Most Browns fans are aware that our team's famously blank helmets once bore a logo. Or almost did. Or something.
In 1965, the story goes, the Browns were set to wear a logo on their domes for the first time. At Art Modell's request, the stylized "CB" emblem was designed by David Boss, a photographer and artist who would later start the NFL Creative Services department. The rest of the story was largely lost to history. Rumors and misinformation ran deep: Conflicting reports cited photos that may or may not exist and quotes that may or may not have been said. Speculation filled the void. Verdicts fell into two camps: The Browns definitely wore the logo once during an exhibition game against the Packers in 1965. Or the Browns never wore the logo because the players peeled them off in revolt.
Smart money has always been on option No. 2, based on lack of evidence. No one has ever produced a picture showing the Browns wearing the logo. Still, the rumor of the "CB" has persisted over the years like some pre-historic cockroach.
Let me put it to rest right now. I can say without a doubt, 100 percent 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, as well as photographs and news clipping from The Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository and others.
In photos from that exhibition game between the Browns and Packers in 1965, Cleveland's helmets are resplendently plain. In fact, in no image from any exhibition game that year is there a "CB" decal to be seen. Same with pictures from training camp: From the day Jim Brown arrived to the end of their time at Hiram, no logos.
The logo was real, however. In 1965, David Boss 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 '65 and '66. (Brian Burk, a longtime Browns fan and collector who lives in Virginia, claims he bought the original painting at auction.)
Some collectibles and promotional material from '65 also 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.
Adding to the confusion over whether the team ever wore the logo have been a few comments from seemingly reliable sources.
In 2003, in the PD's "Glad You Asked" section, reporter Bob Dolgan wrote, "The 'CB' showed up for one preseason game in 1965. Then it was scrapped."
And I found this on a message board: "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."
No source is cited, and I can I find no other reference to this tidbit anywhere else. Nor can Anthony Dick. "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 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.
A February 13, 1997 Los Angeles Times article, "Uniforms: Designed With the Fan in Mind," included this: "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."
The earliest reference I can find comes from a 1969 edition of Studio International, an art journal: "Cleveland Browns players reject a 'CB' helmet logo."
So the player revolt hypothesis seems to be true. But is it? I can't describe how badly I want it to be.
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. And Art Modell is standing at the center of the room, proudly cradling a decorated helmet like a new 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 less than 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 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.
Ryan was vehemently opposed to any logo back in the day. (He 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.) 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," says Ryan.
What about the "Mickey Mouse" quips?
"I don't remember, but that sounds like me, though," he says with 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 possible that Ryan, as a leader among the players, was consulted 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. 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 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. Forty-five 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?
Maybe we should be content 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 dear to this day. For that, we owe them our thanks, wherever and whoever they are.