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Browns training camp 1985: Origins of the Dawg Pound

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Something so simple turned out to be a Cleveland mainstay that opposing teams want nothing to do with

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Tom Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

The Dawg Pound. Cleveland Browns Dawg Pound. How exactly does that fit?

Cleveland received their team name “the Browns” from the man who started the franchise from Day One: Paul Brown. The franchise was a member of the eight-team All-America Football Conference, an NFL rival league from 1946-1949. Before the team had its first game, there was a name-the-team contest. The winner was “Panthers.” But a man named George T. Jones contacted the new Cleveland franchise and told them he owned the rights to the name “Cleveland Panthers” from a team he once owned in 1927 and wanted to be paid a large sum in order to relinquish the rights. Soon thereafter, Browns was chosen.

Perhaps Browns refer to some sort of hunting dogs, like Bluetick Hounds?

Everyone on every NFL team knows that the Dawg Pound is at FirstEnergy Stadium and previously at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. This spectacle is located in the east end zone stands of the stadium which are bleacher seats. In both stadiums. When they tore down Municipal Stadium in 1996 and built the new stadium (then named Cleveland Browns Stadium), they didn’t install fancy single seating with armrests and curved backs in the east end zone sections. The new Dawg Pound was just like the old Dawg Pound with more bleachers – just 1999-style bleachers instead of 1930-style bleachers. And no PSL fees.

So when the new Browns came back into the NFL fold in 1999, the Dawg Pound was designed into the fabric of the new arena.

A Life of its Own

The Dawg Pound is almost a living, breathing entity. It has its own Facebook page. Since the year 2000, there have been four songs written about it. The Browns have been issued a trademark for the name as a reference to this section of fans and is the only officially-branded logo in the NFL for a team’s fan base. The Seattle Seahawks use “The 12th Man” as a label for its fan base, but they rent that from Texas A&M University.

The universal chant that almost every sports team in America uses (that does not display an American Indian tribe) goes something like, “Here we go (insert team name), here we go!” But in the Dawg Pound, the chant is slanted to “Here we go Brownies, here we go! Woof! Woof!”

San Francisco 49ers v Cleveland Browns Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

The Dawg Pound loves the defense. In old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, any Browns player who intercepted the ball for a touchdown would run up that short grass mound to the Pound and be welcomed by the throngs of fans usually met with beer thrown on them; which was meant as part of the celebration and was never considered disrespectful. Items such as bones, batteries, various dog treats and such were reserved for the offense, and of course - the other teams.

Which is all part of the intimidation for the opposing club. Teams did not want to come into that east end zone especially on a potential touchdown drive. The action in this part of the stadium is simply electric, rowdy, zealous, inebriating, chaotic, intense and definitely loud.

But fans make sure the defensive players are never in harm’s way. Generally speaking, the defense is the fantasy playing arm of the Dawg Pound itself if they were able to suit up for a game. This unit also represents every fan who sits in the east end zone: hard-working, every day folks, passionate, non-quitters, loyal, and basically the rock of the ballclub.

How the Dawg Pound got its name

You would think that a name as timeless as “The Dawg Pound” would be derived from some corrections institution. Perhaps a player who was released from some dangerous prison and was a member of a gang here. And when this former con-now player would hit someone pretty dang hard, folks would say, “Yeh, that’s that junkyard Dawg Pound mentality!”

Which would make a great story. But the truth is, the name was derived by a game two of Cleveland’s players made up.

The Browns held their training camp under head coach Marty Schottenheimer at Lakeland Community College in Kirkland, Ohio from 1982-1991. In 1985, the defensive backfield featured Hanford Dixon, Al Gross, Frank Minnifield and Felix Wright, plus a stellar linebacker crew of Tom Cousineau, Eddie Johnson and Chip Banks. The defensive front had Bob Golic, Carl Hairston and Reggie Camp.

During practices, the entire defense had a problem with getting into the backfield to disrupt the passing game as rookie quarterback Bernie Kosar was picking them apart each day. Minnifield and Dixon came up with a game to challenge play during those training camp practices in an attempt to encourage the defense to get to Kosar and stop the deluge of pass completions and then having to read about it in the next day’s paper.

Dixon was taken with the 22nd pick in the first round by the Browns in the 1991 NFL draft out of Southern Mississippi. He would later be selected to two Pro Bowls. Minnifield was a standout cornerback in the United States Football League and joined Cleveland in 1984. He subsequently went to four Pro Bowls plus was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.

Hanford Dixon (left) and Frank Minnifield

To get more pressure on the quarterback, Minnifield and Dixon assessed that every player on the defense were dogs, and Kosar was the cat. During these practices, whenever any defender would get a sack, a quarterback hurry or an interception, Minnifield and Dixon would bark like dogs right there on the field. This encouraged the other defensive players to do the same. After a while, the spectators in attendance picked up on this, and when the players would bark, most of them would likewise. This placed the defense as fan favorites with the crowd all during training camp.

When the regular season began, at home games the crowd in those east end zone stands were some of the same fans that had barked during training camp. Fans whom are attorneys, doctors, engineers or judges are not going to bark at players during a practice. And they certainly were not buying those east end zone bleacher seats. Municipal Stadium was old, but it had metal seats with arm rests, wooden backs and a fold-down slightly-curved seat. Plus, these seats were in covered areas so that in the hot months the fans were not slowly roasted during games, and when the sky opened up and began to rain, those spectators had some sort of coverage overhead.

