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Brownie the Elf: Where did this originate, and does it belong in football?

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Iconic mascot of the Browns has had several renditions

Every team in every sport needs a logo and a mascot to call their own. This is primarily done to help the activity of marketing a franchise. A team needs an image – something they can sell themselves with.

From their birth in 1946, the Cleveland Browns right off were faced with a problem: how do you promote a team that is named after a single man - or a color for that matter?

The answer? A Brownie.

Old World folklore regarding Brownies

The Cleveland Browns did not invent the Brownies. That task was done a very long time ago in Northern England.

Brownies were said to live in people’s homes and only come out at night and do minimal household or farm chores. It was customary to leave a bowl of fresh cream out for the Brownies by the hearth for their services. If not, or if the cream was not fresh, the Brownies would leave the home forever or perform mischief.

Brown-skinned, small creatures, ragged clothes with hoods, very hairy and ugly with pointed cloth shoes, these Brownies are capable of disappearing and re-appearing at will. They are rascally and known to perform nasty tricks on lazy members of the household, especially servants. Brownies are also full of mischief, are rarely seen, and usually all are males. People in the household cannot laugh nor criticize them. There are very few female Brownies, which are called “Silkies” for the ragged gray silk clothing they are always wearing.

The object of every household was to please the Brownies and not anger nor offend the creatures for fear that they would depart and therefore stop doing chores. It is said Brownies would leave a home if they were not treated with respect or gratefulness. The largest insult is to offer any article of clothing as a gift to which the Brownie would put them on and vanish - never to be seen again.

Brownies are not fairies, nor are they pixies. They are not goblins, or dwarfs, or Leprechauns and definitely not elves. The most modern categorization has been they are “household spirits.” Brownies work alone, live alone and adore solitude, whereas the other figments all live in groups.

Elves are either light-skinned or extremely dark-skinned. Not only are they also mischievous in nature, but wicked. They will steal children and give others bad dreams. Elves also have the abilities to cause illness and disease in humans and cattle and are usually considered demonic beings.

Although many books had mentioned various types of the species of Brownies, the earliest reference appeared in the 1818 book The Brownie of Bodsbeck written by James Hogg. The most famous collection of stories involving Brownies first appeared by author Palmer Cox with The Brownies: Their Book in 1887. Cox would later write several more children’s books involving the Brownies. His successful renditions of the characters became beloved in North America to which Cox, also an illustrator, licensed out his cartoon Brownie characters for use with children’s boots, dolls and other assorted toys and clothing.

Cox attempted to trademark the term “Brownie” but was unsuccessful because it referred to an ancient creature from folklore and was owned by all people.

1900 Eastman-Kodak Brownie camera Model B-1

In 1900, George Eastman started a new line of lower-priced cameras and named the line the “Brownie Series.” The B-1 model was inexpensive and sold for one dollar. Even as far as into the 1950’s, the Eastman-Kodak company was selling Brownie Starflex cameras.

In 1919, Girl Guides were an organization for young ladies to which Juliette Low called the lower level “Brownies” as their group name. This association would later be called the “Girl Scouts.”

One pro football team out - another to take its place

The Cleveland Rams had just won the 1945 NFL title after struggling to remain a viable franchise in the City of Cleveland. For two years prior, Rams’ owner Dan Reeves had wanted to relocate to California but was voted down both years by the other NFL owners who didn’t want to travel the distance which then was strictly by bus or train. At the time, the league was situated in the Midwest and Eastern portions of the United States.

But when Reeves got word that there would be a new pro football club in town as part of the brand new NFL rival league the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), he pushed the other owners to allow him the opportunity to relocate to the West Coast.

Air travel was now a viable transportation option, plus Reeves had some leverage.

For starters, his Rams were the defending league champion. Secondly, Dan Topping, the owner of the NFL New York Yankees, had taken his club out of the NFL and became one of the eight teams in the newly-formed AAFC. The other owners did not want a repeat performance with a disgruntled Reeves and his Rams. Yet another advantage for Reeves was the fact that the new Cleveland AAFC team had hired Paul Brown as their head coach, one of the most famous sports figures in the entire State of Ohio.

