Outside the Lines:
Legacy of Losing


Here's the transcript from Show 135 of weekly Outside The Lines - Legacy of Losing

SUN., OCT. 27, 2002
Host: Bob Ley
Reported by: Bob Holtzman, ESPN
Guests: Jim Mora, former coach of New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts; Dave Lapham, Bengals radio analyst

BOB LEY, HOST- October 27, 2002. The Bengals losing and trapped in a history of failure that is...


TAKEO SPIKES, BENGALS LINEBACKER- I wouldn't wish it on my enemy, man, you know what I'm saying? That's how bad it is.

LEY- Losing so badly for so long, a civic leader believes the Bengals have violated their stadium lease by not fielding a competitive team.

TODD PORTUNE, HAMILTON COUNTY COMMISSIONER- The bottom line is results, and the results suggest that at the end of the day, in wins and losses, that they're not.

LEY- And when teams become synonymous with losing, as with the Bengals, or at one time the Clippers or the Saints, failure breeds more of the same.

WILLIE ANDERSON, BENGALS OFFENSIVE TACKLE - I think if you get that mental thought in your head, that's contagious.

BOOMER ESIASON, BENGALS QUARTERBACK (1984-92, 1997)- It's like the heart gets sucked out of the players. You have to wonder why every year it's the same thing.

LEY- Today on Outside The Lines -- Living with a legacy of losing.

The line was uttered by Jay Leno, and it cuts to the heart of this morning's topic. "Saddam Hussein was re-elected in Iraq, the vote 11 million to zero. Wasn't that the score of the Bengals game the other night?"

Now, all of this is high irony. Remember, the Bengals franchise was established by one of the fathers of the modern NFL, Paul Brown, a legendary champion and winner. But in the dozen years since his passing, the Bengals under his son, Mike, have floundered. By rights, this can't happen in the NFL, where capitalist owners enjoy their unique brand of socialism -- a salary cap and an easier schedule and higher draft picks for bad teams. None of this has helped the Bengals, who are 0-and-6 for the fifth time in 12 seasons.

But beyond the numbers, Bob Holtzman reports, is a legacy of losing that is stifling.

BOB HOLTZMAN, OUTSIDE THE LINES CORRESPONDENT- There are those who think the Cincinnati Bengals are a joke. Actually, they're more of a punchline. Where's the safest place in Cincinnati during a tornado? Paul Brown Stadium. There's rarely a touchdown there.

This season, the Bengals have started three quarterbacks. Combined, they have two touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Cincinnati's anemic offense has reached the end zone a total of five times, which is fewer than Chargers wide receiver Curtis Conway and 12 other NFL players.

After 12 years of embarrassment, Bob Traurig has had enough.

BOB TRAURIG, UNHAPPY BENGALS SEASON TICKET HOLDER- It's bad for the league image to have a team like this. They're a laughingstock, and we're a laughingstock in Cincinnati. Anywhere you go across the nation, if you're asked, "Where are you from?" "Cincinnati." "Oh, you're a Bungle fan!"

HOLTZMAN- So once a week, this season ticket holder sits outside the 3-year-old state-of-the-art stadium that he and the rest of the local taxpayers built and does what he can to fight the futility.

TRAURIG- I've seen a couple players drive by, and they've actually given me the thumbs-up. Everyone around here knows -- the players, the coaches, everybody knows that it's Mike Brown.

HOLTZMAN- Mike Brown inherited the team when his father died in 1991. The Bengals haven't been to the playoffs since. Brown's title is Bengals president. And make no mistake, he is the commander-in-chief. He has no general manager and a small scouting staff.

TRAURIG- He runs the front office like a sandwich shop or like a corner deli store. It's all about -- it's all in the family. He's got his brother, his son, his daughter, his son-in-law and two other yes-men in the front office. There's no accountability from coaches to players. Nothing.

LANCE MCALISTER, SPORTS TALK HOST- Here we go, hour number two, 4:06 on 1360, home of the "Sports Animal." I'm Lance McAlister...

HOLTZMAN- On Cincinnati sports radio, most blame Brown.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER- The only thing to look forward to is just what you said, which is a perfect 0-16 season because that's the only thing missing from Mr. Brown's resume.

MCALISTER- Mike Brown needs to sell the team. Mike Brown needs a general manager. They need a coach with some backbone. They need a quarterback. I have just summed up 12 years of Bengals football in those storylines!

HOLTZMAN- Pessimism seemed to peak last week when running back Corey Dillon, who just turned 28 and is the team's best player, hinted that he might retire.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER- This is the worst franchise in the history of professional sports.

