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Browns history: Interview with Superfan John Big Dawg Thompson

25 questions with the original iconic Cleveland Browns dawg character

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns 1-2-2011 Photo by Tom Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

It seems like every NFL club has a Superfan who began as a season ticket holder and evolved into some sort of “character.”

The idea of Superfans may not have begun with “The Hogettes” which embodied the Washington Redskins, but this group brought out the concept for all to see. These four men represented Washington for over 30 years and were on every Redskins television broadcast dressed as women with pig snouts. As crazy as these guys looked, it sparked an interest in many fans who wanted to become well-known and represent their respective teams.

Washington Redskins Enthusiasts in Costumes Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Characters such as “The Black Hole” for the Oakland Raiders as a collection of misfits that took over an area of their section each game, the Green Bay Packers’ “Saint Vince” in the 1990s who dressed like former Packers great head coach Vince Lombardi, the New York Jets’ “Fireman Ed”, and “Syd Davy” who has been an avid Minnesota Vikings fan since the 1960s who came dressed each game in a battle dress, horned helmet, blonde braided pigtails while sporting a big cigar.

Another Superfan icon that sprang up long ago, was Cleveland’s own John Big Dawg Thompson. He is not the original character of the Cleveland Browns, but Big Dawg was certainly the most recognizable Superfan not just in Ohio, but in the entire NFL. It was just known among NFL film crews covering a Browns game to find Big Dawg and then give him plenty of air time.

The first live character Cleveland had was Tommy Flynn. He was the assistant equipment manager in the Browns’ All-America Football Conference days and dressed up on game days. Flynn, a little person, would roam the sidelines and when he would be around head coach Paul Brown would mimic the coach’s actions and reactions. The crowd enjoyed the antics and was all in good fun. But when the franchise merged into the National Football League in 1950, the other NFL owners pulled the plug on Flynn’s elfin character calling it “minor league antics.”

John Big Dawg Thompson was the next iconic live character to represent the City of Cleveland. And, the most famous.

It should be noted that Thompson’s moniker Big Dawg is not set in quotation marks. This is because he legally changed his name to represent his loyalty to the Browns. His presence goes beyond simple fandom. When the “Dawg Pound” was conceived in the mid-1980s, Thompson already had seats in this section.

Former Browns cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield claim to have inspired the Dawg Pound in 1985, but it was Thompson who first wore an actual dog mask. Then, his fellow east end zone co-conspirators started to don dog masks also, break out the bones, and bark while watching the game in the bleacher area. Slowly, it was christened “The Dawg Pound” and made this area of the stadium what it is today - a valued NFL tradition.

But Thompson was the first - and only - dog representation in the Dawg Pound as its origin.

Dixon and Minnifield 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. This was the first appearance of the spelling “dawgs.”

RELATED: ORIGINS OF THE DAWG POUND

Before long, his costume ensemble took on the life of the Pound as more and more Browns fans embraced the new concept of canines and began to have fun with it.

When the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996, Thompson was instrumental in forcing the NFL to provide Cleveland with an expansion team that would begin play in 1999. In this process and through an agreement with former Browns owner Art Modell, the Browns’ colors, logos, name, and history were preserved and carried over to the new franchise. In the history of professional sports, this has never happened before as the club that relocated retained all of that. Thompson appeared on “Politically Incorrect” with host Bill Maher and testified before the United States House Committee on the Judiciary regarding Cleveland getting a team back.

Before the move to Baltimore, the Dawg Pound was known as being the rowdiest quadrant in the entire City of Cleveland. Playing in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which was also home of the Cleveland Indians baseball club, this part of the stadium for Indians games was in dead center field, and the cheapest seats, which were bleachers instead of individual seats with backs and armrests found throughout the stadium.

For Browns games, the east end zone bleachers butted right up to the center field wall to make a football field fit inside a stadium built for baseball.

