Mike Brown, Dartmouth ’57, accepted Beta’s highest honor for professional achievement, the Oxford Cup, on October 24 at the Queen City Club in Cincinnati, Ohio. Including an appearance by fellow NFL owner and Oxford Cup recipient Shad Khan, Illinois ’70, some 40 Beta brothers, family and friends came to support the momentous occasion. Seven area chapter presidents also joined in the celebration, representing Centre, Cincinnati, Denison, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami and Ohio State.
“I know something about lifelong friendships,” Brown remarked, speaking directly to the collegiate men. “[Fraternities] are seedbeds of lifetime friendships. And you’re so fortunate to benefit from that. I have, you will and it’s a wonderful thing to have.”
To whom he was referring to, Brown offered nothing but kind words and witty humor for his two closest friends in the room, Jack Schiff, Ohio State ’65, and Tom Kinder, Miami ’76.
With the last name Brown, it’s no surprise a second-generation NFL owner is associated with football royalty – and one of the league’s most treasured franchises.
A favorite son of Massillon, Ohio, Mike Brown was initiated into the Alpha Omega Chapter of Beta Theta Pi as Roll No. 1447 on December 12, 1954. A graduate of Dartmouth College in 1957, where he also played quarterback, Brown went on to graduate from Harvard Law in 1960. A buckeye through and through, however, he eventually returned home to join the
Son of legendary football coach Paul Brown — who coached Ohio State to its first national championship in 1942, and co-founded and coached the Cleveland Browns to three NFL championships throughout the ’50s — Brown followed his beloved father south for the 1968 co-founding of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Compared to most media markets, the Cincinnati area is of course smaller. But, what Bengals fans cannot control through total population, they certainly make up for in spirit – as evidenced by sellout crowds along the riverfront for virtually every home game.
Playing against the San Francisco 49ers in the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowls, it’s the passion of that avid fan base that has sustained Brown and the Bengals through the years.
When it became clear in the mid-90s a new stadium was needed to compete with other hallmark teams across the country, the city of Baltimore pursued the Bengals aggressively to lure the team away – even promising a new stadium of their dreams. But Brown resisted the lucrative offer in favor of his native state.
As he shared with Game Day Stadium Announcer and fellow Beta Brother Tom Kinder, Miami ’76, “Cincinnati is where Nancy and I raised our family. It is where my father wanted to build the Bengals into a successful NFL team. We had to make every effort to stay in Cincinnati.”
What followed is one of the best stadiums in the NFL – and a downtown urban renewal of epic proportions.
Like his pioneering father — who is recognized as one of the first NFL owners to help break the color barrier by adding Black players to his team — Brown was just the sixth team owner to hire a Black coach in the modern era. Assuming the reins in 2003, Marvin Lewis led the team for 15 years and was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2009. Overseeing seven playoff appearances and four division titles, he is the winningest coach in Bengals history.
That commitment to community and leading by example are Brown’s trademarks, despite his low-key nature.
Notoriously private, including most every aspect about his charitable giving, he once remarked, “When it comes to charity, you shouldn’t brag about it.” Widely known for his support of the Cincinnati Zoo and the preservation of big cats and Bengal tigers, and The Cincinnati Boys and Girls Club, Brown is also rumored to be the largest individual donor to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Museum that opened in 2004 just yards from the Bengals’ home.
Today, thanks to Brown’s hiring of Head Coach Zac Taylor and NCAA Champion, Heisman Trophy winner, and number one NFL draft pick Joe Burrow, the Bengals have returned to football glory. AFC champions in 2021 and runner-up in 2022, they came up just three points short in Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams – the second-most-watched game in league history.
How fitting Brown joins the Oxford Cup Roll alongside fellow Beta and Jacksonville Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, Illinois ’70, and welcomes Beta Brother Mitch Rales, Miami ’78, as co-owner of the Washington Commanders.
Make no mistake about it; it’s been a storybook football journey for Beta Brother Mike Brown. But it’s been his character, humility and loyalty that have firmly established him within the upper echelon of NFL owners.
The Fraternity awards the Oxford Cup in recognition of achievement of the highest order by a Beta. Recipients must be loyal members of Beta Theta Pi who have brought honor to the Fraternity through distinguished service and accomplishments in their chosen professional fields. The Oxford Cup was developed in 1984 by then-President Peter E. Van de Water, St. Lawrence ’58, and General Secretary B. Hume Morris, Centre ’68. Brother Morris also wrote the award ceremony and designed the Cup, a smaller version of the Pater Knox Golden Wedding Anniversary Loving Cup.