MCALISTER- If you're Mike Brown, you've got an 0-6 football team that is the butt of everybody's joke across the country, and you're going to have 53,000 people in your stadium on Sunday. That is ingenious!

Nobody can guarantee a winning season, but for 12 consecutive years, you'd think you'd stumble into something good once every 12 years. This franchise can't even stumble into that.

HOLTZMAN- Recently, a fictitious e-mail has been circulating in Cincinnati about a scare here at the practice field. As the story goes, a player noticed an unknown substance on the field. After a complete field analysis, authorities determined the strange white powdery substance that the Bengals were unfamiliar with was the goal line.

ANDERSON- You can't blame people for making jokes or you don't need anybody to feel sorry for you because there's a lot of things in the world going on right now that are serious and more serious than the Bengals being 0-6. Still you have a professionalism that wants you -- wants to go out and play good and play well and not be considered a loser or a quitter.

HOLTZMAN- Both of you being All-Pro-caliber players playing here -- can you describe the frustration, if that's the right word?

TAKEO SPIKES, BENGALS LINEBACKER- It's -- you know, it's -- it's -- I wouldn't wish it on my enemy, man, you know what I'm saying? That's how bad it is.

LORENZO NEAL, BENGALS RUNNING BACK- It's frustrating. You want to go out in the streets and have people look at you? And you hear it, you know? The guy with the Bengals, the Bongles, whatever. And you know, and people, all they do is negative. It's nothing positive about us because our performance doesn't merit it.

BOB TRUMPY, BENGALS TIGHT END (1968-77)- Is it just as difficult for you as it is for all of us to walk around and say, "What's wrong with the Bengals?"

HOLTZMAN- Even some of the best-known former Bengals, who gathered in Cincinnati this week for a Boomer Esiason radio show, are wondering how a team can be this bad for this long in a league designed to promote parity.

TRUMPY- They just continue to defy logic when it comes to the NFL.

HOLTZMAN- And there's no question in your mind the reason is Mike Brown.

TRUMPY- Correct.

HOLTZMAN- Plain and simple.

TRUMPY- Very easy answer, in my estimation.

ESIASON- Certainly, over the 12 years that he has run the franchise, you have to wonder why every year it's the same thing.

MUNOZ- Sure, he deserves some of the blame. There's no question about it. But I don't think you can heap the entire thing on Mike Brown's shoulders. I just don't see the spark. I just don't see the fire that -- you know, when they take the field, and just the body language. I think they're still a ways away.

ESIASON- Here, it's like the heart gets sucked out of the players, for whatever reason. And I think it has a lot to do with that permeation of mediocrity that kind of just flows through the organization.

TRUMPY- I played six years for Paul Brown and then saw him two years as the general manager, and not the head coach, and this would be an embarrassment to Paul Brown.

HOLTZMAN- Hamilton County commissioner Todd Portune thinks it may also be a violation of a contract.


HOLTZMAN- Five years ago, the Bengals signed a lease agreement for the new stadium. Taxpayers agreed to a sales tax increase to keep competitive and viable major league football and baseball teams in Cincinnati. Portune thinks the Bengals are now in breach of that contract because they haven't been competitive.

PORTUNE- If this was a social service, non-profit housing provider, for example, that was producing these kind of results for that type of investment, people would be screaming bloody murder for -- and demanding accountability and performance and audits and you name it to get the benefit of the bargain. And just because we're talking about pro football doesn't mean the issue isn't the same.

HOLTZMAN- Since raising the issue last week, Portune has received hundreds of e-mails from disgruntled fans. With the Bengals still looking for their first win, the county prosecutor is now looking into this dispute. If he determines the team is violating the agreement, the county could terminate the stadium lease altogether.

PORTUNE- Everybody said, "Do this, and things are going to be better. Do this, we're going to have a more exciting product on the field. Do this, we're going to turn it around." Well, we did it, and they didn't.

LEY- The county commissioners were unanimous in seeking a legal opinion whether the Bengals have violated their stadium lease. The Hamilton County prosecutor must issue his legal opinion by mid-December.

Joining us to consider the Bengals legacy of losing, Dave Lapham. He played 10 seasons for the team as an offensive lineman. He's been their game analyst on radio broadcasts for 17 seasons, and he joins us from the field in Cincy.

Morning, Dave.

DAVE LAPHAM, BENGALS OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (1974-83)- Morning, Bob. How are you?

LEY- I'm fine. The Bengals certainly don't seem to be. And after now two weeks to have a bye and look at 0-6, how is it in and around this team this morning?