Fans were right on top of the action and any opponent players who ventured into this end zone were subject to jeers, heckles, vulgarities, and various projectiles such as Milk Bones, batteries, and beer hurled their way during and after a play. Misbehavior, battery-operated TVs, and fights were part of the charm. So was weak beer and bring-your-own two-liter Coke bottles filled with Vodka.

Cleveland Browns Fans
The birth of the Dawg Pound was John Big Dawg Thompson as the only dawg
SetNumber: X71335 TK3

This was the domain of Thompson on Sundays with his season tickets on the front row. He donned a dawg rubber mask while holding a large dog-chewing stick which more resembled a caveman’s club. He also wore an orange helmet (a repainted Houston Astros batting helmet) then adorned with the traditional Oreo striping.

If the Browns were on TV, so was Big Dawg. Yes, the Big Dawg experience involved 26 years long. There were draft parties he attended and various events that involved former players.

Not to mention the magazines and publications Big Dawg has appeared in: Cleveland Magazine, GQ, NFL Spin Zone, The Sporting News, Dawg Pound Daily, Direct TV on Sports, Sports Business Journal, Memory Forever, ESPN The Magazine, Vanity Fair, Browns News Illustrated, New York Times, and TV Guide.

Plus, his image and fandom of the Browns became the cover of NFL GameDay, Northeast Ohio Live, Sports Illustrated, and Inside Sports. He was also mentioned in the book, “Paul Brown’s Ghost” and in another book that recognized the top canines in all 50 states. Thompson represented the State of Ohio.

Then there is the story of the fan who got Thompson to autograph his forearm, then tried to get to a tattoo parlor after the game to make it permanent but could not find one open that late on a Sunday.

When the Browns moved to Baltimore, Thompson was one of the main ones who lobbied the NFL to get a team back in Cleveland. He testified in front of the United States Congress on the matter. Then on February 9, 1996, the NFL announced that the Browns franchise would be “deactivated” for three years. When the franchise would take the field again, it would be in a new stadium and begin play in 1999.

Other dawgs began to sprout up in the Dawg Pound after Thompson’s lead

In 1999, the former Mayor of Cleveland Dennis Kucinich, now serving as the U.S. Representative from Ohio’s 10th Congressional District, issued a proclamation honoring Big Dawg that was recorded in the Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 145 (1999), Part 17, Page 24081. His entire summation is at the below link:

RELATED: DENNIS KUCINICH’S PROCLAMATION HONORING JOHN BIG DAWG THOMPSON

After the New Browns entered the league with a brand new stadium, Thompson was there in a redesigned Dawg Pound. What is ironic though, is that during all those playoff-bound Marty Schottenheimer rosters Big Dawg was front and center.

Now that Cleveland is back in the post-season as this year’s squad closely resembles the ole Kardiac Kids, with the help of Dawgs By Nature, Big Dawg mysteriously returns.

During those days, the now 62-year-old Big Dawg sold data supplies for 18 years as his living. Today, the practicing Catholic has worked for Cuyahoga County for 17 years. He has been married for 40 years to his wife Mary, has two daughters and one 3 1/2-year-old grandson. Perhaps, that is Lil Dawg?

L to R: Pasa Haknasar (son-in-law), Michelle Thompson (daughter), Jessica Campbell (daughter in-law), Megan Campbell (daughter), Declan Campbell (grandson), John Big Dawg Thompson, Mary Thompson (wife)

Thompson still lives in Cleveland and lists his hobbies as football, football, football, occasionally hockey (whether that is on ice or broom hockey), and then fishing. His favorite Browns players growing up were Leroy Kelly, Jerry Sherk, Bernie Kosar, Jim Brown, and Felix Wright.

LINK: JERRY SHERK INTERVIEW

He still has Browns season tickets in his same spot, just not in costume anymore which stopped shortly before Jimmy and Dee Haslam bought the franchise. Nothing against the new owners, just a coincidence.

At the end of the day, the Big Dawg character is like the Superman cape. That is what makes him relevant.

Dawgs By Nature caught up with the original Browns Superfan to find out where the mask came from, why the Cleveland Ballet painted their pointe shoes orange, and does anyone call him “The Godfather of Browns Superfans”?


