The very first helmet logos for pro football appeared on the Los Angeles Rams helmets in 1948. Rams’ equipment manager Fred Gehrke was a former art student and came up with the idea to paint yellow ram horns on the then-leather lids. After a sample was done, he was commissioned by owner Dan Reeves to paint the ram horn logo on each player’s helmet for $1 a helmet for each game.
With the advancement of more stable plastics used to manufacture helmets by the Riddell Sporting Goods Company in 1952, college and professional teams across the country were now sporting the newer variety and ditching the leather hats.
Teams began experimenting with logos for their helmets, even if it was simply a single letter instead of some artsy design.
Today, a helmet logo is standard adornment. When there is expansion buzz, one of the first items that surface from prospective owner groups vying for one of the newest clubs are helmet designs.
The Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers are the only two NFL teams which do not have a logo decal on both sides of their helmets. The Steelers have their circular logo on just one side of each player’s helmet. This was not done intentionally, but was surmised as being lucky in 1962.
Cleveland’s helmets are decal free. Traditionalists like it that way and insist on the franchise keeping it simplistic and time-honored.
But the fact remains, for almost a dozen different NFL seasons, the Browns had – or planned to have – decals on their helmets.
1955: Brownie Elf helmet
Paul Brown was the head coach and he liked everything standardized and in its own place. He did not like flash and preferred mundane to exciting.
In 1952, Coach Brown ordered the entire team all new plastic helmets from Riddell. At the time, the only club in the NFL that had anything attached to the sides of their helmets were the Rams.
But in 1953, Coach Brown asked longtime trainer Leo Murphy to come up with a design using Brownie Elf as a helmet ornament.
Coach Brown referred to Brownie as “the little fella.” Murphy, one of the busiest members of the Browns staff, told Coach that he was extremely busy and had little time to dabble with artwork and helmets, but he did it anyway on Brown’s insistence. He hand-painted Brownie onto a helmet which he had traced by hand.
Murphy worked on the logo when he had even small amounts of time. When finished, he took it to Coach Brown’s office and proudly placed the helmet on his desk. Paul Brown took one look at the finished lid and said, “I don’t like it. Get it out of here.”
And that, was that.
Murphy would go on to spend 40 years with Cleveland. He passed away in 2018. In his basement at his Medina home was the Brownie Elf helmet he had hand-painted.
If Coach Brown had liked and approved of the Brownie Elf helmet, the Browns would have had the distinction of having the second helmet logos ever attached. Instead, that distinction went to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1954 when gray wings were painted on a green helmet.
1957: Jim Brown helmet
The Jim Brown helmet. It is commonly called that because this was the year he was drafted and was his rookie season. And interesting enough, that year’s helmets adorned decals for the very first time.
When Paul Brown ordered all solid orange plastic helmets in 1952, installed was a single white stripe down the center. This was the standard look through the 1956 season.
But for 1957, each player’s jersey number was attached to each side of the helmets in brown numerals. The lid still featured the single white stripe down the center.
This same year, the Baltimore Colts displayed their iconic horseshoe on the helmet sides while the Steelers also used jersey numbers on the sides of their yellow helmets.
1958-1959: Jim Brown helmets continued
The 1957 Jim Brown helmet continued for both of these seasons with numerals attached to each helmet side.
For 1958, the solid orange helmets were used for the first five preseason games but the numeral decals were added against the Detroit Lions in their final preseason game. The decals remained for the entire 12-game season plus the 10-0 loss to the New York Football Giants in the Eastern Conference Playoff Game.
In 1959, the numerals were absent for each of the six preseason games but were added for all 12 regular season games.
1960: Jim Brown helmet plus
For a single season, the same helmet configuration that Cleveland wore from 1957 to 1959 with the brown jersey numbers on the helmet sides and the white middle stripe, now added two brown stripes that encased the center white stripe.
The Browns began with this helmet design with its first preseason game against the Lions and continued this design in every preseason game, the 12-game season plus the season-ending Playoff Bowl against the Lions.
The jersey numbers were ditched in 1961 and remain vacant still. But the two brown stripes nestled against the white center stripe has remained ever since this 1960 season.
1965: “CB” helmet
When Art Modell bought the franchise in 1961, the only clubs that did not display a helmet logo were the Chicago Bears, the San Francisco 49ers and the Browns. At the time, the Steelers displayed jersey numbers on the helmet sides, but still it was something. All of this changed in 1962. Pittsburgh had a new circular logo, the Bears added a white letter “C” while the Niners now sported a red oval which contained the letters “SF” on their silver helmets (yes, gold became their standard third color later in 1964).
For 1965, Modell commissioned an artist who came up with a logo that had an uppercase letter “C” which then encased an uppercase letter “B” that laid underneath it. The purpose was for Cleveland to finally have its own helmet logo.
Beginning in 1965, a wide variety of children’s toys were sold using the new “CB” logo on a helmet. Electric football games displayed every NFL helmet including the Browns new “CB” helmet. Items such as wall plaques, coasters, serving platters, game programs, children’s full play uniform and pencil sharpeners were manufactured and sold.
