He writes that architecture is “a challenging profession, requiring talent and technical mastery, but not one with which I have much experience.” A law degree, he tells me, “is always useful in our litigious society, but, since it is a post-graduate field of study, you do not have to commit to it yet.”
As for the dream, the real dream, of becoming the general manager of a professional team—something the Bengals have famously done without—he writes, “I wish I could be more encouraging but that is a chancy career goal at best. …With so few positions available, it seems that each general manager came into the position in his own way. There is no specific course of study or career steps which can guarantee an opportunity at the top spot.”
In conclusion he says that my letter, “reflects a questioning intelligence, and I am confident that you will find the way to use that intelligence, as well as your other talents, as suits you best. All of us at the Bengals wish you well.”
In some ways, I use the letter to explain why, throughout the years, and they have been bad, bad, bad years, I have some modicum of faith—however fleeting—in Mike Brown. When I read it now, I see it as a dispatch from a man seeking to emerge from his late father’s shadow, offering up guidance to a young man very much lost. Perhaps he saw some of himself in my pangs, perhaps he wrote it out of pity. Whatever the reason, he wrote it and I kept it and I still love the Bengals.
In the 18 years since, very little and very much has happened. The early missteps and blips in Brown’s tenure turned out to be long-term trends, with the team posting just two non-losing seasons. Pickens and Big Daddy, The Ocho and Carson, Ki-Jana and Shake ‘N Blake all hinted they had the means to get us out of this perpetual quagmire, but in the end did not. Brown now stands as one of the most vilified owners in professional sports. Needless to say, I didn’t become an architect or lawyer and never fulfilled my destiny as the architect of championship Bengals teams.
Instead, I’ve joined the angry, fury-filled masses, left despondent while mocked by most of the free world. As for the letter, it will remain just this: a reminder of a time in life when someone took the time to be nice to me, when faced with the terrible, trying fears of the future, which we all have when we are young.