DBN: The iconic dawg mask that you wore. Word is you bought it at a costume shop in 1985 after socializing at a bar. Is this one of those great drinking stories?

Big Dawg: It was a Saturday afternoon and we were going to watch Ohio State on opening day for college football. We parked outside in front of the costume shop five stores away from where the bar was to watch the game. After it was over, we came to the car and the costume shop had a flashing sign out front that said “Grand Opening.” My buddies said let’s check this place out. We were looking around and the masks were behind the counter. I saw this hound dog at the top. The year before at training camp at Lakeland the defense had started barking to get them pumped up. At the time, my seats were at the west end of the stadium but I had to give up that seat because I couldn’t get an extra seat. So, we went down on seat day and ended up buying seats in the other end zone because they were right down on the field. That section was called “The Bleacher Section” and the people who sat in that section were known as “The Bleacher Creatures.” My new seats were $9 each and I was paying $17.50 for one seat at the other end.

Carolina Panthers vs. Cleveland Browns 11-28-2010 Photo by Jerry Sherk/Jerry Sherk Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images

It was the first preseason game of 1985 when I first brought the mask. And I didn’t wear the mask coming in, I just carried it. I was wearing a Houston Astros helmet that I painted and converted into a Browns helmet. I have always worn this even before the mask. So, during the game, a defensive back came down into our end zone and I put on the mask and started barking at him. As he was walking off, he started pointing at me towards his other teammates, like “Look at this guy.”

DBN: After getting a lot of TV coverage, you were suddenly asked to talk to various groups across the State of Ohio. What would be your message, and did you charge an appearance fee?

Big Dawg: I would go to a lot of Browns Backers clubs across the state and a lot of this was charity events so I didn’t charge anybody to show up. It depended on what it was because sometimes I would charge 100 bucks for my gas. But that grew and eventually, I got some deals with a few companies but in the beginning, I didn’t have that many opportunities. At the time, I was just a fan. I got to meet a lot of people especially Browns Backers who I would not have been able to get to know otherwise. Some really good people. But early on it was always on my dime.

DBN: You have always been known as Big Dawg mainly because of your weight and your devotion to the Browns. At some point, you legally changed your name to John Big Dawg Thompson. How did you get this idea?

Big Dawg: There was a time when different companies had approached me. I had a friend Hugh Carlin who was an attorney. I told him that I was getting bombarded about corporate things to do this, this, and this. All of a sudden there were business opportunities. So, I got to thinking about protecting my image. We looked into copyrighting my image and came up with the idea. Hugh told me to protect my image would be a few thousand bucks, which I didn’t have. So the next thing was to change my name to Big Dawg which would tie it to my image. Everyone was calling me Big Dawg anyway. The name change was about $60 to the county.

DBN: How did you explain to your mom that instead of using the name she picked out for you, and now you were going to be named John Big Dawg Thompson?

Big Dawg: She was a proponent of the idea and was motivated. So, in 1985 it was only me and another guy who had painted a dog’s skull. We went to the playoffs that year and the playoff game against the Miami Dolphins. The following year 1986 is when the Dawg Pound actually got going in the direction that it did. And I had front-row seats where the TV cameras would highlight me with the mask on. My mom was excited for the opportunities that suddenly came about.

DBN: What was the most you weighed as Big Dawg? And what transpired for you to have bariatric surgery and has this changed your life for the better?

Big Dawg: At the end, I was up to 540 pounds. The surgery absolutely has changed my life. My family doctor had told me I had only about a year to live if I didn’t do anything about it. I had edema so bad in my legs that I had water coming out. It got out of hand. I have had very few disadvantages since the surgery. There are some things I can’t do like I can’t have any carbonated drinks which I have been good to. That is basically it. I had the surgery in 2004 and have done whatever the doctors told me to do. I was down to 185 and didn’t put on any weight for a long time. I was way too thin and playing hockey at the center position. Without the weight, I was getting banged all over the place but never skated faster in my life. I am close to 300 now. Comfortable for me now is about 245.

DBN: As Big Dawg began to become popular, you made several commercials including Pizza Hut, McDonald’s with the Bone Lady and Braylon Edwards, Miller High Life, and Tops Friendly Markets with Tim Couch. How did you get these gigs?

Big Dawg: I was able to do ESPN Sunday Night Football, too. For the others, I had to join the actor’s union SAG-AFTRA. That is how I was contacted for the other commercials. And I was able to get other people work as well with suggestions especially being local. There were different talent groups who would ask me if I knew anyone. More than once I gave out The Bone Lady’s name because she was local and a Browns fan like me and had a great personality. There was popularity with her too so I thought it would be a good fit and she was a nice person.

DBN: A lot of stuff went on in the original Dawg Pound at the old Municipal Stadium. What was the weirdest thing you saw?

Big Dawg: The craziest thing I saw go on was there was a Pittsburgh fan wearing Steelers gear who was completely inebriated. There is a small walkway right before the fence that went all across the Dawg Pound. He was getting pretty loud with the Steelers thing, and the people around me were intense. They half-pants the guy and then set his clothes on fire. I didn’t set his clothes on fire but was enjoying the hell out of it. Then the stadium people came and threw the guy out for setting a fire, and the whole Dawg Pound was cheering the asshole chant as they led him out. The entire Dawg Pound back in the day was the classic A-Hole section.

DBN: What about anything oddball brought into the Dawg Pound?

Big Dawg: There was so much that was going on. The Milk Bones thrown were all the time. This one guy literally brought a complete dog house. They just brought it in through the gate and hung it over the fence by that little hill. It would hold two beer balls in it, and anyone who wanted a beer just stepped up and pulled the tap. It was crazy. It was there a couple of years before Art Modell heard about it and then it was gone.

DBN: Tell us the story about being in the Dawg Pound, and Mark Gastineau and the New York Jets being up 20-10 with four minutes left in the game.

Big Dawg: The Dawg Pound had been chanting the whole time, “Gastineau sucks!” We didn’t attack any other player because he was more than abiding us. He was biting on the bait. And once in a while, he would flip us off with the forearm. It was absolutely insane.

Sports Illustrated via Getty Ima

The chant was loud and you could hear it at the other end of the stadium. And after a while, more in the stadium started chanting with us and joining in. The Browns had a third-and-long, and Gastineau hit Bernie (Kosar) after at least a three-count after he got rid of the ball - and the Dawg Pound went nuts. That gave the Browns a first down and were now back in the game. That began the saying on the radio broadcast, “Pandemonium Palace.” Because we could bring radios into the stadium back then and listen to the play-by-play. Even boom boxes turned up so everyone could hear. So, the Browns tied up the game and went into overtime where the Browns won it. It was the most exciting game of my life. My wife Mary was there and ended up on the front page of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.

DBN: You wore jersey #98. Your email address has these same digits involved. What is the association with that number?

Big Dawg: So, how I ended up with that number was my brother-in-law Peter bought me that jersey. He was visiting us and they went shopping in Westgate Mall. Honecks Sporting Goods were associated with the Browns and got all their extra jerseys from training camp. Those jerseys were heavy-duty with rubber numbers. The size of the jerseys was by the numbers. So 98 was the biggest one available and he got it. Back in the day I was about 380 pounds. That jersey was worn by someone who got cut, or it was never issued and worn.

DBN: In the Madden NFL video game, there was a character that appeared for the Browns that wore a costume you had been wearing for 25 years. You ended up suing the maker of the game EA Sports over likeness infringement. How did that end up?

Big Dawg: I can’t discuss it, other than it is true I did file a lawsuit because they were using my image in their game.

DBN: You began a process that soon afterward there were other Superfans that came on the scene such as The Bone Lady, Captain Cleveland, The Macho Fan, and Pumpkinhead. Would you say you are “The Godfather of Browns Superfans”?

