Most Browns fans are aware that while our favorite team doesn't have a logo on its helmets, it once almost did. Or actually did. Or something.
In 1965 the Browns were, supposedly, set to wear a logo on their domes for the first time (though they had previously worn numbers on their helmets). It was a stylized "CB" emblem that David Boss, a photographer and artist who would later start the NFL Creative Services department, designed at the behest of Art Modell for the NFL. That's about where fact and knowledge end in this infamous tale.
I've been aware of the "CB" logo for years, but could never find a complete account. Rumors and misinformation ran deep — conflicting reports citing photos that may or may not exist, quotes people may or may not have said, speculation filling the information voids. Verdicts fell into one of two camps:
1) The Browns definitely wore the logo once during an exhibition game against the Packers in 1965.
2) The Browns never wore the logo because the players peeled them off in revolt, either during training camp or before a game.
Let me put it to rest right now. I can say, without a doubt, 100% definitively, that the Browns never wore the logo during a preseason game. Anthony Dick, alumni coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, was kind enough to invite me to peek through their archives, which include every game program, extensive photographs, and news clipping from the Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, and others.
I've seen a picture from that exhibition game between the Browns and Packers in 1965 and Cleveland's plain orange helmets are resplendently... plain. For that matter, I saw pictures from every exhibition game that year — vs. a team of college all-stars, vs. the Rams, Lions, Steelers, and 49ers — and in every photo there is no "CB" decal to be seen. Even pictures from training camp, from the day Jim Brown arrived to intra-squad scrimmages to the end of their time at Hiram, show no hint of any logo on the helmets.
The logo was real, however. In 1965, David Boss (who passed away in 1999), the same fellow who designed the "CB" emblem, was commissioned by the NFL to do paintings for each team that would later be used in advertisements. His version for the Browns clearly shows a "CB" on the helmet, and so does every subsequent use of the image — in ads touting the "Official Browns Uniform" on sale for kids in department stores like Higbees or Grants, in a deck of official NFL trading cards, and on various game programs from 1965 and 1966. (Incidentally, Brian Burk, a longtime Browns fan and collector who lives in Virginia, claims he has the original oil painting among his prizes after buying it at auction.)
Collectibles and promotional material from 1965 also occasionally display the "CB" — Johnny Hero dolls, a Hormel tray, game programs, and some football helmet pencil sharpeners are just a few of the relics bearing the mark that make up the scarce physical history of the never-used logo.
So, where did all these rumors come from that they used the logo? For the life of me, amid all the message boards and blogs and newspaper articles, I can only find a few references from some sort of authority figure saying the Browns wore the logo against the Packers.
First, in a "Glad You Asked" section in the Plain Dealer, reporter Bob Dolgan responded to a query on October 25, 2003 by writing, "The 'CB' showed up for one preseason game in 1965. Then, it was scrapped."
Second, on one message board, a poster left the following:
"According to Dino Lucarelli, the Browns Director of Alumni Relations, The Browns wore those helmets in one game; a home preseason game vs Green Bay in 1965. The players after the game didn't think it was necessary so they soon peeled them off and never wore them again."
"We have gone through our archives in the past and we've not found any photos of anyone ever wearing that logo in a game," says Dick. "I know the rumors, but really and truly, we have no evidence that it was ever worn in a game. But we do get a handful of calls every year asking about it. "
As for the Lucarelli information, it doesn't seem to come from any source, nor can I find any other reference to this tidbit anywhere else. However, if anyone was looking for a verdict, seeing Dino Lucarelli apparently verify the preseason game theory might make you believe. The team says so!
As for evidence that the logo was never worn, only a few tantalizing quotes, from articles that I've rarely seen cited in any account, begin to get at any sort of truth.
From "Uniforms: Designed With the Fan in Mind" published in the LA Times on February 13, 1997: "Contrast this with the process of finding a logo for the helmets of the Cleveland Browns in 1964. The league suggested an understated CB emblem. But quarterback Frank Ryan objected, claiming the blue-collar team didn't need 'any Mickey Mouse stuff' on their helmets, and the suggestion was killed forever."
From a 1991 piece in the San Jose Mercury: "In 1963, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell decided his team's helmet — noteworthy because it has no insignia — needed a new look, so the NFL's creative division developed a "CB" monogram. However, when the Browns reported to training camp, quarterback Frank Ryan led a player revolt against the change and the helmet was never seen by the public." (Note: The writer obviously has the date incorrect, unless Modell was thinking about a new logo two full years before anything was designed.)
The earliest reference to the logo that I can find, strangely enough, comes from a 1969 edition of Studio International, an art journal, and it merely says, "1965: Cleveland Browns players reject a 'CB' helmet logo."