Not in the east end zone. The seats were bleachers which provided a mass spectator union. There wasn’t an overhead top section with a roof, so the elements on the field were the same elements in the east end zone. The cost per seat was inexpensive, also. You meld all of these situations together and you get a different classification of fans who don’t drive a Mercedes. The five sections of blue seats in this end of the stadium through Gate “E” had already been referred to as “The Pound.” Basically, it was viewed as the bad neighborhood within the stadium.

The east end zone was already known as being the most vocal sections in the stadium. After downing numerous cheap beers and the ability to be right there close to the field was a good part of the reason. What set this section apart though, was something else Dixon and Minnifield did.

The two star defensive backs designed, drew and painted the very first “Dawg Pound” sign, and then hung it up on the chain link fence outside the east end zone section before a preseason game. It read: “Dawg Country. No Cats Allowed.” Also on the sign was a drawing of the State of Ohio with a human football player whose face was that of a junkyard dog wearing Dixon’s jersey number 29, signaling number one with one hand and choking a cat with the other.

Signs usually referred to the section as “dogs” or “The Pound” whereas the inventors of the invention added a new and amended wrinkle: d-a-w-g-s. The east end zone had been officially christened “The Dawg Pound.” These fans accepted the designation with the usual vigor, and not only would bark for the defense’s successes during the game, but would show up in dog attire, masks, bone-shaped hats and other costumes that blended with the atmosphere.

From there, it simply spread. Fazio’s Grocery Stores sold posters that depicted the four defensive backs holding leashes to a Rottweiler, pit bull, German Shepard and a Doberman with the caption “The Last Dogs of Defense.”

The old Dawg Pound

Municipal Stadium was built in 1930 as a 74,438-seat baseball stadium for the hometown Cleveland Indians. It was shaped to fit the baseball diamond. When pro football became more popular in the mid-1930s, the Cleveland Rams used it on occasion for their bigger games which were projected to draw bigger gates.

Municipal Stadium with east end zone close to the fans

A football field would fit inside this stadium, but the field was crammed to the center field fence on one end while the other end zone was about where first and third base line up which made the west end zone very far. Both sides of the football field stands the fans were not close also and had lots of extra room on the sidelines which was actually foul territory for baseball. But not the east end zone. The east end zone painted lines almost hugged the stands.

Plus, the east end zone was all one level. Whereas the other parts of the stadium had three lower levels with another three covered upper sections with plenty of seats (held 80,000 for football) including the west end zone, this part of the stadium mapped out for football games was a single level without any upper section completely uncovered and susceptible to the elements. Remember, the outside four sections were designed as center field seating, which is the farthest point of view during a baseball game. The middle five center sections painted as blue seats were vacant during baseball games so that batters could see the ball coming from the pitcher.

This east end zone section of the stadium was unlike any other seats in the stadium. It was very close to the action, and was an island within a thriving sports amphitheater. The Dawg Pound was born in this stadium, and became a select part of the Cleveland community. The center from Sections 48-52 were just the opposite during a football game because of the close proximity to the field along with outlining Sections 44-47 and 53-56. At an Indians game, the west end zone were the best seats because it was right behind home plate; but during game days at a Browns game, Sections 18-26 had horrible sight lines because of the distance to the actual field to where fans could actually enjoy observing the action on the gridiron. Many fans in these sections actually brought portable televisions in order to view the game.

One thing that was not permitted in the Dawg Pound was smoking. But back in those days fans were permitted to bring in a number of items from the outside such as their own soft drinks - or Pepsi bottles full of dark beer and 7-Up two-liters replaced with Gin or Vodka.

Security personnel move in front of the Dawg Pound Photo credit should read DAVID MAXWELL/AFP/Getty Images

The habit of throwing projectiles onto the field originated from something that the Browns PR director at the time, Kevin Byrne, once mentioned about the Dawg Pound. He stated that “the east end zone has a decidedly Milk-Bone feel.” That became the catalyst for fans in the Dawg Pound to bring in the pocket-sized dog treats which were perfect for hurling at opposing players, and sometimes at a struggling Browns’ offensive squad.

In several games, the officials would make both teams switch ends with a current drive headed towards the west end zone instead of the east end zone because of the amount of debris that was being hurled onto the field. Especially when the Denver Broncos were playing with their star quarterback John Elway or any division foe of Cleveland. Famously, a turkey leg struck Dallas Cowboys tight end Trevor Burbage in the helmet in a 1987 game after he scored a touchdown directly in front of the Dawg Pound.

More dawg treats

The Dawg Pound is an enormous fixation. The very act of existence annoys whatever NFL club travels to Cleveland to play on their home turf. Everyone in this section is having a good time, but also feels that they have a purpose during each home game to help their precious Browns.

Opposing NFL teams, especially the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, despise the Dawg Pound. The participants of the Dawg Pound certainly do not send any love back.

Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens

And even though the origins of the Dawg Pound focused primarily on the defense and their players, the moniker has basically spread to represent the entire Browns’ football franchise from the players to the coaches to the equipment guys to the front office. The east end zone has been the catalyst and its foundation, but essentially, the Cleveland Browns have morphed into the Dawg Pound. They are now one.

The only left to do is cup your mouth with both hands, then bark several times with pride. It’s not only allowed, but encouraged.