Big Dawg: I hate to say “I”, but yeah, I was the first dawg. I got the most publicity because, at every Browns home game, the TV camera guys would find me partly because I was in the front row in costume and the front row of the famous Dawg Pound at the old stadium. Those other folks didn’t come until the new team came back in 1999. The Dawg Pound was already a reality. At the old stadium, it was marketed in a whole different way. At one point new co-owner Carmen Policy tried to tame everything down and things got stricter. I couldn’t bring my three-foot dog bone in. They stopped all that. Which I understand because when I went anywhere it involved kids. There was no drinking for me at the games and was sober Big Dawg for the longest time. I didn’t quit drinking, but as Big Dawg I couldn’t.

Editor’s note: While Big Dawg called it a “dog bone,” the rest of us viewed it as a club.

DBN: The Visa Hall of Fans at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio began its charter class in 1999 which just so happened to be the same year the New Browns took the field. You were elected into that maiden class. How did you find out about your induction?

Big Dawg: Through a marketing company out of New York. They did a letter-writing contest and selected 31 of us for their first class. After that class, myself and some of the other team Superfans decided we wanted to have reunions. For the next several years we did that as they had an induction class each year. I had all the contacts because I was basically the local guy. In later years when Debra The Bone Lady was inducted, they did a lot more reunions and then involved the United Way and got some kids involved. The whole thing just grew and grew. She was very involved and had a kind heart, and was also considered the local inductee.

DBN: So in the early teens, you showed up for a Browns home game with a new dawg mask, a new jersey, and new orange tennis shoes while carrying a new foam dog bone. Where is your original stuff, and how did they find a mannequin that large to display it on?

Big Dawg: My original jersey and a duplicate mask were retired and given to a bar downtown Cleveland called “Champions” that eventually went out of business and all that and the other player jerseys they displayed all disappeared. Throughout the years I did get some extra jerseys in case they wore out. My mother was a tailor so it was very easy for her to add gussets to the sides.

DBN: Your ensemble came complete with those orange tennis shoes. At the time, nobody was making orange shoes. Where did you find those?

Big Dawg: I got that idea from a game where Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne wore cleats that were painted orange for the 1990 playoff game. They got fined and it made the paper because they were out of uniform. The whole city went ballistic. Every game has an NFL uniform cop. Felix Wright is one today for Browns home games, and also Langhorne does the other sideline. Reggie got fined, and now he is the one who institutes fines. That is classic. In support of Webster and Reggie, the whole team said they were going to paint their shoes. So, I painted my white high tops. During this time, the Cleveland Ballet painted their pointe shoes orange.

RELATED: FELIX WRIGHT INTERVIEW

DBN: Where were you when you heard the Browns were moving to Baltimore?

Big Dawg: It was a Saturday morning and I was just rolling out of bed. It dominated radio. It was stunning news although everyone had heard rumors for months. That hurt everyone who had ever been to a Browns game and was the talk all over the city all week. Just stunning news. Then as you walk around your day you know that it is true, but you are in a haze like it really isn’t going to happen.

DBN: Tell us about the final home game at Muni Stadium?

Big Dawg: That was kind of a thump day. There was a rally to hang Modell. Like so many others, I was just depressed. The mode of the crowd was angry and a lot of sadness. I was very disappointed because it sank in this would be the last Browns game. It was in December and was a rough day. I brought my cousin’s son to the game for my second seat. It was crazy and gloomy. All of the advertisements in the stadium were now gone. Being at that game was like going to my best friend’s funeral. The Browns actually won the game and it was incredible. And hardly any noise at all. The whole stadium was so silent you could hear all across the stadium. The only thing you could hear was people pulling sections of seats up. But as the end of the game was getting closer and we were winning, the crowd got back into the game and started cheering just like all of those other games that you go to and don’t think about it, but now you think about this is it? Then it was over. The players all came out and were thanking the fans up close. Tony Jones came to the Dawg Pound and gave me a game ball which I had done a lot with him with Big Brothers. I didn’t want to leave and just sat down and thought about all the different games that I had seen played there over the years. Pretty much everyone was gone and the stadium was empty. One of the grounds crew came up to me and asked if I had ever been on the field. I have for an Indians game before, but never with the stripes for a Browns game. He told me to come down and out on the field.

