PB: What's in a name

Paul Brown Stadium.

A cold name.

PBS.

Flip short-hand for Cincinnati's newest building and an easy fit for the campaign brochures. Either way.

The Paul Brown Leap.

Peter Warrick's MTV name for his jump into the front row after a touchdown.

But before they start playing the real games in there, before they start piling up wins and losses and home-field numbers that would numb the pollsters themselves, before Paul Brown becomes a faceless name, remember the guy who had the name.

He was a very real guy. A guy who was accessible and committed and funny and sharp and who made his game and his city better. You could call this The Legend and A Scribe because that's how the scribe found out how guys get their names on buildings.

Ten years ago, the scribe was lost. New town. New paper. New league. New gig. And he was struggling. After 15 years of wanting, he was finally covering the pros every day. From Yankee Conference football to Paul Brown's Cincinnati Bengals. A beat guy. The guys Brown jokingly called, "my ink-stained wretches."

Paul Brown was in the twilight then. Failing but formidable in the last year of his life. Here he was, an honest-to-God living and breathing Hall of Fame bust making the fat guy with the inscrutable Boston accent and the speech clinic stutter feel more at home.

"Do you mind if I give you some advice about something?" Brown asked as he walked up to the scribe during one practice.

How often do you get advice from anyone you respect, never mind a legend?

"Not at all, Coach," the scribe said.

"Your posture isn't very good," Brown told the scribe, before carefully detailing how to carry the body properly and what could happen if you didn't. He sounded like he was back teaching the English and history courses Dr. W.H. Bell signed him up for nearly 60 years before at Massillon's Washington High School while doubing as the football coach.

Later, the scribe related the scene to Jack Clary, the writer who collaborated with Brown on his 1979 autobiography.

"Can you imagine a guy like that spending that kind of time with a guy like me?" the scribe asked Clary.

"Why do you think a guy like that was a guy like that?" Clary asked the guy ...

There was that Sunday night game against the Steelers at Riverfront Stadium, the Bengals' first game after a bye week as they tried to stop a two-game losing streak and go into the AFC Central lead with a 6-4 record. The kind of night when a network studio honcho's flippant aside turns into a scribe's nightmare.

Greg Gumbel allowed that Brown was "privately grumbling," about coach Sam Wyche. The scrible scurried to the owner's box and not knowing any better, barged in at halftime, much to the horror of Brown's wife and several onlookers. Mary Brown is a lovely lady, but apparently reporters weren't part of the scenery in the box on game day.

When Brown turned around from his front-row seat to check out the commotion at the back of the box and saw the ashen scribe, he waved him down. "Mary, let the boy come in."

After spewing apologies, the scribe asked Brown about the report.

I never even heard of that guy," Brown said. "What did you say his name was, Gimbel?" After shooting down the report and backing his coach ("That's a new one to me. The guy had to go a way for that one"), Brown patted the scribe on the knee and said, "You did the right thing coming in here."

Then there was that blurry week in Seatte in 1990, when Wyche started a national crusade by barring female reporters from the Bengals locker room. The hotel was wired for a national convention with Wyche appearing on the Today show tomorrow and the Tomorrow Show today and Good Morning America in the next 20-20. The scribe needed the owner badly and Brown knew the scribe worked for an afternoon paper, so he returned the message first thing in the morning, which was 3:50 a.m. the scribe's time. Perfect timing for a PM deadline.

"Sorry it's early," Brown said. "But I knew you wanted to talk to me."

A few months later, when the NFL meetings were held in Hawaii and the scribe had to call him at 3 in the morning to get updates on Brown's timetable, Brown told him once, "Get some sleep."

During the week's leading up to Brown's last draft in '91, the scribe offered to take him to lunch. PB told him, I'm bringing my own. Bring down your lunch and we'll sit in my office." And there he was the next day, ready with a paper bag on his desk and a pass rusher on his mind.

Then there was the last interview. The scribe heard Brown wasn't going to be at the next day's annual pre-training camp luncheon for the '91 season. Not a good sign, but not all that surprising since he had missed some Bengals' games for the first time in his life the previous season because of his health.

So the scribe wanted to see what he was thinking because it was football season and PB was always thinking and he would always tell you what he was thinking and it always made damn good copy. At first, Mary Brown didn't think he could take the call. It took a few minutes. But he got to the phone and talked about his desire to sign his draft picks, and how he liked the idea of Wyche "loosening up," up the offense, and how recent court cases put the NFL on a collision course with free agency.

"The game will survive. It always does," he said. Asked about the Bengals' ability to survive with baseball and NBA economics in Cincinnati, Brown said, "I can't say we wouldn't survive. In some way, we would."

Then two weeks later he was gone.

Just a couple of stories about The Legend and a scribe. No big deal. But with his unspoken touch, the legend helped a scribe call Cincinnati home and make pro football his life.

He did that more than a few times in his life with that special something. There's no word for it. They just put your name on a stadium.

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