Superfan James Brown a Bengals institution

Most fans you'll find in the stands, cheering on their professional football team of choice from a distance and wearing their club's apparel with the hope that one day they can be included in the organization's successes and failures.

James Brown was once such a fan. Now he's a Bengals institution.

His journey chronicled in the first episode of TNF Presents, Brown went from day-one superfan of Paul Brown's expansion Bengals in 1968 to organization mainstay and franchise icon.

James Brown was at Cincinnati's very first game in '68, and in the 51 seasons since he claims to have missed only two games.

"I love this team like I love my family," Brown said.

The Bengals treat him like such, too. Brown walks anywhere he wants in the building. He greets players in the locker room. Brown finds Lewis in the cafeteria and offers a firm handshake.

"He's part of the inner circle of the Cincinnati Bengals," said Marvin Lewis, Bengals coach of 16 years, "every player that's come through the Cincinnati Bengals in history remembers J.B."

"You couldn't help but appreciate the spirit that he brings," longtime head trainer Paul Sparling said, "and I think as a result that's kind of how he worked his way in."

Brown worked his way from the nosebleeds to the sidelines by showing up, and showing up, and, well, showing up some more. He would be outside Riverfront Stadium when the Bengals players arrived for games. He'd be there when they left, too, win or loss. Brown would even welcome the team back home at the airport after road games.

He wasn't hard to notice, even by the organization's founding father.

Brown carries around a plethora of Bengals clippings, photos, programs, some autographed, some not. But his most cherished item is a copy of Paul Brown's autobiography, P.B.: The Paul Brown Story, signed by the author himself.

The inscription inside: "To James E. Brown, my friend, Paul E. Brown."

From there, James Brown said, "Then I just became part of the team."

Don't believe him? There's proof -- in NFL Films reels and footage spanning nearly four decades. There he is standing behind Sam Wyche; next to Boomer Esiason; celebrating with Forrest Gregg; running after David Shula; and leading the team out of the huddle in the 1970s and 2000s. He is ubiquitous in Bengals history, recorded and recalled.

The fans in Cincy treat Brown like one of the players -- he signs jerseys and shakes hands pregame as if he were Andy Dalton or A.J. Green -- but at home, he's just Grandpa Brown.

"Even at church, when he dresses up in his church suit, he's got the Bengals pin," granddaughter Breanna Brown joked. "But I treat him like my regular grandpa despite all his stardom."

Brown is proof that you can care your way onto a football team, into the fabric of a team's history and right onto the sideline every week.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.