But the Browns are famous for their obscure vacated helmet space. And except for those two brown stripes that bookend the center white stripe, it seems that Cleveland has always sported the atmosphere of helmet nothingness forever.
Needless to say, it is what has made the franchise’s helmet very unique. Early this week the team teased that a white helmet may indeed become a reality.
Not that the Browns haven’t had anything on the sides of their helmets, or tried. They have and did.
From 1957-1959, the team wore orange helmets with a single white stripe and then placed the jersey number on each side of the helmet in brown numerals. These are generally referred to as “the Jim Brown rookie helmets” because Brown’s rookie season in Cleveland coincided with the new look.
In 1960, two brown stripes were added which encapsulated the single white stripe with the jersey numbers still adhered. Beginning in 1961, the numerals were gone and the helmet has been solid orange with two brown stripes with a center white stripe ever since. The only changes have been the color of the facemask which has gone from different seasons or either gray or white or brown. Then there was the infamous “new reveal” in 2015 which basically just changed the shade of the orange color.
In 1952, only two NFL teams had logos affixed to their helmets. The Los Angeles Rams were first when their equipment manager painted ram horns and was paid $1 for each helmet. Next, the Baltimore Colts wore blue helmets with a single white stripe and attached two small horseshoes on each side of the stripe on the back of the helmets.
At this time, Browns head coach Paul Brown thought about a helmet logo. In the spring of 1953, Coach Brown called his equipment manager Leo Murphy into his office and assigned him a task. He commissioned Murphy to devise a Brownie the Elf logo for helmets so that he could see what it looked like. Coach Brown referred to Brownie as “the little fella.”
It took Murphy several days to stencil and paint the logo on the helmet. He did not have time for this but worked on it tirelessly every spare minute he had. When finished, Murphy placed the Elf helmet on Coach Brown’s desk who took one quick look at it and said, “I don’t like it. Get it out of here.” And that was that.
When Murphy passed away, his children found the helmet in his basement.
Then in 1965, Browns’ owner Art Modell commissioned an artist to come up with a helmet logo. The artist devised a capital letter “C” whose bottom tail morphed into a capital letter “B”. The lettering was brown with a white outline.
Cleveland’s new “CB” helmet produced numerous collectibles, household items, and toys including mini-helmet pencil sharpeners, posters, plaques, coasters, electric football sets, and a Browns youth football uniform ensemble complete with a “CB” helmet.
At no time did the helmet actually find the field nor during practice. In fact, players interviewed from this time period had never seen a sample or knew anything about it. It is unclear why Modell did not actually process his logo and make it a reality. The design was made, put out there for the use of the NFL, made public, and then quietly died away.
Origins of the orange helmet
The Browns began in an NFL-rival league the All-America Football Conference. This eight-team entity was also the birthplace of the San Francisco 49ers and the Colts. This league paid their players and coaches more and subsequently raided NFL squads. No draft was formed, so each club was on its own as to how their roster was formulated. Since Coach Brown had won six state championships at Massillon (Ohio) Washington High School plus captured a National Championship while head coach at Ohio State University, he had knowledge of his own former players plus the athletes his teams went against. At the time, he was the most famous sportsperson in the State of Ohio.
In Cleveland’s maiden season of 1946, they wore white and brown jerseys that sported an orange drop-shade of the numeral. This was the only year they wore that style.
From 1946-1949, the Browns wore solid white leather helmets.
The two leagues agreed to a merger beginning in 1950. The NFL only wanted three clubs: the four-time AAFC Champion Browns, 49ers, and Colts. These three clubs represented the top four attendance franchises. Number 3 was actually the Buffalo Bills, but the NFL did not want to deal with the city’s harsh winters which would limit playing dates, so Baltimore was chosen instead.
There was a problem going from the AAFC into the NFL. The established league had a rule that prohibited any team from wearing white or light-colored pants, and white or light-colored helmets - but only for night games. The reason: during night games the league used a white football and considered white helmets/pants would confuse players in the event one might fall off or camouflage the ball on running plays.
Several NFL teams were already using two colors of helmets at the time. The Detroit Lions had silver helmets for day games and blue hats at night while the Chicago Cardinals wore white helmets when the sun was up and red helmets for night.
Coming into the fold of the NFL, both San Francisco and Cleveland were affected as both had light-colored headgear. San Fran’s colors then were silver, red, and white, and wore silver helmets and pants while the Browns wore white helmets and pants. So, the 49ers donned red helmets while Paul Brown decided upon an orange version for night games.
In 1951, the NFL changed the pants rule to which clubs could wear whatever they wanted, but the white or light-colored helmet rule was still intact.
So, from 1950-1951, Cleveland wore white helmets during most day games and orange helmets for night games. Which was an issue with Murphy having to paint each lid depending on what time of day each contest was. And with orange being considered a dark shade, it took a lot more coats of white to cover.
Orange is the new white
The continuation of repainting each helmet for two solid years was a nuisance.
Plastic helmets had been around since 1939 available from the Riddell Company of Chicago. But there were issues. For one, the top of the helmets had a flat ledge, making each hat more of a weapon. Also, on certain angles of hits, the force would make the helmet flex which then caused the small section between the ear hole and the bottom of the helmet to crack or completely break.
By 1952, new technologies made plastic helmets better, more rigid, stronger, and had much less propensity for breakage or damage. Plus, the color was baked into the plastic making it unnecessary to paint (but could be painted if the need arose).
For the 1953 season, Paul Brown ordered the entire team orange plastic helmets. The white helmets were officially gone as were the weekly duties of painting and re-painting.
Today’s Browns brought forward their 1946 jerseys with the drop-shade numerals beginning in the 2021 season. But when they wore them in an actual game, they paired the jerseys with the 1957 Jim Brown rookie helmet, which was historically incorrect.
Which was fine. It looked really good and had a nostalgic feel. And there is speculation that the white helmets could come complete with two brown stripes with a single center orange strip. Which looks good too. But they too are not historically accurate with the 1946 drop-shade jerseys.
Typically when NFL clubs wear a throwback ensemble, everything is historically accurate down to the tube socks.
However, by introducing a secondary helmet being solid white, they would have six years of former seasons and uniform combinations that can be utilized as being historically accurate.
When the time comes around for the Browns to wear the 1946 drop-shade jerseys with a solid white helmet this time around, the ghosts of Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Dub Jones, Bill Willis, Lou Groza, Mac Speedie, Dante Lavelli, and scores of other league champions can be seen in the background with a slight head nod.
Paul Brown was a creature of sameness, stability, and if it ain’t broke......
There are a few questions that will never be answered.
For one, why did Paul Brown choose orange over brown for the nighttime helmet color when they merged into the NFL in 1950? Secondly, if the NFL did not have that white or light-colored helmet rule, isn’t it likely the Browns would still be wearing white helmets to this day?
The Browns won four AAFC championships (1946-1949) and one NFL championship (1950) with the white leather helmets. The franchise would later win three NFL titles (1954-1955, 1964) with the plastic orange hats.
New white helmets revealed
Last year, the NFL began allowing teams to have two different color helmets. 13 clubs chose a second set in 2022 such as the New Orleans Saints who now have a black version to go with their gold lid.
Forever the NFL has allowed a second color helmet when a club wanted to wear a throwback uniform. The New England Patriots sport a silver helmet, but on throwback home games they have the white helmets with Pat Patriot on the side. What also happens is the jersey, pants, and socks are all exactly like they wore back in the day.
Take the Green Bay Packers throwback uniforms where they don a blue/yellow jersey with tan pants yet wear a brown helmet. Where do tan and brown fit in historically? Green Bay’s original colors were blue/yellow, so that makes sense. Pants sold early on around 1919 when the Packers were formed were only sold tan-colored. But why not a yellow or blue lid? Leather helmets were sold in their natural state of brown. They only became a color if they were painted and originally, Green Bay did not paint their helmets. It wasn’t until 1937 did they paint their hats solid yellow.
So essentially, both the Patriots and Packers have always had a second-color helmet via their throwback ensemble.
This means Cleveland painted their brown leather helmets white during those first years. The 1955 season was the last year the NFL used the white football for night games and the rule was quickly changed to allow teams the option to have white or light-colored helmets.
If you haven’t seen the new helmets, here is the tweet from the franchise on Tuesday:
Now, the new helmets look good. They aren’t spectacular with any new radical designs or concepts, but they appear clean and fit the Browns tradition. Truthfully, it is simply the white version of the orange concept. Instead of Oreo stripes, they have the Limited Edition Halloween Oreo stripes (with the orange crème middles).
Having said this, the white helmets are a brand-new design. Cleveland has never worn these before - ever. In the David Njoku vid, he is wearing the 1946 drop-shade jersey with the new helmet. That makes no sense.
The Browns have always had the opportunity to wear the correct helmet with the 1946 ensemble, which is a solid white hat, even before the second color helmet was approved. All they need to do is declare it as their throwback uni. So, why not? To date, they have used the 1957 helmet and now seem to intend on wearing the 2023 style.
It is comical to see some of those throwback uniforms from days gone by in today’s culture such as the Denver Broncos barber pole brown and yellow socks, the 1936 Bears striped shoulders and socks, or the Steelers bumblebee horizontal striped jerseys and matching socks.
Keep in mind every other NFL team that has used a throwback uniform has used the correct helmet. Period. Except for Cleveland. Why? Why not just don the solid white helmet and make sure the pants and socks are accurate and list it on the schedule as 1946 throwback day?
The Browns will break out a retro, all-white look, white helmets, jerseys, and pants, on the road against the Steelers in Week 2, at home in Week 6 versus the 49ers, and lastly in Week 17 against the New York Jets in the home finale.
The 1946 drop-shade jersey is very attractive. The 2023 helmet is a good look. The 1957 Jim Brown rookie helmet is a nice throwback. But complete the look with a 1957 uniform or a 1946 helmet, not something that is completely made up.
Teams are locked into uniforms for five years. The 2022 Browns unis are the 2023 Browns unis. Why not just wear the new white helmet with whichever combo looks best?
So let’s make this very clear. This white helmet design has never been in a game. From 1946-1952 the Browns wore solid white helmets as Paul Brown never placed any stripe on a white helmet much less three. The solid white helmets went to seven league championship games out of seven years and won six titles. But this is a new design for 2023 and has never seen the field. Period. It has zero tradition.
Pair the new white helmet with an existing uniform design and stop acting like all those championship teams from the 1940s and 1950s are represented by it.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association
Which Browns helmet is your all-time fav?
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1946-1952 solid white
1953-1956 solid orange with a single white stripe
1957-1959 solid orange with a single white stripe and uniform numbers on the sides
Solid orange with a single white stripe and two brown stripes with the gray facemask
Solid orange with a single white stripe and two brown stripes with the white facemask
Solid orange with a single white stripe and two brown stripes with the brown facemask
1965 "CB" helmet
2023 solid white helmet with Halloween Oreo stripes