Yeah, you’ve seen him. In fact, you probably have a photo of yourself with him on your phone if you have been to a Browns’ home game.
He is called Pumpkinhead. And he represents the true fandom of the Cleveland Browns.
Pumpkinhead is more than what some may call a “Superfan.” Pumpkinhead is a trademarked character. He has t-shirts and beverage tumblers with his likeness on them. He has a very strong social media presence. He’s been featured in USA Today, ABC News, ClevelandBrowns.com, NFL.com, Cleveland.com, and Sports Illustrated.
LINK: TEE PUBLIC PUMPKINHEAD SHIRTS
Pumpkinhead is also the MC of the largest Browns tailgating party on the planet hosting well over 2,000 fans and growing. Pumpkin Nation’s tailgating event is basically a production and not just setting up a few tents with a keg or 12. This creation has catered food, a booked DJ, a small staff, and an affiliation with Cleveland radio station 92.3 The Fan.
On game day, he is Pumpkinhead. Every other day of the week he is Gus Angelone, age 46, a father of two boys: C.J., age 15, and Vince, age 14.
Until Cleveland landed a playoff spot in 2020, his sons had only experienced losing seasons their entire lives. Angelone, a devout Catholic, has worked for the General Motors Parma MFD Plant for almost 24 years. He lives in Parma, Ohio, and served in the Marine Corps from 1994-2002.
Angelone’s favorite Browns growing up were Bernie Kosar and Brian Brennan. Now, it’s Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett. But not for what they can do on the field. He has met most of the Browns’ players at some point; and has gotten to know a bit about their mannerisms and personality when the camera is not on. Angelone has noticed that both Chubb and Garrett are always courteous and seem to be the same no matter who is in the room. He notes the same goes for Kosar, who he met years ago.
Pumpkinhead is no longer a hobby. It is now a business. Angelone has three trademarks that cover logos, character name, the character itself, and other digital representations. This eliminates knockoffs and impostors. After all, now it’s a brand. And brands must be protected.
But how did Pumpkinhead begin? Was this some wicked Halloween experiment gone wrong?
There is some connection to Halloween, yes, because it just happens to be Angelone’s favorite holiday. But the idea came from a dare between his brother and cousin in 2004. Why not make a jack-o-lantern painted with the Browns’ helmet stripes, and then cut a big hole in the bottom large enough for a human head to fit inside. Oh yeh, then the three of them wear the props to an actual game.
The Browns helmet has been referred to as a pumpkin for eons in various media articles only because the lid is devoid of any decals on their sides - and of course the orange color.
Angelone then bought three pumpkins, designed and carved them out with a large hole cut out of the bottom. The intent was himself, his brother and cousin would all wear them to a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks prior to Halloween. However, the day of the event his brother and cousin changed their minds about wearing a hot, heavy, smelly vegetable and sit there all game while the aroma of pumpkin slowly permeates the air. One of the carved heads was then sold to a random fan for $50. The other, the trio smashed. Angelone decided to wear his anyways.
The reaction to a guy wearing a pumpkin on his head complete with two brown stripes along with a center white stripe depicting an actual Browns’ helmet was astonishing. Fans were in awe of the sight. During the game, Angelone in his new headdress was shown on the Jumbotron several times. He received both praise, joy and happiness from fellow Browns fans in his front-row seats above the visitor’s tunnel.
The guy wearing the pumpkin on his head would become “Pumpkinhead.”
Angelone liked the attention he got when he wore the pumpkin. Other Browns fans wanted photos taken with him. This encouraged him to continue so he made new ones and was seen at games. As time rolled along, his ideas began to broaden. He began to add a jersey followed by a complete uniform. Whatever issues he was having with either the uniform or the head itself became a yearly experiment of what worked and what needed to be improved upon.
There are two parts to Pumpkinhead.
First, the uniform. This aspect began very amateurish with Angelone finding the pants on eBay and buying this and that from different sources. But gradually, the socks became more authentic. The jersey was now with stitched numbers instead of screen printed. A custom nameplate was added - all stitched of course. Today, if any Browns player wore the same size as Angelone, he could take his threads and suit up. Yes, that is just how authentic everything he is wearing actually is. His source is a guarded secret.
Next, the head. What began as a carved pumpkin with lines painted on it, is now not only a work of art, but has quite a bit of practical application and technology involved. For one, pumpkins are seasonal. For another, they decay and all that work that went into it is gone. Angelone has an intelligent friend who is now his costume engineer. The details and process are also private, but what we do know is that the head is man-made, re-usable, durable, strong and lightweight.
Next time you are up close to Pumpkinhead, gander at how the pumpkin ribs are so real-looking. Even the stub of the vine is carefully painted with shadowing effects. And there are some improvements coming in regards to the head portion. Accent lighting is still in the works and has been experimented with in order to find lighter components, such as batteries.
Although Pumpkinhead is not affiliated with the Browns, the club did reach out to him. They invited him to a photo shoot with his video to be broadcast on the Jumbotron during home games. Angelone attended Browns’ functions in costume, was a part of the uniform reveal, has been on the field countless times, and team-ran draft parties usually accompanied by his two sons. The boys have met and had their picture taken with numerous rostered players and even played Madden once with Joe Thomas while waiting for their dad to get out of a meeting while in Berea.
The fact that the franchise has embraced Pumpkinhead is an amazing feat. And with that, Angelone began to develop contacts as well as friendships within the organization. At this point, he has a good relationship with the folks who have helped him along the way developing his character. The fact that he has a Browns Backers Worldwide chapter called Pumpkin Nation only amplifies his standing. His best friend, J.J. Altomare, came on board as his helmet engineer.
One thing is certain: Pumpkinhead has evolved. This venture is no longer a guy with a knife, kitchen table and a big orange gourd. Here is his Facebook page which lists all the other social media platforms.
DawgsByNature.com caught up with Angelone between gym workouts to find out about Pumpkinhead’s charity work, what famous people he has met in costume, and how he sees outta that contraption.
DBN: Every Browns fan has this. When was the moment that you realized that you were an actual Browns fan?
Angelone: I grew up being a Browns fan as a kid. I would watch games with my cousins and had football cards of our favorite players which were all Browns players. You take that childhood experience with you when you become an adult.
DBN: Your first appearance of Pumpkinhead was at a home game when you carved three real pumpkins and only one made it inside the stadium. On your own head. How in the hell did you go an entire game in the heat with nothing but enclosed rotten pumpkin smell all game long?
Angelone: Well actually, once you carve it there isn’t any bad odor. That only occurs when the shell begins to rot. It is a strong pumpkin smell, though. And being a real pumpkin, it had some weight to it. But I kept it on and was shown on the Jumbotron several times and people were excited to see something new and different, so I wanted to keep doing it.
DBN: What we find very strange is that the franchise itself has gravitated to the Dawg Pound for the middle part of its existence, and now a huge re-emphasis on Brownie the Elf which was the dominant logo for their first two decades. Now, the Browns organization has really embraced Pumpkinhead as part of their team’s presentation. Who was the first person from the Browns to reach out to you, what was your first team-oriented event, and since then what other type of events has the team invited you to?
Angelone: The person who first contacted me from the Browns was Sara Kornokovich. She really thought what I did was unique and embraced the character. She then started inviting me to different things like coming to training camp and meeting NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Every year I get invited to “Taste of the Browns” which helps the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. That event brings in dignitaries and Browns players so I get to mingle with them. I was invited to do a video shoot for the Jumbotron which is played at home games. With mine, they would use the Michael Myers theme music from the movie “Halloween” on third downs. It’s cool. It really depends on who is in the front office as to how much they use me.
DBN: The Browns won four All-America Football Conference titles plus four NFL crowns. There are those who think if you don’t win a Super Bowl that it is not a real championship. Your take?
Angelone: Those were won in a league including the NFL. Of course, they count. Eight championships are eight championships.
Here is a Browns fan with a pumpkin on his head at NFL Draft. Pumpkin is fake. The person is real, presumably. pic.twitter.com/C6JdtZfXv6— Darryl Slater (@DarrylSlater) May 8, 2014
DBN: In 1994 you wore jersey #3 and were photographed in jersey #30 in front of Radio City Music Hall on draft day when Cleveland selected Johnny Manziel. 11 years later it was #13. Now, you wear #31. Fans have speculated why you adorn a specific number. Some say it is your old college number. Others state it is your IQ. While others surmise that the specific number represents the number of pounds that are extracted from inside the pumpkin shell to make a pie or a jack-o-lantern. What’s the true story?
Angelone: As the Pumpkinhead character evolved, I wanted to wear authentic uniforms that the players wear. You can only get specific jerseys from the team shop. Well, that is not what the players wear which is cut and tailored to their body style. For more authentic jerseys with stitched numbers and patches, you had to go on eBay and look for game-worn jerseys. All I could find was a #13 or #30. The game-worn jersey I got on eBay was a Brandon Weeden #3 jersey and was a little bigger than I needed but still gave me the look. The #31 should be more obvious to people. The 31st of October is Halloween. With me being a big Halloween fan, a big Browns fan, it just completes the entire look and has a good meaning to it.
DBN: Obviously, there is no peripheral vision seeing out. What is the process for seeing straight ahead, how do you navigate steps, and are there any blind spots?
Angelone: It’s funny there aren’t any blind spots. People when they approach me are always looking at Pumpkinhead’s eyes. And really, I look out of the mouth. It’s a large opening and I have a mesh screen so that nobody can see in. In the earlier versions, you could look in and see my face. But as the costume evolved, I wanted it to be more of cosplay. I didn’t want it to be me, I wanted it to be more of the character. There are foam blocks inside the head so that when I move my neck and turn my head, it follows as well.
DBN: Some of us here at DBN has been the President of a youth soccer league, and every opening day we had costumed mascots come out for an hour, and then another character for the next hour, etc. Because we are talking about September and into October, their suits are an oven. What kind of heat does the inside of the new head generate, what do you do to combat this, and do you need an escort so kids won’t bother you from behind and jump on you?
Angelone: The best part of being the character is the joy that it brings to the kids. I don’t mind kids jumping on me or pulling on me. I am pretty tall and I always have people around me. The heat inside is kind of a blessing and a curse. In the summer months and into September and some of October it is pretty unbearable. I don’t sweat that much as it is, and I seem to be able to handle the heat. But it does get very hot. In the winter months, it keeps me warm. Football is played in the fall so really there are not many experiences where I am suffering. And plus in most months, the Browns don’t have a home game every weekend.
DBN: Do you communicate verbally with Browns fans, or are you muted?
Angelone: If somebody comes up to me I will talk to them. When I do interviews in character I eventually take the head off so that they can see my face, my mouth and my facial expressions. I try to articulate and do a nice interview without someone having to guess what I just said or ask me to repeat myself. This allows people to get to know the guy behind the mask.
DBN: And how do you drink some brews during a game?
Angelone: I am not that huge of a drinker. I will have a couple of beers. During a game, I don’t really drink much of anything anyways.
DBN: And piss? Do you ask someone, “Here, hold my head?”
Angelone: Now that’s funny. I just belly up to the urinal. Luckily I sit in the same seats every game and so do most of the fans in that section and we all end up in the same men’s room. Some joke about it, but pretty much it is just a normal thing now.
DBN: Obviously the head represents a Browns NFL helmet with correct striping. Even the back is very detailed with a miniature American flag, a miniature NFL shield, plus your jersey number. What seems to be missing is the green dot. During games, do you not get the coach’s transmission to the quarterback?
Angelone: Actually I have added the green dot. I don’t get the transmissions, though. Will discuss that with J.J. to find out why that is not coming through.
DBN: Who was the most famous person you met in costume, and the “OMG!” Browns player you have met while adorned as Pumpkinhead?
Angelone: I got to meet Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner when they were filming the movie “Draft Day.” As far as a Browns player, I am going to say Bernie Kosar. He used to be very secluded and a difficult person to contact. I was hired to be at a wedding for a huge Browns fan which was at the Cleveland Metropolitan Zoo. This was years ago and I was just trying to figure out the progression of the character. When I got to the Zoo they escort me to this area and there was Bernie sitting there. He knew who I was and we started talking. We got along great and at some point, we exchange phone numbers. I was floored. He couldn’t have been more kind and genuine. Now, around Cleveland he is very accessible. You see him around town and on gameday. He is now somebody I look up to as a mentor and taken me under his wing giving me advice. He has suggested that I get an agent. Whenever I am with him, he is so nice to me and my boys.
DBN: In addition to numerous Browns sites and affiliations, you have been featured on ClevelandBrowns.com, SI.com which is Sports Illustrated, Cleveland.com, NFL.com, ABC television, plus USA Today. Generally, what did all of these prominent media folks ask you, and did any spokesperson want to touch the head?
Angelone: A lot of times it’s just basic questions like how it all began. You are the one who never asked me that. Things like how long I have been doing the character, and what the motivation is behind it, do I get discouraged when the team isn’t doing well and meeting expectations? And usually my answer is the same: the attention I get from it all along with the special treatment I receive that would never have come my way to share with my boys without the character. None have asked to touch the head yet.
DBN: The head is detail-oriented and really is a work of art. Even the stem looks realistic. But the most iconic portion of the entire ensemble is the mouth which is both sinister yet cool at the same time. Is it true if you hold the head in your hand and place your ear to the head insertion hole you can hear Ben Roethlisberger crying after that playoff loss?
Angelone: Talk about memories! For 20 years that guy tormented us, and to see him cry on national TV. It was the first playoff win for the Browns in the expansion era. That memory will never fade.
DBN: You have two sons. Was either one conceived while wearing the head?
Angelone: I am going to leave that one as a “no comment.”
DBN: With the sideline chain gang, they have the down marker which will show the next number when a lever is pushed up or down. Any chance of a futuristic head that could feature four different mouth variations when a lever is pushed down or up? Our choices are an “Oh no, not again” mouth, an extremely angry version, perhaps a “happy, happy, joy, joy” but sinister variation, plus the original mouth. You are obviously a crafty, hands-on guy who is good with tools.
Angelone: Funny you ask that. Even though the uniformed portion of the character is set in that I wear what the players wear, the head is an ever-evolving thing. J.J. Altomare is my costume engineer. We continue to tackle situations and improve. About every two years we produce a new head and are able to make it lighter, stronger, and things like that. So we are always asking what can we make the pumpkin do that we haven’t considered? As the technology improves then we look to see if that will work. I can put lighting in the mouth and program it to say things and I can still see through it. When we first adapted it for lights, it was very heavy and got very hot from the batteries. The head is trademarked so I can adapt it as we go along. Especially during night games where I can get the strobe lights going. It’s really something cool.
DBN: The head is pretty large and tall which adds to its allure. Is it top-heavy? And how exactly does it stay on with tipping or falling off?
Angelone: As the head has evolved it has gotten lighter and stronger. We use Fiberglass and hardening materials. Even though the head evolves the face remains the same. I feel that is important because it’s not just a pumpkin but a recognizable face. Everything inside forms my head so it can move when my head moves and still remains comfortable.
DBN: We know a little boy who has a problem with being good. Can DBN pay you to stand in his closet until he is almost asleep, then come out abruptly and scare the crap outta him screaming “I’ll be back unless you behave!”
Angelone: I really don’t know how to answer that. I am sure that would cancel out all the years of work I have done with being a kid-friendly character.
DBN: So tell us about the story of how the Pumpkin Nation bus became a reality, and what goes into that massive production you call a tailgate party?
Angelone: The tailgate is a whole other facet of Pumpkinhead. I started off with a 1971 Coachman RV that had seen its days. There are a lot of vehicles around that are painted orange and brown. We started on West 3rd and Summit. We had a few friends and a pony keg. I installed a beer tap on the side of the RV which was really cool. As things progressed, we had more people who wanted to party and join us. As it became a bigger production, I would charge a $20 donation for unlimited beer and food. And we are talking about expensive food sometimes like steak. It started as six guys in the back of my truck to 25 to 50 to 100 to a couple hundred. At the time, 92.3 The Fan radio station was coming into existence. They were wanting to team up with one of the bars and throw tailgates before the home games. I was approached and wanted me to move to their parking lot. I told them that I was happy where I was at and proud of my accomplishments and don’t want to ruin what I have built. It was a risk to tell them no. Then they made an offer that was too good to refuse and decided to move the tailgate. The rest is history. We host the largest pre-game party. I have a staff and we have sponsors that work on this production. Blocks in downtown Cleveland are shut down because of us and the over 2,000 people who enjoy what we offer each game.
DBN: Speaking of events, here is an event DBN would like to see: the Brownie the Elf gameday costumed mascot along with the Chomps character, against yourself and The Macho Fan in a tag team wrestling match. Tell us how that would go down.
Angelone: We definitely know that The Macho Fan has got that wrestling background. But you got to watch out for Chomps. He is very sneaky and always doing antics with players. Like using a Terrible Towel as a diaper. That can be distracting. I have been working out so I am in shape and am certain Macho and I can take those guys.
DBN: There is talk about the Browns having an alternate-colored helmet this season. If so, are we to expect an alternate-colored Pumpkinhead?
Angelone: I was actually talking with J.J. about this recently. So when the Browns had the 75th Anniversary celebration and did the helmet with the single stripe with the numerals on the side, we did a head like that. I just didn’t think it looked right. Even if they come out with a white or brown helmet, I just might make one, but it will really depend on how it looks with the whole ensemble. The pumpkin the way it looks right now is iconic and a recognizable thing so I am hesitant about messing with it. But we are open to making a correct head about what the players are wearing during a game.
DBN: We hear you do charity work in the community. How about some details?
Angelone: Being a veteran one of the charities I like to support is the Wounded Warriors Foundation. Being a father I also like to do things that have to do with children. And animals. I usually don’t turn down situations that have to do with those three. We have also done functions helping Breast Cancer awareness and finding a cure.
DBN: What do you think it will take for the Browns to be relevant again?
Angelone: It’s really simple: win. I buy season tickets because I want to be part of the gameday experience with my boys. So for the Browns to be relevant is simple: win. Honestly, I don’t care how they do it. Whatever it takes. We want to see this team succeed. This town has had one of the most historic parades. What would happen if the Browns won the Super Bowl? I just want to experience that with my boys, friends, and family while I am still a young man and while my boys are growing up. I am just so passionate. I want to see it, I want to be a part of it. So, whatever it takes - win.
DBN: If you could be the Browns GM for a single day, what would be some things you would implement and/or change? And while you were the boss, would you arrive at work as Gus or as Pumpkinhead?
Angelone: I know the GM doesn’t have anything to do with the stadium and renovations. Recently there has been talk of a new stadium. I will put it in black-and-white: build a retractable roof. As far as being the GM, just selecting the right players in the draft and bringing in really strong free agents. This team needs a leader. Someone that the team and the fanbase can follow. Myles is vocal, but with the Browns, you don’t see a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady. That icon is sorely lacking. So I would cultivate somebody on this team that could fill that role. And if it is gameday, those types of decisions would be made by Pumpkinhead whereas everything else would have to be presented in a business manner.
DBN: What is your fondest moment of being a Cleveland Browns fan?
Angelone: That would have to be a two-parter. I take pictures of everything. So for me to take my boys to these Pumpkinhead events and be able to share those experiences and memories with them. Then to be able to look at it later is special to me. My next fondest memory is when I first brought my sons to their first Browns games when they were little and them wearing their own customized jerseys. To me there is nothing more important than my boys. Just seeing the look on their faces is something I can still visualize.