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From Anthony to Tony Da Tiger: Cincinnati Bengals fan transforms on game days

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CINCINNATI — It’s 6:55 a.m. on a brisk Sunday morning. Anthony Brooks has just opened his front door dressed in an army-colored Dri-FIT shirt and camouflage pants, ready to attack his day.

Brooks isn’t going to haul a rucksack around his neighborhood for some good, old-fashioned combat training. This isn’t that type of morning routine.

Instead, he heads to a basement filled with Cincinnati Bengals memorabilia: framed jerseys, T-shirts and pictures cover the walls. Other collectors’ items, such as helmets and various knick-knacks line the shelves.

Cincinnati Bengals superfan transforms in to 'Tony Da Tiger' every game
Cincinnati Bengals superfan Anthony Brooks transforms into "Tony Da Tiger" for Bengals games. He hasn't missed a game this season.
Safid Deen, USA TODAY Sports+

Brooks sits down at his basement bar, where he’s laid out two bowls of water, two makeup sponges, seven brushes, four plastic containers of face paint, black lipstick and some setting spray.

In about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on if he’s home or in a hotel before a road game, he’ll no longer answer to Anthony.

But, you can call him Tony. 

‘You’re Tony Da Tiger? Oh my God’

‘You’re Tony Da Tiger? Oh my God’

Brooks, 47, is a soft-spoken family man who’s worked for his local utility company for 19 years. He and his wife, Carrie, have been married for 23 years and have three daughters: Baylee, 23, Riley, 19, and Katie, 17.

And he’s a devoted Cincinnati Bengals superfan who roars until he loses his voice every Sunday, whether his team is bottom of the league or AFC North champion and heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

The Bengals (10-6) close out the 2021 regular season on the road Sunday at 1 p.m. ET against their in-state rival Cleveland Browns (7-9).

But this particular day is a home game against “that team up north” during the NFL’s Salute to Service weekend. So while he sponges orange and black goop on his face, he can’t help but think about his oldest daughter, who completed six years of service in the Army earlier this year.

After all, she’s the one who inspired his alter-ego about 10 years ago.

“She started this madness,” Brooks said after describing one spontaneous game day they decided to wear face paint just for fun. "So, she threw some stuff on my face and we went downtown and had a good time.

“Now, I got makeup brushes and sponges and lipstick and setting spray, and sometimes my wife teases me and says I got more makeup and items than she does.”

Anthony "Tony Da Tiger" Brooks
We were just going to a game and we're like, 'Hey, let's do some face paint.' So, she threw some stuff on my face and we went downtown and had a good time, and pretty much there was a big hit.

The entire family supports Brooks’ weekly transformation, but they aren’t the only ones who appreciate Tony. He receives overwhelming reactions from fellow fans, especially when he’s not in character.

“People are just so taken back like ‘You're Tony Da Tiger? Oh my god!’” said Brooks, who was born and raised in Cincinnati. “You know, and it's weird. It's like stardom for them. But to me, I really don't look at it that way. I'm just a normal dude that likes to support his team and go out and have fun with it.

"But other people look at me as like a representation of what Who Dey Nation is. And it’s awesome. I'm very privileged to be able to represent them and have people look at me that way.”

‘It’s face paint, not make up’

‘It’s face paint, not make up’

Brooks puts a white washcloth between his shirt and neck, dips a makeup sponge into some water and white paint, and begins.

He starts on his right eyebrow. Up to his forehead. Around his eyes. He then moves to his mouth, each side of his jawline and the lower parts of his cheeks.

With a new sponge filled with orange paint, he dabs his nose and paints the rest of his bare face, ensuring his sponge does not touch any of the first layer of white paint.

And an important note before he continues:

“Everybody always asks, ‘How long does it take you to put on your makeup?’” Brooks says with a smile. “Well, first, let’s correct you: ‘It's face paint, not makeup.’ That's always fun to do.”

Next, he begins a detailed process with the tiniest brush he owns.

He covers it in white paint and methodically applies brush strokes where the orange and white paints meet. The tiny marks resemble fine, spiky cat hair, providing a refined transition between colors.

“This is some of the stuff I learned over the years,” Brooks says. “I didn’t used to do all of this little detail, but it’s amazing what a little bit of detail does.”

Next, he applies a thick layer of black paint near his tear ducts, blending it midway around his eye and setting the foundation for several thin, yet exquisite strokes above the eye that resemble cat whiskers.

“A lot of people say the eyes are the most important,” Brooks says while carefully lining his bottom eyelids. “So, I actually spent a little effort on the eyes, kind of getting it round and making it look kind of nice.”