At the West end were about 7-8 young reporters, and my cousin’s son was holding the football and my bone bag which kept all my stuff together. And one of the reporters said he would hold the ball if I wanted to kick the last field goal. And I said “Absolutely.” I ended up kicking a 25-yarder which was kinda cool. I knew the Browns scoreboard operator George, and he put up on the big electronic scoreboard, “John, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.” Then somebody told me that a man was waving at me from the other end. I looked back and it was a man, a woman, and two kids. The man was waving at me. I waited for him and the guy came out of the end zone towards me and it was Bill Belichick. We met at the 50 and had a pretty good talk. And as we left the stadium, we ran into former Colts Tom Matte who was standing with Steve Everitt, the Browns center. The Belichicks left, and the three of us stood and talked and Steve was saying he didn’t want to go to Baltimore, that he loved Cleveland. He said he didn’t know if he was going to be part of the move. Matte was already part of the Baltimore situation and telling Steve it would be all right. Everitt ended up in Baltimore but wore a Browns bandana all the time under his helmet. We were standing under Gate “A” where all the players parked, so they started coming out like Andre Rison and his entourage. It was crushing, that was the end of the Cleveland Browns of old.

Cleveland Browns fans in the “dawg pound” section Photo credit should read Kim BARTH/AFP via Getty Images

DBN: So when the Browns relocated to Baltimore, you were instrumental in getting the NFL to award Cleveland an expansion franchise for the city. You even spoke in front of the Congressional Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC. The new team was being referred to as “The Baltimore Browns.” Whose idea was it to ask Art Modell to give up the colors, the name “Browns”, the logos, and the history of the franchise?

Big Dawg: There was a relationship with Modell and Al Lerner, and through that, the NFL got a compromise. Lerner had a group that was assumed to get an expansion team at the same time, and that ended up going to Jacksonville instead of his group in Baltimore. And it didn’t happen that way. You know Modell had a bad relationship with Paul Brown anyway, so he probably had no problem not calling his new city’s team the Browns and giving all that up and basically starting over. Handing all that over was unprecedented in major league sports.

DBN: Since the new stadium has been constructed, the new owners of the New Browns Al Lerner and Carmen Policy put a stop to stuff like Milk Bones being thrown on the field. With the Modell years, this was every game. Is this being protective of the fans, players, and officials, or does it take away all the fun and allure of the Dawg Pound?

Big Dawg: The truth is I can’t believe it ever got out of hand back in the old stadium and happened for as long as it did. Every week, there was a new story being told. Which sports teams allow the fans to bring in their own beer balls? And set it up in this fully-built dog house? I brought a box that I had written on it “Bones” and at the gate, they thought it was just part of my character. But I had Milk Bones in it which started as tossing to the Browns defensive players as treats after they made a great play. But then that got to be in frustration to players on the other team. I remember one game with the Denver Broncos, and someone tossed a 16” bone at John Elway and hit him in the helmet. You could hear the sound of bone to plastic. Somebody threw a lunchbox onto the field and Browns defensive tackle Bob Golic picked it up and threw it back into the crowd afraid they would get a penalty. But it definitely got out of hand. It was fun when it started, but it escalated and got ridiculous. At the top of the Dawg Pound, there was a wall at the top of the bleachers, they would tie a rope and pull up kegs so that they had a working keg in the top steps of the Pound.

NFL: SEP 07 Cowboys v Browns

DBN: At first the new regime had a zero tolerance for possessing alcohol on site with an automatic ejection. You were instrumental in getting this policy relaxed. What steps did you take?