The AAFC had placed teams in eight cities, most of which already had NFL clubs and Cleveland was one of them. At first, the new Cleveland franchise was christened the “Panthers” but soon dropped that moniker because a man came forward and stated he owned the rights to “the Cleveland Panthers” from another team that had played long ago. So, the new Cleveland AAFC team wasn’t called anything for a while.

Folks just referred to the Cleveland franchise as “Paul Brown’s team.” After a while, owner Mickey McBride stated he wanted the new team to be called “the Browns” after their illustrious coach. Lots of sports teams had been called colors including the St. Louis Browns, Chicago Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds baseball teams. At first, the humble Coach Brown declined, but then begrudgingly approved.

But being named the same as one of the most famous men in Ohio just wasn’t enough. The franchise needed something to hang their hat on. A logo. A mascot maybe. An identity.

Cleveland begins its usage of the Brownie

McBride made his fortune in acquiring and renting apartment buildings. He then bought a controlling share of the Zone Cab Company and built that company into one of Cleveland’s largest in a fierce competitive taxi market. With success, Zone Cab eventually merged with the Yellow Cab Company.

From his experience in the taxi business, McBride knew you had to hustle and promote yourself over the other guys. Zone had pushed their name and logo into the minds of the city through an aggressive advertising campaign and built up the name recognition.

From this competing war, McBride wanted something that personified what his new pro football franchise was. He wanted - a logo that would make his team marketable. After all, the Browns were the new kid in town in a brand new league. The NFL was established, the Rams had been established and besides, the other Cleveland team had just won the championship.

What would make Clevelanders want to come out and see the new guys play? Would Coach Brown’s reputation be enough? Would the fact that the AAFC was brand new influence folks to stay home instead of giving them a chance? Would faithful Rams’ fans come out for games or now become Los Angeles Rams’ fans instead?

McBride chose a logo that was a Brownie folklore character after careful consideration. The character he had commissioned was a small boyish creature with pointed ears, a hood, orange jacket with brown pants held up with a belt and buckle, pointed cloth shoes while holding a football. And a sheepish grin full of mischief.

And who drew this first rendition? The idea came from a Sears and Roebuck advertisement. The Browns simply shuffled some features around to come up with their own rendition to suit their needs.

A second rendering was done for game advertisements and programs. “Brownie” made his first appearance in a newspaper ticket ad for the 1946 season opener against the Miami Seahawks at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. This character was similar, but was shown running, holding up a right-handed stiff arm maneuver while holding a football with the expression “The Brownies are coming!”

Renderings of Brownie was a staple on the sports pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. If the club won, Brownie was shown with a smile, but a loss displayed him as beaten up and often with a black eye.

Coining their mascot “Brownie the Elf” has offered some questions about him.

If the Browns are using “Brownie the Elf” then he is not a Brownie, but an Elf named Brownie. Brownies are gentle, mischievous and helpful creatures. Elves are not the cute and cuddly characters that the Keebler cookie cartoons distort. Elves are evil and mean. Are the Browns saying their mascot is a Brownie or an Elf? The game of football is not a patsy sport, so perhaps the mean and evil version fits best.

Or did the Browns mismanage this mascot? Did they intend to call him a Brownie and instead label him as an Elf instead? Is he actually “Brownie the Brownie”? According to the Browns’ communications department, his name is “Brownie the Elf” so he must be an elf.

Representing the club with a Brownie rendition makes perfect sense, but the Cleveland Browns are not the Cleveland Elves.

The Browns very first AAFC game was a home game against the Miami Seahawks on September 6, 1946 in front of 60,135 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. In an advertisement preceding the contest (displayed above), the heading is “A World Premiere for Cleveland!” and then later it states, “The Brownies are Coming!” with a cartoon depiction running the football with a protruding stiff arm. The cartoon player is dressed as a Brownie - not an Elf. And if Brownie is indeed “Brownie the Elf” then why doesn’t the ad say “The Elves are Coming!”

Yet, every depiction of him - regardless of the year or pose - has him clothed as a Brownie, not an Elf.

Which may suit the club better. Wouldn’t a professional football team prefer the evil, wicked, mean version who can instill an illness at will as a better testament than that of a helpful loner spirit who hangs around to do chores for free? What fan wants to scream out at their opponent as they are driving down the field, “Fold their laundry! Milk their cows!”

