The Cleveland Browns have one of the most iconic helmets in the National Football League (NFL). Why? Because the helmet is devoid of any logo or lettering.
This is not the case in college football where a multitude of teams do not bear a logo on the helmet (with the exception of stripes). But in the NFL, every club has something adorned on their headgear – except the Browns. The only other franchise that is missing an emblem is the Pittsburgh Steelers who sport their team logo only on one side of the helmet while the other side is vacant.
From their inception in 1933 and into the 1960s, the Steelers were perennial losers. In the early 1960s NFL and American Football League teams were experimenting with helmet designs. In 1962, Steelers’ owner Art Rooney asked his equipment manager, Jack Hart, to attach one decal as a test to the side of the then-yellow helmets only to see how they would look. Pittsburgh went 9-5-0 that year - their best record ever - and then qualified for the Playoff Bowl. Rooney called the single decal a sign of good luck. The following season the helmet color was changed to black with the lone decal now a mainstay.
But the Browns are well-known for their obscure evacuated helmet space.
A New Owner and a New Coach
Blanton Collier had been an assistant coach under Cleveland head coach Paul Brown for 11 seasons. During World War II the two were stationed and coached at the Great Lakes Training Station in North Chicago, the U. S. Navy’s only boot camp. Brown was installed as head coach as Great Lakes competed against other major college football programs.
When the Browns became a charter member of the upstart All American Football Conference, Coach Brown hired Collier as his top assistant where he ran the offense for eight years. During this marriage, Cleveland won four AAFC Championships and played in the NFL Championship Game four times, winning one title.
Art Modell led an ownership group which bought the Browns in 1961 for $3.925 million. Unlike the two previous ownership groups, Modell was more hands-on as an NFL boss. In 1965 he forced Jim Brown, the league’s greatest running back and then-current MVP plus rushing champion, to retire.
Collier had languished in the shadows of Paul Brown for many years as his top assistant and then accepted the head coaching position at the University of Kentucky from 1954-1961. In his absence, Cleveland won back-to-back NFL titles from 1954-1955. Coach Brown hired Collier back to the Browns for the 1962 season to again run his offense after Kentucky fired Collier. The two men had remained friends during the Kentucky years. But the franchise was in a much different place than when he left to coach college football. Despite his MVP status, Jim Brown and Coach Brown were always at odds plus Brown had traded away their second most productive offensive weapon, Bobby Mitchell, to the Washington Redskins for the rights to rookie Ernie Davis (who would never play).
After the 1963 season, Modell fired Coach Brown after going 8-5-1 and 7-6-1 in his final two seasons and had missed the playoffs four consecutive years.
Collier was then named head coach. In his first season, he turned Cleveland around with a 10-4-0 record and missed the playoffs by a single game. The Browns then captured the NFL Championship in 1964 with a 27-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts. This marked the fourth NFL title and eight league championships combined for the franchise.
A New Look
Fresh off the championship banner, the NFL approached Browns’ owner Modell about Cleveland finally adding a logo to their helmets. Modell conferred with Collier who had wanted to stamp his own name to the franchise in some way and not become known as the coach who won with Paul Brown’s players. So in 1965, they decided to join the rest of the NFL and add a logo motif to their helmets.
“The NFL was just using television as a medium to promote their sport and wanted viewers to be able to know which teams were playing, so one-by-one teams put logos on their helmets,” said Paul Lukas, architect of the knowledgeable uniform site Uni-Watch.com and frequent ESPN columnist. “Just a few years earlier the Packers had gone from a solid helmet to adding a logo, and now the league wanted the Browns to follow suit.”
In the 1950s, Browns’ trainer Leo Murphy had added a decal on the side of a single helmet to gauge Coach Brown’s reaction. Coach Brown quickly shot down the notion of any logo when he told Murphy that this particular team did not want to look like automobile racers on the playing field. And at one point, the Cleveland Plain Dealer sponsored a logo contest with the hopes that the team would finally add something to their helmets. Thousands of entries were submitted, but nothing ever became of this idea because the club itself wasn’t behind the efforts, nor even cared.
But Coach Brown was now gone. Modell commissioned artist David Boss to craft a helmet design. Boss’ work comprised of the same orange shell with two brown stripes with a single center white stripe, but with a “CB” design added to each side of the helmets. The design basically was a capital “C” which had a tail at the bottom that engaged the top of a capital letter “B” but in italics, brown lettering with a thin white outline.
Boss would eventually work at NFL Properties and was the force behind Pro! Magazine. He passed away in 1999.
According to the folks at HelmetHut.com, an online football helmet gallery, they note that at one point (other than stripes) only the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins had helmet logos which meant all of the other clubs had blank helmets. The NFL pressured teams into adding a logo of some sort for television and also marketing. And at some point with the Browns the only holdover, they were next to get the call from the NFL for a change.
The media was not included with information that included the new “CB” design displayed prominently on the helmet sides. The 1965 Cleveland media guide still displayed the solid orange helmet with a gray single bar facemask. In addition, the Browns played in the annual NFL Champs vs. the College All-Stars game and the program featured the usual 1964 helmet design instead of the new “CB” helmet. 1965 pocket schedules offered by the Cleveland Press were also devoid of the new design.
Boss was later commissioned by the NFL to prepare oil paintings for every NFL club for use in advertisements and league publications. Quite a few teams used one of his paintings for the cover of their home game programs which featured every current NFL helmet divided into Eastern and Western Conferences. That same painting was also in use the following season including the cover of the 1966 NFL Championship Game between the Packers and Cleveland. The Browns’ helmet displayed is of the new “CB” logo.
“It is not uncommon for a prototype to somehow get some traction even though the design never really makes the field,” surmised Lukas. “But in this instance, it looks like the Browns wanted the ‘CB’ helmet to become their new look and were sold on it.”
The Browns had committed to the new look. In addition to the oil paintings, there were also “CB” renderings on lots of merchandise for adults and children available including playing cards, gumball machine mini-helmets, coasters, wall plaques, electric football games, pencil sharpeners, matted print reproductions of Boss’ artwork, and 13” Johnny Hero sports dolls. In addition, parents could buy their children an official Browns football uniform made by Macgregor for $11 at either W.T. Grants, May Department Stores or Higbees; which included shoulder pads, jersey, pants and a helmet complete with the new “CB” logo.
But when exactly did the club wear these helmets? And why doesn’t anyone have any photos of the players wearing them?
Did the “CB” Helmet Actually Exist?
So far we know the Browns made an effort to add the new logo to their helmets and also keep the two brown stripes with a center white stripe. Products were made with the new logo’s image. Paintings were ordered and actually produced.
When the Browns were in training camp at Hiram College, the “CB” logo was never on any player’s helmet. In those days, the Chicago Tribune sponsored an annual game with the current NFL champion against a group of blue-chip just drafted rookies called “The Chicago Charities College All-Star Game.” It was the league’s first pre-season game with the proceeds to benefit Chicago-area charitable causes. In 1965, the then-NFL champs Cleveland defeated the All-Stars 24-16 in a rain-soaked game. Navy star Roger Staubach led the college squad.
The program for this annual game did not display anything related to the new “CB” logo nor did the players sport the new logo on their helmets in the August 6 contest. The Browns’ next pre-season opponents were road games against the San Francisco 49ers, Rams and Detroit Lions, then a home contest against the Packers, and finally a game against the Steelers played in Akron, Ohio.
There are actual photos of those exhibition games against the 49ers, Rams, Lions and Steelers, and in every single game the “CB” logo is missing.
That leaves the Packers home game in front of 83,118 and sporting a 4-0-0 pre-season record. Even though this was still an exhibition game, it was the first time the home crowd was able to see their NFL Champions in a game situation in anticipation of the September 19th opener in Washington against the Redskins.
A Blue Collar Team
Sports athletes are creatures of habit and also superstition. When things are going right, you take the exact same route to practices. You eat the same breakfast on game days. You kiss your family in the same order before you leave the house. You don’t wash those practice pants because if you did, something might happen to the good luck the team is currently experiencing. In essence, you let the streak play out.
The Browns had just won the 1964 NFL title - the franchise’s fourth. The 1965 team had just four roster changes to the starting offense, defense and special teams including rookie Leroy Kelly installed as kick returner.
“Blanton Collier was definitely a player’s coach versus the iron rule of Paul Brown,” said Gary Collins, who played WR and punter for the Browns from 1962-1971. “Coach Brown was a genius regarding football and strategy of the game. But he liked things a certain way, and the solid orange helmets and simple design of the uniform well-represented himself.”
Out of all 14 NFL clubs in 1964, only five have any lettering on their helmets while the rest had some sort of artwork. The Packers and Chicago Bears had a single letter that represented their Midwestern city, Pittsburgh sported in small letters “Steelers” amidst their logo, while the New York Giants had “NY” and the 49ers displayed “SF.” So for the Browns to decide on a logo with the initials “CB” fell right in line with other franchises.
But Cleveland is not the eclectic world of San Francisco and certainly not the metropolis, glitz and glamour of New York City. Cleveland is a working city. Dependable and hard-working rather than showy. Blue collar.
Boulton Carbon Company. Kay Chemical. Corfast Industries. S&Z Metalworks Manufacturing. Anomatic Aluminum Corporation. Dutch Boy Paint. National Carbon Company.
And the players employed by the Cleveland Browns resembled the very same thing. Hard working and certainly not showboats. Grind it out athletes who would not quit. Loved their city and loved playing in Cleveland.
And it all started with the quarterback. Frank Ryan grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas just outside of Dallas. He had his choice of college offers but chose Rice because of their physics department because he was a math wiz. While playing for the Rams beginning in 1958, he spent his off-seasons working on his Ph.D. at UCLA. When the Rams selected QB Roman Gabriel with the second overall pick in 1962, they traded Ryan to the Browns.
At the time, Ryan was supposed to backup Jim Ninowski, but by Week 11 he was the starter. He was also Paul Brown’s last starting QB and the starter for Collier’s 1964 NFL Champions. He was very intelligent, but was still a Texan at heart and loved the atmosphere in Cleveland. Ryan was also the one who commented on the New York Jets rookie QB Joe Namath’s new $400,000 contract, the then-richest ever given to a professional football player: “If he’s worth $400,000, then I’m worth a million.”
And then there was RB Jim Brown, who nobody called a sissy or considered to be a weak individual. All across the 1964 Browns were grown-ass men such as RT Monte Clark, DT Dick Modzelewski, LB Vince Costello, DB Bernie Parrish and K Lou Groza.
A New Look?
Players showed up for the 1965 training camp in high spirits. And why shouldn’t they? Just two years earlier, the globe’s superlative football coach and the Browns’ only head coach had been fired and the entire outlook of the franchise appeared bleak. And just as abrupt, they had captured another NFL title for the people of Cleveland. Add to the fact that almost every player was coming back in 1965.
The year before the Colts were supposed to be the NFL’s dominant club and went 12-2-0. They led the league in total offensive yards per game, total points scored plus a 30.6 points per game average – also tops in the league. They placed second in the league in total passing yards. The Colts had All-World players like QB Johnny Unitas, RB Lenny Moore, DE Gino Marchetti, TE John Mackey, OG Jim Parker, WR Raymond Berry and were well-coached by Don Shula. At one point, they reeled off 11 straight victories including six games where the opponent scored less than 14 points.
The Colts were seven point favorites yet were throttled 27-0 in the very first championship game to be televised by CBS. Ryan tossed three TDs while Unitas ended the contest with only 95 passing yards and two INTs.
So, training camp in 1965 was very spirited with plenty of optimism that this squad could indeed pull off back-to-back NFL titles.
The fact that the Browns did not display any form of a logo or design on their helmets was not a problem for the players themselves. In fact, quite the opposite. Most players loved the solid orange headgear and knew the tradition behind the absenteeism in similar fashion of Notre Dame’s golden dome helmets.
“I think the Browns have always chosen the path of uniqueness,” said Paul Wiggin, who played DE for Cleveland from 1957-1967, was an NFL coach for 23 years and is currently the Senior Consultant for Pro Personnel with the Minnesota Vikings. “At the time, putting a logo on the helmet might have been a dictate from the league. TV was probably the rational.”
And the fact that Cleveland was the only one without any logo made the helmets that much more of a one-team exclusive club.
The plan was for the new logo to be unveiled at the Browns’ first home pre-season game (and fifth pre-season game) against the Packers on September 4, 1965. But when Modell first showed the new artsy-fartsy artwork to some of his players, they hated the logo and insisted their team was not part of Disneyland. Now, perhaps if the logo was some mean-looking wickedly fanged junkyard dawg complete with spiked dog collar chewing on what was left of a Steelers’ player there might have been a different opinion. But the decals of the new “CB” design were pretty lame.
“Boss’ work was really good as evidenced by the effort he would do for NFL Properties. But this new logo for the Browns was nothing special,” Lukas added.
And the Browns familiar solid orange hats are steeped with tradition and represented the legends of players such as Marion Motley, Otto Graham, Bill Willis, Tony Adamle, Mac Speedie, Abe Gibron, and Dante Lavelli as well as the new kids such as Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell, Bernie Parrish, Bill Glass and Dick Schafrath.
Even though Paul Brown was no longer associated with the Cleveland Browns, he was the architect of the franchise who built the team into one of the greatest teams ever, and the solid orange helmet was his blueprint. Quarterback Frank Ryan was the instigator to Modell that it was important to not have a helmet emblem.
