The Cincinnati Bengals have never been one of the league’s free-spending teams, with former owner Paul Brown well known for keeping a tight rein on the purse strings. But life seemingly has not improved much under his son either. Mike Brown took control of the team in 1991 and the Bengals are consistently one of the teams with the most salary cap space available at the start of each new league year, often reluctant to spend the money necessary to retain their best players.
But if not for an interview with former NFL wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh posted by Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports on Monday, we would never have known just how cheap the Bengals really were until now.
Storytime with T.J. Houshmandzadeh about the early years with the Bengals: No bottled water or Gatorade, jockstrap issues and showing up to home games straight from the club pic.twitter.com/nvSX7STorM— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) July 9, 2018
According to the Bengals’ former wide receiver and scourge of Steelers Nation for many of his years in Cincinnati, the Bengals organization went to extreme lengths to save money during his rookie season. Rather than provide bottled water or Gatorade in the locker rooms, the players were given only access to a water fountain. While that might seem only a minor hardship, their policy on jock-straps was much more disturbing. As Houshmandzadeh told Cowherd.
“The year before I got there, [offensive tackle] Willie Anderson was telling me ,they didn't even have jock-straps. They would buy, get a bunch of used jock-straps, throw them in the middle of the locker room and say ‘here you go’.”
Thankfully, for the sake of hygiene and plain human decency, Willie Anderson and rookie running back Ki-Jana Carter purchased new ones for the entire team, but even this wasn’t the low point of the Bengals’ thriftiness.
Every NFL team in the league puts their players in a hotel the night before a home game, although that was apparently not the case in Cincinnati. In a cost-saving move, the Bengals ownership opted to have their players stay at home when they had a game at Paul Brown Stadium. A decision that shows why the rest of the league insists on their team staying in a hotel.
“Everybody stayed in hotels for every home game, every team I’ve been on. When I first got to the Bengals, we stayed at home. So, as a rookie, you figure ‘Oh I was inactive last week, I’m going to be inactive this week’, you’d go out. You’d go out and go straight from the club to the stadium on Sunday.”
The entire interview has to be heard to be believed, and I encourage you to click on the link above to listen to Houshmandzadeh’s words in person. As he observes, the arrival of Marvin Lewis in 2003 brought about a culture change, and many of these practices were quickly ended. But with Brown still very much in charge of the team, you have to wonder about the other ways he’s found to save money these days.