LAPHAM- It's pretty ugly. You know, this football team, 0-6, as you say, and it's not just that they're losing football games, it's how they're losing football games. They haven't scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter for six games. The only score, Brian Simmons' 51-yard interception return for a touchdown. That's the only lead they've had all season long.

They've played six football games and have played in the lead for two minutes and 30 seconds. The rest of the six hours they've been behind or tied. It's incredible the way they're losing football games. They're down 20, 21, 24-nothing at the half every single game. Been outscored by over 100 points in the first half. It's really bad.

LEY- We should mention, and we will, that we invited Mike Brown, the club president, to be a member -- a part of this panel this morning. He declined our invitation.

Let me put up some numbers. We talked about the differences between the Paul Brown era and the Mike Brown era -- a 54 percent winning percentage when Paul Brown was in the front office or coaching, and Mike's percentage at 29 percent during his stewardship. Certainly, Mike Brown is being skewered.

Specifically, David, why are people upset with Mike Brown?

LAPHAM- Well, I think that 29 percent winning percentage...

LEY- But --but specifically...

LAPHAM- ... is the key.

LEY- ... in the operation of the team, though. I mean, what are the specifics that people point to?

LAPHAM- Well, that's exactly it, the operation of the team, the way he's done business for the last 12 years, during this losing streak. Not enough scouts in the front office. Not a football operations guy, general manager, whatever you want to term him.

You know, Paul Brown won 54 percent of the games. He was a great evaluator of talent, and Paul Brown -- he went down to Bethune-Cookman and he saw Boobie Clark playing tight end, he said, "That's my fullback." I mean he was the Jimmy Johnson and the Bill Walsh before those guys. And they're missing that now.

I think, you know, they have to evaluate everything -- how they do business, do they need a general manager, their personnel department. Maybe they have to evaluate the evaluators. Are the players playing up to par? Are the coaches coaching up to par? I mean, there's no confidence at any level of this organization, coaches in each other, players in each other, players to coaches, coaches to players. It's really a nightmare.

LEY- What do people really think in the area, in the county, about this initiative by the commissioners to possibly sue the team and terminate the lease?

LAPHAM- Well, I'm not sure that all the commissioners would even be in concert with following through on it, but that's the level of frustration. I mean, you know, the taxpayers -- they passed a tax increase to pay for this palace. I mean, they've got a facility here that's state of the art in the National Football League, and they feel they're not getting a square deal in return. I mean the team is just horrible.

LEY- All right, Dave, sit tight. We'll be back to you, Dave, in just a second. And we'll be joined by a former National Football League coach who has confronted the specter of losing and losing. We'll be speaking with Jim Mora.

JIM MORA, HEAD COACH SAINTS (1986-96), COLTS (1998-2001)- Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs! You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!

We couldn't do diddly-pooh offensively. We couldn't make a first down. We couldn't run the ball. We didn't try to run the ball. We couldn't complete a pass. We sucked! In the second half, we sucked.

LEY- Jim Mora addressing the issue of losing. Now, of course, he won a championship coaching in the USFL with the Philadelphia Stars. In New Orleans, he took the Saints franchise without a winning season in the first 20 years and led them to four playoff appearances. And he joins us this morning.

Good morning, Jim.

MORA- Good morning.

LEY- And we're also rejoined by Dave Lapham.

Jim, let me start with you. When you walk into a situation such as you encountered in New Orleans, nearly two decades without a winning season, when you see a situation such as the Bengals, when you walk into the room, take over an organization like that, what do you do?

MORA- Well, the first thing you got to do, Bob, is you've got to have a philosophy that you believe in, that's been successful. You've got to sell it to your players, and you've got to stick with that philosophy through the tough times. And if you step into a losing season, obviously, you're going to have some tough times because that's why they've been losing. So you've got to -- you're going to be tested by the players. You're going to be tested by the media. You're going to be tested by the fans. But you've got to stay with what you believe in, and you know it'll be successful. And if you start to waver or change your mind or try to change things, then everybody loses confidence in you. That's number one.

Number two, you've got to have players. In my first year at New Orleans, we were lucky. There was a pretty good nucleus there. The USFL had just folded. We picked up guys like Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson, Mel Gray. They all went to Pro Bowls. We had some high picks that first year. We got Dalton Hilliard, Ruben Mayes, Pat Swilling, Jim Dombrowski. You've got to have good players to win, and you got to have the right kind of players. If you got losers on your team, you need to get rid of them, and you got to have winners.

LEY- Well, define a loser, as a player. What do you mean, a loser as pro football player?