And that was that.
Facts That We Know
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, they have zero photos of any Browns’ player wearing a “CB” helmet. Any photograph from the 1965 Browns’ training camp is devoid of any logo. In the contest against the College All-Stars as well as five other pre-season games - still no “CB” logo. It has been rumored that the players wore the “CB” helmets against the Packers that pre-season and then later held a revolt and tore off the decals, but actual game photos of that Packers game depict a solid orange helmet without any emblem whatsoever. Plus, not a single player on that squad has said that actually happened.
“No, we never saw the ‘CB’ helmets,” Collins offered of that 1965 season. “We never wore them and we were never shown a helmet with that sticker on the helmet sides. Just always the solid orange with the stripes.”
During the 1965 season, every game program (home and away) does not don any photo of any player with this design. News clippings during the regular season from the Cleveland Plain Dealer also never depict any helmet with the “CB” logo. Other area newspapers that covered the Browns such as the Canton Repository and the Akron Beacon Journal do not have a single photograph of this new-fangled helmet design.
“As a player, I never saw a helmet with the ‘CB’ logo but I did see something in a publication. Things back then were more different,” Wiggin said. “You were focused on making the team than fancy things. But I have no recollection of any of us players ever having a helmet with any logo on the sides. And if the Browns or the NFL wanted that ‘CB’ on the sides and they never used it, I don’t have a clue why they didn’t ever use it.”
It is also a fact, that the new design went live and set in motion by Browns’ owner Art Modell between the 1964 Championship season and 1965; and that Modell fully intended for his Browns to sport the new logo during the entire 1965 year and beyond as a permanent mainstay.
“There are a number of reasons why this design never made it to the field. It’s pretty clear the team was going to use it, but in the end scraped the project,” Lukas stated. “And once the Browns sent out the logo initially they simply couldn’t bring it back. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
Numerous products for adults and especially children were commissioned, licensed and actually produced and the remaining specimens are considered a rarity today. Boss painted two renderings that clearly show the “CB” logo on the sides of the helmets and many NFL teams used his multi-helmet painting for use on their home programs. He painted an oil painting for each club. The Cleveland version was a portrait of two Browns’ players - a running back wearing number 25 going upfield behind a blocker with the number 63. In 1964 as well as 1965, no actual player wore either of these numbers. Both players are wearing orange helmets with two brown stripes and a center white stripe, along with the “CB” design. The original painting eventually was sold at an auction and purchased by Virginia-based Browns’ fan Brain Burk.
In past interviews with other former Browns’ players QB Ryan and WR Walt “Flea” Roberts - both roster members in 1965 - none of these players ever remembered an orange helmet with the “CB” design for use in an actual game. Even Leo Murphy, the Browns’ trainer from 1950 to 1988, can’t recall any “CB” decal or logo on the helmet’s sides. He was the one responsible for striping each helmet each week.
“Nobody from the Browns including Modell ever came into the locker room or the field with a helmet with any ‘CB” sticker and said ‘This is our new helmets’ that I can recall,” Wiggin explained.
There are several reports where every helmet was decked out with the new “CB” logo before a practice or even the Packers pre-season game and the players allegedly stripped off the decals themselves. But so far, not a single player has stated that nor anyone with the Browns nor any media outlet. And it would seem practicable that if that actually happened, there must be at least one picture of an event that obscure and a pure gold opportunity for an aspiring photographer.
“Numerous researchers have scoured every photo from every Browns’ pre-season and regular season games from that time period and none have come up with a single photo of any player wearing one of those ‘CB’ helmets,” confirmed Lukas. “If such a photo was suddenly confirmed, it would change everything from a franchise whose iconic helmet design is completely blank.”
In 1965, the Browns once again captured the Eastern Division crown with an 11-3-0 record and then played the 10-3-1 Packers in the NFL Championship Game only to lose 23-12 – in solid orange helmets with two brown stripes cradled around a single white stripe.
Was there a Browns “CB” helmet? Yes. Was Modell set on using it as the franchise’s official helmet? Yes.
Would that helmet design be on the helmets today? Probably. Did the helmet ever see a practice? No. Did the helmet ever see an actual game? No.
Is there proof that the helmet design ever existed? Numerous. Why didn’t the Browns actually ever use the design? The answer to that question is buried with the ones who designed and commissioned the new logo.
Today, you can purchase brand new mini helmets with the “CB” logo affixed and can also find original 1965 “CB” logo products on sites such as eBay and other auctions.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association.