modern two-page treaties for top rookies loaded with complicated schedules that Blackburn crafted.
"The only thing I exchanged with them was pleasantries," said Brown of the talks with Anderson and agent Terry Bolar. "The conception of the compensation package were all things she determined. I might say things that I think we ought to consider and I guess some of them probably got in there.
"But she was the one who outlined the package. She was the one who ran all the numbers. She was the one who bargained back and forth and changed our position. She did all of that without my supervision. She did all the details. She has freedom to do things and does what she thinks makes the best sense. I will tell you where we are now, she is the driving force behind the contracts."
Sure, the Warrick talks have been greased by the fact that Gould and the Browns have known each other for a long time and that Gould coaches Caroline Blackburn's 5-year-old soccer team. This hasn't been brinkmanship. It's been more like a neighborhood cookout. Burn the acrimony, dump the rhetoric and fire up the signing bonus with a smattering of incentives and a side of voidable years. Norm is staying at Jimmy's house, but they'll drive downtown and have some lunch with Katie and Paul and make sure Peter's in camp on time.
It's also probably helped Gould and Nixon are anxious to sign the highest draft pick they've ever had and that Warrick has already changed agents once. But the fact is, the Bengals do deals. They do big deals and it's not always a Missiles of October showdown wiping out a training camp. As Blackburn watched Anderson sign his deal last week following a tough, on-and-off negotiations, she picked up his two-year-old son to hold and exclaimed, "It's almost like holding my girls and they're a lot older."
Mike Brown has nothing against making deals. He did it in 1994 and 1995 when he got Dan Wilkinson and Ki-Jana Carter into camp virtually on time even though he swallowed the bitter pill of voidable years. It looks like Blackburn has done it twice in a week.
But there are always the myths.
"It's not that I hate agents," Brown said. "I usually find them interesting and fun and I like them as people. I just don't think what they do should be part of our system because all you're doing is taking another slice of the pie and there's no need to do it."
Running back Corey Dillon and his agent are coming to town in 10 days to talk deal for a player who has threatened to sit out the first 10 games of the season. Then it will be Paul H. Brown's turn in the fire.
"Bittersweet," Mike Brown said. "But it's what I wanted."