The Browns even had a live Brownie mascot. Tommy Flynn was a man with dwarfism who roamed Cleveland’s sideline during AAFC games. He would yell at referees and Browns’ opponents either dressed as a goofy-looking elf or in some type of Cleveland Browns garb. He shagged passes in pregame warm ups with then-quarterback and future Hall of Famer Otto Graham. Flynn’s real-life profession was the assistant equipment manager for the franchise. On game days he would even mimic Paul Brown’s movements on the sidelines which amused the home crowd.

Tommy Flynn (left) with Paul Brown in a rare photo

However, when the Browns merged into the NFL in 1950, league officials said Flynn and this whole live “Brownie the Elf” gig was a sideshow which they deemed as minor league. For decades, all Americans cared about was baseball and college football. The NFL had worked very hard to display their league as an environment of a true professional entity. With Cleveland now an NFL club, Flynn was gone as were any references to him. The league owners did not ban “Brownie the Elf” altogether, but instructed McBride to tone the character down. Way down.

Helmet Brownie, Brownie the Elf’s demise, and Brownie the Elf’s return

In 1948, Rams’ running back Fred Gehrke, an art major in college, went to Reeves about an idea that he had regarding their helmets. The end result was that Gehrke would paint ram horns on each helmet for games. These would become the first American football team to sport a logo on their helmet other than stripes.

Beginning in the early 1950s, other pro football franchises began to experiment with logos, numerals or letters being added to helmets. In 1953, Coach Brown asked longtime trainer Leo Murphy to come up with several helmet designs which used Brownie on the helmet sides of orange shells with combinations of different stripe designs.

After looking at some of Murphy’s designs, Coach Brown decided to keep the status quo and shelved the idea for more important items on the agenda. The day to revisit the idea never came up again most likely because Cleveland was a perennial powerhouse and you just don’t mess with traditions and change habits when you are winning.

1952 pennant

Brownie the Elf was still being used. In 1950, an orange version was introduced. The logo on the 1952 felt souvenir pennant was that of Brownie about to heave a long right-handed pass with the wording “Cleveland Browns.” Also noted was the fact that his pointed cloth shoes are actually cleats.

But things change. Since the franchise’s inception of 1946, Coach Brown was also basically the team’s GM and made the majority of decisions. McBride entrusted Brown as did the new owners who purchased the club in 1953 for the unheard price of $600,000.

When Art Modell bought the Browns in 1961, his ambitions were to be the football operations side of the team, while Coach Brown would devote his resources to just coaching.

One of the first things Modell did as the new owner of the Browns, was to fire Brownie. He hated that his franchise’s model was that of a cartoon character. He considered it kid-like instead of big, mean, aggressive football players. He made sure any rendition of Brownie was never again used as team symbols or for any idea as a mascot.

Art Modell was quoted as saying, “My first official act as owner of the Browns will be to get rid of that little (elf).”

1949 media guide

The 1961 media guide displayed Brownie on the cover in front of an orange helmet, but for 1962 the little spirit was replaced with a rumbling helmetless Jim Brown whereas with earlier years it was usually Brownie in some sort of football pose.

What had become the symbol of the Cleveland Browns’ franchise since its inception in 1946 and stood proud alongside four AAFC Championships and three NFL titles, was now abruptly discarded. It remained that way up until the day that Modell moved the club to Baltimore following the 1995 season.

What Modell did instead was invent a logo in 1965 that was to be their new helmet design. Called the “CB” helmet, it was sold on a plethora of merchandise and used on many souvenirs, coasters, toys and electric football games. However, for whatever reason, the actual helmet design never saw the practice field or was used in any games.

When the new Cleveland Browns became an expansion club in 1999, all the history, colors and logos remained with the new team. The new owners were Al Lerner and Carmen Policy. Gradually, Brownie began to resurface.

Brownie has some new friends and logos

The new Browns began Brownie’s resurgence with the new ownership. Every longtime Browns’ fan since childhood is familiar with the Elf’s history which had left an imprint on his association with the football team.

