By Kevin Drozin
“Before that exhibition game against those goddamn Pittsburgh Steelers, Frank and I hung the [Dog Pound] banner in front of the bleachers. It didn’t take long for the fans in the bleachers to assume the role. They continued the barking, and even though the game was a bust, the Dawg Pound was born. It has outlasted other phenomena of the past, such as the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome or the Vikings’ Purple People Eaters or the Steelers’ Steel Curtain.”
That is an excerpt from Hanford Dixon’s book, Day of the Dawg: A Football Memoir; a recollection of his time as a member of the Cleveland Browns in the 1980s. As part of his memoir, Dixon reminiscenced on the birth of the Dawg Pound; the legendary section within the Browns stadium. Frank Minnifield, referred to in this excerpt, was Dixon’s fellow cornerback on the 1984 roster. Dixon and Minnifield are merely names to most young Browns fans, as the story of the Dawg Pound has since faded into history.
In addition to young fans, I would be willing to bet that the majority of players on the current Browns roster do not know the reason why Browns fans dress like dogs, carry bones into the stadium and why the mascot who strolls their own sideline is a dog named Chomps–and therein lies the reason the Cleveland Browns as an organization need to ditch the Dawg moniker.
The story begins during Browns’ training camp of the 1984 NFL season.
Dixon, then a four-year NFL veteran, was looking for a way to motivate his defense. The Browns’ defense had trouble pressuring the quarterback the previous few seasons, and during training camp those issues continued. On practice, Dixon told his defense, “He’s the cat, you’re the dog. Don’t let him get away.” To help his teammates remember, Dixon would let out a few barks before each play. The barking became contagious with the players, with the fans and continued throughout training camp.
A year later, just before the 1985 season, a Browns’ executive asked to speak to Dixon. He said, “All this stuff about dogs barking and everything is a distraction. We’re not the Cleveland Dogs. We’re the Cleveland Browns. We don’t have a logo on our helmets, and we’re not about to. And we already have a mascot.”
The mascot he was referring to was the Brownie elf.
Dixon didn’t like the elf logo because he, and many others, didn’t think it was intimidating. The barking was giving the defense, and the fans, something to rally behind; and Minnifield–Dixon’s running mate–was not going to let some Browns’ executive stop them from having their fun. When Dixon told Minnifield about the meeting, Minnifield had an idea. Before the opening game against the Steelers, Minnifield and Dixon hung a banner painted with the words “Dog Pound” (yes, spelled correctly) in front of the bleachers.
As described by Dixon in the excerpt above, on that day the Dawg Pound was born.
The craziest fans in the stadium sat in those bleachers; they would dress as dogs, bark as loud as they could, hurl dog biscuits onto the field and generally make life hell for the opposing team. The players fed off of this emotion, and Municipal Stadium became one of the toughest places for opposing teams to play. The Browns fans, and more importantly the Browns players, knew what the Dawg Pound represented. The Dawgs became a staple of the Browns through the rest of the 80s and into the 90s.
In 1995, Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore to become the Ravens. The Browns were the heart and soul of Cleveland, and fans fought like dogs to keep their team name and colors. Four years later, the Browns were reborn under the ownership of Al Lerner. Cleveland had a new owner, a new coach and a new stadium; but they would still don the brown and orange.
Cleveland Browns Stadium was a modern-looking stadium, a shiny brand new complex for the Browns to call home. One of the most notable features of the new stadium was a “Dawg Pound” logo plastered in front of the bleacher section. Fans were happy to see the Dawg Pound return with the new Browns, as they continued to wear dog noses, wave bones and let their barks be heard throughout the stadium; however, the new Pound didn’t have the same atmosphere.
Besides having benches instead of regular seats, the current Pound is no different than any other part of the stadium. The view is the same, the proximity to the field is the same, and the tickets are similar in price. The Browns marketing department trademarked the Dawg Pound logo and has capitalized on the Dawg as an advertising tool. They sell t-shirts, hats and even stuffed animals featuring the Dawg logo and their new dog mascot, Chomps. Unlike the Cleveland Browns front office in ‘85, who were against the barking, the new one has force fed its fans with “dawg” merchandise.
I must applaud the Browns for creating a marketing campaign around the dog, giving young fans something to identify with and giving older fans a sense of nostalgia. The problem is that the players on the Browns roster in the last 13 seasons have not identified with the dog mentality.
Browns fans say the most important thing is winning; “If the Browns put a winning product on the field, we will be happy.” However, that is not all we care about. Yes, we desire to see our beloved team win, but more so, Browns fans want those players on that winning team to share our same passion for the city of Cleveland. We want those players to have a blue-collared nature about them–hard workers who put it all on the field for their team, and their city, to earn every victory.
We as Clevelanders tend to hold onto our past.
We love Bernie Kosar’s, Brian Sipe’s and Kevin Mack. We label every linebacker drafted by the team as the next Clay Matthews, every wide receiver as the next Webster Slaughter and we’re constantly trying to find the next Jim Brown. We have such a storied history that we want to keep it fresh in our memories, and the best way for us to do that is to compare the present with our past.
We remember the good ol’ days of Municipal Stadium and the craziness that was the Dawg Pound; and we want to relive those memories. The marketing of the new Cleveland Browns has caused some fans to forget what it means to be a Dawg, and the unrelenting scratch-and-claw attitude has been lost among the players. The original Dawg Pound was a family concept shared by the players and the fans, a sense of camaraderie that brought the city of Cleveland closer together. It was a single player’s impromptu idea which caught fire within the fan base.
The concept of the Dawg Pound does not motivate the current stable of players because they were not the original group who created the idea. We, as fans, are acting like the marketing group of the early 2000s, and are force-feeding the Dawg to them.
I believe it’s time for us to move on, Browns fans, time for us to put the Dawg days behind us. We must treasure our past, but start writing our own pages in the history books. Let’s allow the players to create their own Dawg Pound, let them find a motivational tool which inspires them, and make it the next big thing.
New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam wants to rebrand the Browns and make the team more marketable to the national public. He would be wise to let any marketability ideas or slogans come naturally. Clevelanders are all too familiar with the “Rise Up” or “What If’”–both failed marketing concepts that don’t provide enthusiasm for players or fans. Mr. Haslam should keep his eyes and ears open, as should all of us, for the next ‘bark’ that will unite the fans and players once again, bringing Cleveland back into football glory.