In the end, the helmet logo was never used. Not a single practice, preseason or actual game was ever recorded with Cleveland ever using this logo on their helmets. It remains a mystery as to why Modell never actually utilized it.
2006-2008: Jim Brown helmets revisited
The Browns were approved for an alternate helmet which was the 1957 Jim Brown helmet. For three seasons, Cleveland opted for an alternate throwback uniform scheme and chose the 1957-1959 design which featured the solid orange helmet, single white stripe, brown jersey numbers on the sides plus a standard gray facemask and devoid of the two brown stripes.
For 2006, in Week 12 in a 30-0 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals the Browns donned the Jim Brown helmets. In 2007 against the Houston Texans, the hometown Browns won 27-17 in Week 12 using the same throwback helmets. For 2008 on a rare Monday Night Football telecast in Cleveland, the Browns secured a 35-14 victory in their Jim Brown helmets.
2015: Mystery helmets
Remember the big news way back in 2015 when the Browns announced that there would be changes to the helmets?
That was huge news. There were several camps that divided fans. One camp was the “hell no we won’t go” for change whereas the progressive camp was more in tune with doing something much more modern and with some flair. Still another camp was the “whatever” crowd who just didn’t see what the fuss was all about.
The speculation was that there would finally be a helmet makeover. The most anticipation surrounded Brownie the Elf, but any number of dawg logos were also discussed and speculated.
When the day finally arrived, around 3,000 franchise supporters and season-ticket holders filled the Cleveland Convention Center to have photo opps with current and past players. The scene looked more like an indoor tailgating experience than a new uniform unveiling.
However, to much of the chagrin of many Cleveland faithful, that celebratory atmosphere became confused, humiliated and disgruntled when basically the shade of orange had changed and this was such a hullabaloo about, well, nothing.
No elf, no dawg, no spotlight, no “this ain’t your grandfather’s helmet design” type of atmosphere.
Even when the new uniforms were unveiled that April, the standard solid orange helmet raised its vanilla head once again for those who were paying attention. Late night TV hosts had a field day about the “new Browns helmets” which was nothing more than a tint difference that nobody would have even noticed if it wasn’t displayed as a grand unveiling that supposedly took two years to conceive. The end result was no surprise factor for the fans.
If Brownie the Elf was ever going to make it to any actual helmet for an actual game, this was his best opportunity to become the showcase. What a testament that would have given to the great Browns’ teams of old and the immense success those clubs had. And, it would have been a great gesture to honor Coach Paul Brown.
2015: Paul Brown logo helmets
In anticipation of the new helmet design, speculation was at an all-time high. Browns’ fans actually assumed that the helmets would sport something – anything.
Leading up to the reveal date, the following appeared on a post on Reddit.com:
Title: I’m holding new Browns merch in my hands right now. There are three new logos.
“Long story short, our truck got in last night to beat a blizzard coming. We are rolling out product on Wednesday, but I’d bet the logos leak tomorrow because if we got this product lots of other stores did too.
The first is a lighter than we’re used to brown (colored) block “C” with a white outline. It’s pretty straight forward.
The second is the new helmet. It’s a darker orange with a broad Brown stripe bordered in white with what looks like little hats in the stripe like Seattle’s wing pattern. Brown facemask, too.
The final one is my favorite and if I had to guess, is bet it’s the new primary logo. It’s a silhouette of a man from shoulders up wearing a derby hat but his chin is to his chest and the hat’s brim covers all but his chin and a smirk. His hat is brown with a orange stripe. His coat is orange and his tie is brown.
I think it’s Paul Brown and they can’t show his face because of his son that owns the Bengals. But it’s seriously bad ass. I won’t post pics because I love my job, but like I said it’s probably leaking tomorrow because I know we’re not the only store that got a truck tonight.”
Wait, what? A Paul Brown silhouette? Perhaps on a helmet? For a helmet? Brown fedoras in the wider brown stripe? Obviously, this did not surface as being factual. But for a solid week, this was the scoop for devoted Browns followers. Here were some of the comments to that initial post:
“Wouldn’t little fedoras be awesome!”
“Just show pictures. If there are tons of shipments, they can’t know it was you.”
“This is awesome. New logo sounds cool and I’m not even a fan!”
“I’M FREAKING OUT”
“Man, I can’t wait to see it! I’m scouring the internet like everyone else and coming up with bupkis!”
“I don’t think anyone believes anything without pics.”
“Well.. it’s been tweeted out by Daryl Reuiter that the new helmet stripe will “have some texture to it”...so that hat thing sounds in line w/ that. Sounds like they’re inverted the helmet stripe then from white w/ two brown outside stripes...not sure I’m for that. If these little hats in the stripe are brown & not blatantly visible, I’m cool w/ that.”
In the end, the story just didn’t have any factual meat on it. Nobody knew exactly why some random dude would post this and stir the pot with a huge paddle. Speculation is that a Steelers’ fan was behind it, but for one week it was quite a buzz.
Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland finally made a tweet that ended all speculation: