"Well, right now I don't want to say," he says, "but I'll tell you this: last year I was talking to Tex Schramm of the Dallas Cowboys. I told him, 'You've been in it nine years and you haven't won it yet.' I intend to win the turkey a whole lot sooner than that." Brown has been turkey hunting since 1962, when the Browns told him to clean out his locker. Like Napoleon at Elba, he spent his years in exile mapping the campaign for his return. "I wasn't even sure if I'd come back," he says. "But if I did come back, I knew exactly what I wanted."
First, he wanted to come back as an owner. "I left as an owner [he had 7% of the Browns] and I refused to come back as anything less." Second, he demanded absolute control. "There is no other way for a team to operate and be a winner."
Four pro teams offered Brown the job as head coach, and four times he said no. He must have had faith in his convictions because outside of football life for Paul Brown is meaningless. He was living in luxury and he was suffocating.
With the Bengals, Brown is in complete control. He's a part owner (about 10%) and, as one club official puts it, "In this organization there is only one vote and Paul has it." He is the coach and general manager and he has the last word in everything from ordering pencils to appointments on the board of directors.
Brown began building the Bengals as he built the Browns—from scratch—23 years ago. Also, he believes, better. "Something is wrong if you don't do better the second time around," he says. He even dug out the two-hour speech he used to read to the Browns the first day in camp. Only for the Bengals, after the part that goes, "It isn't going to take me long to recognize the tramp, the boozer, the barroom bum, the chaser...," he added, "We may be an expansion team but we aren't going to be the Foreign Legion. A selfish player is like cancer and we'll soon cut him out."
Brown had decided he wouldn't follow other expansion teams into the quicksand by trying to build with veterans. "Historically," he says, "every expansion team has had to junk what it started with and rebuild the second year and then, sometimes, rebuild again."
When the Bengals were founded, Brown got to select one player from each club, except Miami, after the first 29 players were frozen. Then two more were frozen. Then Brown got two more. Another frozen. Another for Brown. Then, if you can believe this, each club was allowed to pick one player to give to the Bengals. "We knew we weren't going to get much," he says. "The bad knees and the bad heads. But we tried to get as many young ones as we could. We got all the old players when they gave us that fifth player."
The bad knees, bad heads and old players were quickly gone. Of the 40 original selections only seven are still with the club. For the most part Brown used his rookies, starting as many as eight on offense and five on defense, and still the Bengals won three games last year.
Against Denver last Saturday, Brown started 20 players with three years or less experience, 14 with one year or less. Only Ernie Wright, an offensive tackle, and Bobby Hunt, a safety, qualify as elders and they are 29. Brown always has been a fine judge of young talent. Last year in the college draft he selected Center Bob Johnson and Defensive Tackle Bill Staley as his first and second picks and Running Back Paul Robinson as one of three No. 3 choices. All had exceptional seasons, and Robinson was Rookie of the Year. This year Brown's first two choices were Cook and Bergey, and both are outstanding.
"We're not there yet," says Brown. "We still need some blue-chippers from the draft next year. But those boys are the pillars with which you build championship teams. I have a pretty good idea what it takes to be a winner, not just once but often. You build on the pillars. You start with Johnson. He's the leadership type, the kind you need. Did you see us asking him what kind of play he thought would go? Cook is a bright kid and a good boy. Although he may not know it, he's still three years away from being a real fine quarterback, but he will be."