Big Dawg: Some things didn’t make any sense. You can’t just cut off all alcohol for games. I understand not bringing dog houses to the games. And it did end the practice of bringing two-liter sodas full of alcohol and flasks because they started searching people at the gate. There was increased security when they got to the front gate of the stadium before they went inside. Outside in the Muni Lot they had new policies about consuming alcohol and open containers, but that was the City’s doing and not the Browns management. At first they wanted to do away with the Dawg Pound altogether, and I didn’t agree with that. (Co-owner) Carmen (Policy) called me out on the radio about my three-foot dog bone and insinuated that I had hit somebody or a player with it. But that was coming off the heels of the “Black Hole” in Oakland where somebody got stabbed, and I am sure it was just being cautious for Cleveland. I still enjoyed the Dawg Pound and didn’t want it all gone. We were still having a good time.

DBN: Do you still go to games, and if so, in costume?

Big Dawg: I still have the same two seats in the Dawg Pound on the front row. They’re season tickets. I don’t attend all the games anymore like I used to. My daughter uses the seats some now. I don’t go in costume. I retired the mask and helmet in 2011. (Pat) Shurmur was the coach. The Haslams bought the team from Randy Lerner the next year. We lost the last five or six games and my last game was against the Steelers. We lost that one, too.

DBN: Today the ticket prices are expensive and several cable stations own the rights to show NFL games like the Browns making folks have to leave their homes to watch at sports bars and having to purchase PSL’s. Does this make fans give up, or has the complete opposite effect in that the fan loyalty deepens?

Big Dawg: As far as PSL’s I don’t think that is the reason. When they first came out in Cleveland we had a great deal. I had other seats at one point and had some PSL’s but not for my Dawg Pound seats. Browns Stadium was sold out but we were losing. At some point the ticket brokers quit buying our stadium because it wasn’t a great move. There were some games you could get a ticket outside the stadium for five bucks. The Browns now have stopped PSL’s. My seats are $125 per seat, so $250 a game is what I pay now. In some stadiums, you can’t get one seat for that price. God bless us in Cleveland.

DBN: At one time you had gotten so many appearance requests that you had to hire an attorney to handle the scheduling. Did this also get you some endorsements or spots on television?

Big Dawg: I did get some spots on TV because of the popularity of the character. Every home Browns game their cameramen would come over and show me and whoever was sitting in our area. So that became a natural thing to do some commercials. Endorsements I had people coming at me left and right. I had a cereal called “Big Dawg Crunch.” That was made by Ralston of Ohio. I worked with the Diabetes Foundation, so the cereal had to be low in sugar. I did the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland with Lomas Brown. One guy had a one-pound hot dog he called “The Big Dawg.” I did a ton of charitable and school endorsements, too. I did a candy drive for schools that I ended up going to about 40 schools that I got paid for those appearances. They had prizes for different sales levels and had an assembly for the students.

DBN: In 2020, the website Browns Nation compiled a list of the “Top 10 Most Famous Browns Fans Worldwide.” On that list were Drew Carey, Elvis Presley, and Brad Paisley, to name a few. Their Number 1 selection was John Big Dawg Thompson. Your thoughts?

LINK: TOP 10 MOST FAMOUS CLEVELAND BROWNS FANS WORLDWIDE

Big Dawg: It’s been my whole life so I don’t know. Me being on the top slot is humbling it’s like insane. Everything Drew Carey is on he talks about Cleveland, and I was ahead of him? I met him once when the team was coming back. I did a promo for the stadium before that first game called, “The Couch Trip.” He did the entrance and was around when I was filming my part. He taped one of his shows from Cleveland and I was in that show. I know about Elvis and his fandom with the Browns.

DBN: What is your fondest moment of being associated with the Cleveland Browns?

Big Dawg: As far as on the field, it has to be the team beating the Jets when we were behind and came back that sent us to the AFC Championship Game. Off the field, it would have to be going to the Jets/Browns game this past preseason at Canton in the Hall of Fame Game and seeing Jim Brown’s memorial. It was touching. That was a helluva event and he was a helluva story.


Other Browns Superfan interviews previously on Dawgs By Nature in case you missed them:

INTERVIEW: THE MACHO FAN

INTERVIEW: THE BONE LADY PART 1

INTERVIEW: THE BONE LADY PART 2

INTERVIEW: PUMPKINHEAD