MORA- Well, I think a guy that is disruptive in the locker room, that doesn't hang with the team during the tough times -- and there's always going to be tough times for any team -- a guy that's selfish, that cares more about himself and his own stats than he does the team. And sometimes, you know, you don't want a bunch of choirboys and Boy Scouts totally on your football team, but you want guys that are going to be team-oriented. That's the important thing. They're going to put the team first. And if you've got these kind of people, then you're going to weather the tough times. And like I said, every team is going to go through some adversity.

LEY- Dave, let me ask you -- it's a very harsh word, but Jim employed it. Are there losers in that locker room?

LAPHAM- Yes, there are. And I thought they weeded a lot of the players out that were -- fell into the category that Coach Mora was describing. You know, my opinion on it -- every year -- say you have 50 players on your football team. Every year, you're going to have 15 guys that give you effort no matter what. I mean, they've bought into it. They're buying what you're selling. Then you have 15 guys that are front-runners. As soon as it starts going poorly, they go south. They pack their bags, the engine in their car's running to go home. Then you have 20 guys on the fence, right in the middle.

And the challenge for the players, as well as the coaches, is to get those 20 guys on the right side of the fence, with the winners, and not gravitate toward the losers. And that's the big challenge that they face every single year, it seems like here. And it's chemistry. I mean, you know, which comes first, like the chicken before the egg? Does chemistry create winning? Does winning create chemistry?

You know, I've been on a football team here in Cincinnati that started 6-0. Chemistry was great. It was easy. I've been on a football team here in Cincinnati that started 0-8. Chemistry was tough. I mean, you know when you have chemistry, and you know when you don't. This football team right now has none.

LEY- Well, Jim, you mentioned the media. Let me read you a quote. This was Lorenzo Neal a couple of weeks ago, when he made this statement and was quoted in the local paper. "This was an absolute disgrace, an embarrassment. We're supposed to be a professional team, but to play like this week in and week out, there is no excuse for it. We're the laughingstock of the league," end quote. And again, that was a couple of weeks ago.

You're the head coach. You pick up the paper. You see that in the morning. What do you say?

MORA- Well, Lorenzo Neal was a Saint when I was -- we drafted Lorenzo Neal. I like Lorenzo Neal. He's basically a good guy. But I don't think players should be talking like that to the media. I mean, usually, when a guy does something like that, it's a cop-out for himself. And for him -- for a player to criticize his teammates -- I mean, he's part of that team. Why be criticizing your teammates? To me, that's uncalled for, and I wouldn't put up for it. I'd call the guy in and tell him, "Hey, I don't want any more of that kind of stuff."

LAPHAM- You know, it's interesting, Coach. Forrest Gregg, who took us to a Super Bowl, the first Super Bowl here in Cincinnati, had exactly that philosophy. I remember one of the first meetings, he said, "Look, as far as your dealings with the media, if you treat me fairly in the media, I'll treat you fairly. If you don't, you haven't seen anything yet." And I agree with your thought process there.

LEY- Well, Dave, Jon Kitna, one of the three quarterbacks -- possibly soon to be four -- in Cincinnati said this past week when we spoke with him, "I tune out the media. I don't listen to the sports radio. I don't read the sports page." Can players truly avoid what's going on in a town where you've got a legacy of losing like this?

MORA- I don't think so. I really don't. I think people -- you know, coaches say they don't read the papers, but coaches read the papers. I mean, they know what's going on. I mean there's no way you can help know what's going on. Players have computers. There's so much on the Internet now. I mean, it's -- the media attention on the National Football League is so extensive, it's impossible not to know what people are saying about you, fans and media.

LAPHAM- And that's the thing. Not only the media but the fans that are paying attention to the media. Every time you go to the grocery store, the laundry, you're accosted by, you know, fans that are disappointed and upset. You can't get away from it. I remember when I was on the team that started 0-8, I wouldn't take my trash down to the curb. I'd make my 5-year-old son do it. I went underground. I mean I didn't want to go anywhere. And it's very embarrassing. I mean you're totally disappointed.

MORA- I don't think that's an excuse for losing, you know, that the fans are being negative and the media's being negative. If you've got the right kind of guys and the right program and good players, you're going to -- you can overcome that eventually. And having the right kind of players is going to get you through those tough times and that negative response outside of the organization. And as a head coach, you've got to continually talk about that. Don't let that outside stuff bother you. But if you've got losers on your team, if you don't have good enough players, if your program is wishy-washy as a coach, then you're going to have problems.

LEY- Well, we heard one of the players talk about how this could become contagious. Losing becomes contagious. On the field, Dave, in the society of the team, give me some examples of how that contagion spreads through a team.