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

When the new Browns came about with new owners, Brownie was slowly moved from mothballs to being utilized once again. But this time around, instead of a mischievous, scary goblin-type character, the logo is a great anchor for the organization’s fabled tradition and if toned down would become perfect to reel in the adornment of children. It was decided to produce a live action costumed “Brownie” who appeared tame, cuddly, smiling, less menacing and yet traditional.

With the 2004 team, Brownie was on the backs of player ponchos plus equipment trunks in his 1946 pose. Two years later, a special logo was presented for the 2006 season - the club’s 60th anniversary to which Brownie was used on a patch and that year’s corresponding media guide. In 2018, Brownie was the official logo for that year’s training camp.

Currently on the Browns website there is a prominent logo featured at the top portion that depicts their old-school logo “Brownie the Elf” with the adornment “Est. 1946.”

Meanwhile, the team also introduced a new mascot named “Chomps” which is a growling Labrador dawg costumed character. In 2014, the club decided they wanted a live hound as well, and so “Swagger” was introduced, a 145-pound Bull mastiff who has since retired and passed away from cancer. His duties were passed along to his son “SJ.”

While Brownie’s revival came as welcome news to some, there wasn’t any plans to place him on the side of the helmets.

His return as a logo of the Browns came with mixed reviews. An online petition entitled “The brownie elf most be abolished” was started by Toast Wienman several years ago after Jimmy Haslam bought the club. It’s goal was 100 petitioners, but to date has just 14.

The petition’s quest was explained with: “The Browns have a Throwback Brownie elf logo. I want to abolish it because I believe it is a disgrace to the franchise. If the Browns continue to use the elf, they will become the laughing stock of the NFL. Therefore the Browns should abolish the Brownie Elf logo.” Apparently, 14 die-hard Browns’ fans agree.

1965 pennant

Others are in agreement that the logo is still just a cartoon. But quite a few NFL clubs either use, or have used, drawings or caricatures of animals, humans or objects as their official logo. Since the 1950s the New York Football Giants have used a drawing of a towering quarterback coming out of a football stadium. The Chicago Bears use a drawing of a mean ole’ bear. What about the Philadelphia Eagles and their flying eagle holding a football in its talons? Or the old logo of the San Francisco 49ers’ pistol hopping cowpoke?

Football is a macho sport and teams go out of their way to display their franchise as strength, power, grit and a winning tradition. Is it an embarrassment for a professional football club’s emblem to be that of a cute little ole elf? Where are the standards that would define “cute” and “football” in the same sentence?

Then explain why at games the chant is, “Here we go Brownies, here we go!”, followed by “Woof! Woof!”

Could it be that the one and only symbol of the Browns is Brownie the Elf? Does it not bring memories of fondness whether it is the standard position with hands on hips, the “crowned” standard version bearing a crown after several championships won, the stiff-arm halfback, or the bomb passer?

How is this for a fact? Brownie the Elf’s lineage holds seven championships. Chomps, Swagger and SJ combined have zero.

The bottom line today is that Brownie is considered a secondary logo. It has historical value and its place, but with the acceptance and development of the “Dawg Pound”, the club simply has gone in another direction with the “dawg” concept. If a helmet design was ever considered, it is much more likely that a mastiff design would see the sides of Cleveland helmets more so than Brownie ever would.

In a recent Twitter poll, 57% of Browns’ fans stated they actually preferred the old Brownie logo as the primary logo for the Browns despite the success and popularity of the dawg image.

Perhaps “Evil Brownie” would be better?

The Brownie the Elf logo has nothing to do with being current or modern. It is strictly old-school and represents a time period of long ago when the Cleveland Browns were not only relevant, but were the New England Patriots of their day. From 1946 to 1957, the franchise played in 10 consecutive league championship games, winning seven.

And “Brownie the Elf” was with them in some capacity every single season.

Poll

As a Browns’ fan, what is your opinion using "Brownie the Elf" as a logo?

This poll is closed

  • 80%
    Always loved it
    (487 votes)
  • 12%
    Meh
    (73 votes)
  • 7%
    Agree with Modell: "....get rid of that little (elf)."
    (47 votes)
607 votes total Vote Now

Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association