Bengals president Mike Brown, still very much the Ohio kid who grew up idolizing Bob Feller as much as Marion Motley in a Cleveland of more than 70 years ago, is still, at heart, a radio guy. He made football his life but baseball one of his few hobbies and on Thursday he reflected on how Marty Brennaman has helped him enjoy it.
Brown couldn't listen to Brennaman's last call Thursday because it came in the middle of a Bengals practice in the heart of Steelers Week. But he heard enough of the eternal Voice of the Reds others to know his town was losing a friend.
"I, like a lot of people in Cincinnati, feel like he gets to be something of a friend," Brown said from his golf cart a few fairways from Brennaman's farewell. "He had what you don't have in most baseball broadcasters. They call a pitch and then they don't say anything for about 30 seconds. 'There's a foul ball.' Then silence. He would always interject some kind of conversation that wasn't always about baseball. It kept you listening. I think it was a way of making the games easier to listen to. It was as if you were at the game with a friend."
Brown and Brennaman. Two guys who are the last of a breed. Brown, an NFL owner whose only business is his team. Those 62 guys and 21 coaches out there on the practice field. That's it. In a league where owners are now accompanied by entourages rivalling the Secret Service and pulled about by their other enterprises, Brown drives himself to work, takes the morning Delta direct to NFL meetings and always keeps his team's depth chart folded in his shirt pocket. Brennaman is the daily summer radio voice that has stayed with one team through nine presidents and almost as many Hall-of-Famers, of which he is one. He is the last of the Harwells, the Scullys, the Barbers. One of those soothingly familiar sounds to Baby Boomers as much as Generation Xers on life's turbulent march through the milestones.
And for Depression kids, too. Brown was born the year before Feller threw his first big-league pitch. Their two worlds would collide in Brown's training camp dorm room at Wilmington College, the one with no air conditioner, and he'd raise the window after dinner and tune in the Reds while reading or going through the roster. Same thing at Georgetown College. Wander into Brown's room, which did have air conditioning, and Brennaman would come breezing in again while he was watching tape or leafing through a biography thicker than a nose tackle. Or in his car. Or at his house, where he'd have the radio on with the TV picture. Like people of a certain age, a summer sound track means a live baseball game and not a recorded podcast.
"Having the radio and watching the game on TV is being a notch ahead, so you know what to look for," Brown said. "For old eyes like mine, that's an advantage knowing where the ball is going."
They've had lunch a couple of times, each time son Thom came along, and they hit it off. Why not? Brennaman loved hearing the old stories about Paul Brown's Cleveland teams and Brown, the self-described batboy "with big ears," at the Great Lakes Naval Base where some major leaguers played during the war, was impressed with how quickly Brennaman came up with the birthplace of Rapid Robert.
"I had it, but Marty came right out with it out of the blue when I was halfway through," Brown said. "He knows his baseball lore."
Brown remembers leaving that first lunch and watching Brennaman approached by a flock of fans.
"They felt as they knew him. He didn't know them, but they knew him," Brown said.
At their next lunch, Brown mentioned the scene and Brennaman said, no, that didn't happen, but Thom broke in and said, "Dad, you know it happens. That's the way it is around you."
"And I think it is," Brown said. "He is a Cincinnati figure that is probably better known than any other Cincinnati figure. He has a spot in the hearts of community. I think he did great."
Told how much Brennaman enjoyed the lunches and would like to do it again, Brown hoped they could do it again.
"But," Brown said, "He's going to have a new schedule."
Even two guys who are the last of a breed have to adjust.