LAPHAM- Well, you know, I think losing can be habit-forming, just like winning. You know, there are good habits and bad habits, and here in Cincinnati, they have zero margin for error because their psyche's so fragile. They've lost for so long, 12 years without a winning record. As soon as one thing goes wrong during the course of a football game, it multiplies. It's like the domino theory. You know, somebody drops a pass, another guy drops a pass. One turnover leads to another turnover. I mean, it just cycles down. And it's very, very tough to dig yourself out of that big hole and cycle back up. They have to have more leaders on this football team to get that done.

LEY- So you don't walk in, Jim, and make a Knute Rockne speech.

MORA- No, that doesn't do it. I mean, that might last for five minutes of a game or the first quarter or something like that. No. It's got to come from your program. From the first day you walk in as the head coach, you've got to let the players know what you expect of them and what they can expect from you. And then you've got to sell that every single day. In season, out of season, you've got to sell it. And once you get them believing in it and you get the right kind of people, you're going to win.

LEY- Jim, do you buy all the criticism of Mike Brown? Is it Mike's fault, primarily?

MORA- I don't know. You know, for me to criticize Mike Brown -- I mean, this guy's been in the league since he was a youngster. I mean, the family's been in the league forever. It's hard for me to sit back and criticize Mike Brown. But something's wrong there because they've gone through coaches. Like you said, it's been since 1991 since they've had a winning season or been to the playoffs.

They've gone through a bunch of coaches. Dick LeBeau is not a bad coach, he's a good coach. So there's something within the organization that is contributing to this team not winning football games. It's not just the coaches, you know what I mean? They obviously need better players. They don't have a quarterback. They messed up a few years ago when they drafted Akili Smith in the first round. He's not an NFL starter as a quarterback. And they -- somehow, they got to get better players in there and they got to get the right kind of players.

LEY- And Dave, can this ship be righted at all this year? For some semblance of respectability.

LAPHAM- Well, I think it's difficult, but it has in the past. I mean, this team has gotten off to 0-8 starts in franchise history -- actually, 0-10 starts in franchise history -- and finished 4-12, 3-13. And at some point in time, if you're a player -- and it's your team -- I mean, ultimately, you have coaches, you have management and everybody else. But the players are the guys on the field, and you have to do something about it.

I mean, at some point, your pride has to step up. Mike Brown's not throwing the football. Mike Brown's not catching the football. He's not tackling. He's not blocking. The coaches aren't. You know, game plans are put together. You got to execute. And at some point in time, the players just have to say, "Enough's enough." And that has happened in the past.

But I've never seen it as bad as I've seen it here, I mean, this particular year. There's no emotion, no passion. It's like they're Stepford Bengals. The emotion's just sucked right out of their eyes.

LEY- Jim and...

MORA- You know, I...

LEY- Jim, in 10 quick seconds, if you were a young coach, would you want the challenge of turning this around?

MORA- If I was a young coach, would I go into the Bengal situation?

LEY- Yes.

MORA- Would I -- yes, if I knew that I was going to get the support that I needed to compete in the National Football League.


MORA- That's the important thing...

LEY- That seems to be the big question.

MORA- ... to the head coach.

LEY- All right, guys, thanks so much. Jim Mora, good to see you. Dave Lapham, good luck today for you and the Bengals on your broadcast.

LAPHAM- Thank you, Bob.

LEY- Appreciate it. All right, guys.

MORA- Thanks, Bob.

LEY- Next up -- the dangers of wearing your team's jersey to a road game, your e-mails reacting to our look at "Enemy Colors."

This Philadelphia Eagles fan was severely beaten and nearly killed at a Redskins game this season. He says the only reason he was attacked in the FedEx Stadium parking lot was that he was wearing an Eagles jersey. We examined "Enemy Colors" last week, and from our e-mail inbox, these thoughts from viewers.

A viewer in Rochester, New York -- "I do not wear my team's colors to away games. My life is more important than showing everybody my loyalties."

From Detroit -- "I have worn my Yankees jersey in Arlington, Texas, and have nothing but fun with opposing fans. Two things contributed to my safety, Bob. One, I don't drink. And two, I kept my pie-hole shut and didn't mouth off to anyone."

And from Carlinville, Illinois -- "It seems to me that a major problem with our society is a growing in-your-face attitude, from video games to road rage. Unfortunately, if there is a fight on the field or in the stands, it is often used as the hook to a SportsCenter broadcast. Might it be that the `S' in ESPN stands less for sports and more for Springer?"

Log onto ESPN.com, our keyword OTLWeekly, to check past programs and transcripts and streaming video. We look forward to your thoughts on dealing with a legacy of losing. And our address is otlweekly@espn.com.

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