So now we're getting somewhere. The player revolt hypothesis, by all accounts, seems to be true. And more than that, Frank Ryan appears to be a sartorial and historical hero as well as a legendary quarterback.
But is that part true? Did he lead his fellow teammates in ripping off the decals?
I can't describe how badly I want the player revolt to be true. I want Art Modell to be the villain and the humble players to be the heroes. Imagine the scene: The players arrive at Hiram College for training camp. They stroll through the hallways and into the locker room, and they stop dead in their tracks. Laid out in each pristine stall are their uniforms. But something's off. They're staring at the helmets, each one bearing the dreaded "CB" decal on both sides. Art Modell is standing at the center of the room proudly holding a helmet, cradling it like a proud father. Frank Ryan is the first to blow up. He rips the decals off. Jim Brown next. Then Gene Hickerson. Art Modell is frazzled. In under a minute the mutiny has dispensed of all the decals, restoring the famed orange helmets to their original splendor as the players erupt in a spontaneous, "Here we go Brownies, here we go!" chant. Modell is on the verge of crying. The players file out amid the noise and Frank Ryan strolls by Modell, staring the young owner down, just shaking his head.
I want that to be how the logo-less tradition was preserved, don't you? Sadly, the tale appears to be apocryphal.
Since Ryan's opposition to any logo (he also responded to the possibility of putting Brownie the Elf on the helmet with, "I'll wear that when you change the name to the Cleveland Faeries," according to a December 9, 1974 Evening Independent story) seemed so vehement back in the day, and since Ryan is at the center of the mutiny hypothesis, it was only proper to call the former Browns quarterback, still mentally sharp, living on 55-acre spread up in Vermont. Did he lead a decal-peeling revolt?
"No, I don't remember anything like that," Ryan says.
What about the "Mickey Mouse" quips?
"I don't remember, but that sounds like me though," he says through a chuckle.
"I don't think it was ever worn," he continues. "I don't remember a specific discussion about it, but I do remember pointing out to Art Modell that it was important to not have a helmet insignia. I don't think it was ever on the helmet, though — not during my tenure. "
Conversations with other players and employees from the era seem to back up Ryan's account. Not only does it appear there was never a mass de-logoing session, but while players had heard rumors of a new design, most never saw it. It's very possible that Ryan, as a leader among the players, was consulted for his opinion before a CB was ever slapped on a helmet.
Paul Wiggin, defensive end for the Browns from 1957-1967 and current senior consultant for pro personnel for the Minnesota Vikings, says, "I don't remember a lot. But I knew something was in the works. But I don't recall every wearing it. I can't really remember though. Now, it's part of our heritage. I can't remember even talking about it to anyone over the years."
"I don't remember anything about that in 1965. And I took care of all that stuff," says Leo Murphy, the Browns trainer from 1950 until 1988. "All these teams had their decals. Sometimes the newspapers and the media would suggest that the Browns had better have something on the helmets. In the 1950s we came up with one and I put a decal on a helmet and showed it to Paul [Brown], and he said, 'We don't want to get involved in that. We don't want them to look like automobile racers out there.'"
Dick Schafrath, an offensive lineman with the Browns from 1957-1971, adds that the players were, in fact, very defensive of their unique uniform status, and even talked about it. "It's a tough one, because we're talking about 45 years ago, but I don't recall ever wearing it. We loved the idea that we were the only team in the NFL that had the original orange helmet with no logo. I know all the players that were on the team liked the idea of us being the only ones. I was roommates with Gene Hickerson, and we used to talk about the that uniqueness."
So, where does that leave us? Answers to the original questions but levels of new conjecture doesn't seem like a fitting place to end, even if we can definitively say the logo was never worn in a game. 45 years later, with no records from the team, league, or Hall of Fame, there's perhaps little hope for closure at this point.
If it was the official logo, why didn't the NFL make the team wear it despite the players' objections? If Art Modell really liked it, why would he defer to the players? Where did the original rumors of the team donning the design come from? I've called NFL Creative Services and they have nothing — no communiques, memos, sketches, or otherwise — in their archives. I've talked to the Browns, contacted the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and sorted through endless game stories and photos from 1965 and found nothing more than tunnels and dead ends.
Maybe we should be content in knowing that somewhere, at sometime, some people (including Frank Ryan) led the fight to keep the helmet unadorned and perfect, a tradition that we hold dearly to this day. For that, we owe them our thanks, wherever and whomever they are.
Got more info? A picture? An anecdote? Get in touch via email@example.com. Many thanks to Paul Lukas, Uni Watch reader Trevor Williams, Anthony Dick, the Fleer Sticker Project and anyone else who has scrounged around for information on this project.
Follow me on Twitter: @vincethepolack.