Anthony "Tony Da Tiger" Brooks
A lot of people say the eyes are the most important. So, I actually spent a little effort on the eyes, kind of getting it round and making it look kind of nice.

His nostrils get covered with a thick layer of paint and a thin line is drawn down the middle of his mustache.

Next is another significant detail in Tony’s process: three rows of seven tiny, black spots on both sides of his mustache.

“You might say, 'Why seven?'” Brooks says. “There are seven points in a touchdown. Why three? Three points for a field goal. So, I do seven dots and three rows.”

Brooks adds streaks of black and white paint on his forehead, nose bridge and across his cheeks. He gives his face a few long strokes with a blending brush to ensure the paint is dry and smooth.

“Yep, Tony Da Tiger is using a blending brush,” Brooks says lightheartedly. “And I just do it to kind of soften the edges and make sure there's no more wet stuff on there.”

When Brooks’ wife helps him clean up before they head out to tailgate, the blending brush is one item she now knows not to run under water.

“I’m in there rinsing this off, and rinsing that off. And I’m getting ready to put his brush in water, and I hear, ‘No, don’t do that! That’s my blending brush,’” Carrie Brooks says. “I’m like, ‘I don’t even have a blending brush.’”

Brooks quickly puckers his lips for a layer of black lipstick. Long, white whiskers flank the sides of his goatee, and he reaches for some setting spray to ensure it all stays put.

He carefully puts on his Joe Burrow jersey to avoid smudges, then takes a few steps over to his “Tony Da Tiger box” of assorted accessories.

First up, plastic chains he made himself “because you know, you have to hold the tiger back.”

Then, a few beads go around his neck, followed by Bengals armbands around his wrists, a pair of football gloves and a visor with an orange and black wig to finalize his trademark look.

“And there it is,” Tony says. “It’s Who Dey day. Let’s go!”

Tailgating with a passion

Tailgating with a passion

When Brooks first morphed into Tony Da Tiger, he loved pregaming at the Cincinnati bars and what he calls “walkabout tailgates,” where he makes pitstops at several tailgates to socialize with fans before games.

But he’s found a home at Parking Lot E near the Ohio River. Jim Foster, better known as Bengal Jim, hosts his "Before the Roar" Tailgate Experience there. It started in 1993 and is the longest-standing Bengals tailgate.

It’s where Brooks and Carrie have become great friends with Eric and Camilla Higgins, the parents of rising Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, since they joined the festivities at the beginning of the season.

“I got to know the real person, outside of the super fan,” Eric Higgins said of Brooks. “From Day 1, we clicked. I can’t wait till the offseason, where we can have dinner and kick it, talk about life, sit back and have a barbecue. They’re the type of people you want as a friend because they’re good people.”

It’s also where Brooks and Carrie are able to leverage Tony Da Tiger’s popularity for a greater cause. The couple gives away Bengals memorabilia to raise money for various charities.

In years past, their efforts collected anywhere from $8,000-$12,000. But through Week 15 of this NFL season, Brooks says they raised more than $38,000.

Their recent donations included Toys for Tots and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an organization that provides rent, utilities, food, clothing and emotional assistance to Cincinnati residents in need.

“This year, it's been phenomenal,” Brooks says. “I don't know if it's from the pandemic and people were just wanting to give, or if we've just been able to expand our abilities to do the kind of stuff that we do.”

As much as he loves giving back, Brooks also appreciates the attention he receives while in character.

When he poses for pictures, he tries not to smile because a smiling Tony “looks like an evil clown,” while a stoned-faced Tony looks more like a tiger.

When he meets a family with children, he gives the young fans a care package with a stuffed tiger, keychains, stickers and a coloring book featuring other diehard Bengals fans.

Brooks wants fans to remember they don’t have to wear a jersey or attend every game or commit to a makeup process that lasts nearly an hour. He just encourages them to celebrate their team in positive ways.

“Some people don’t understand the superfan status and why I do what I do,” Brooks said. “If I can do Tony the Tiger and it helps make a kid happy … or if it helps draw attention to a charity that we're doing and I can help raise money, then I'm all for it.”

After all, Brooks created Tony all those years ago to make his kid happy. Maybe his Sunday transformation isn’t as drastic as it looks.




REPORTING: Safid Deen

PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY: Safid Deen, Harrison Hill, Emily Olsen, Tyler Dragon

EDITOR: Alicia DelGallo

DIGITAL PRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Spencer Holladay, Annette Meade

SOCIAL MEDIA, ENGAGEMENT AND PROMOTION: Analis Bailey

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