Who is Brownie the elf? The story of the Cleveland Browns mascot

CLEVELAND – No one, least of all those still alive, knows for sure how the Brownie Leprechaun became the Cleveland Browns’ first official mascot some 76 years ago.

But one fact is certain: it was Art Modell who put the gnome on the shelf after buying the team in 1961.

“My first official act as owner of the Browns,” Modell told newspaper reporters at the time, “is to get rid of that little bastard.”

The brownie is back – and bigger than ever.

Topping the preseason fan poll, Brownie has returned to the team’s center field logo, an oversized rendition of his original mysterious appearance prior to Cleveland’s inaugural season in 1946.

The final Brownie caricature covers the 45-yard lines horizontally, crosses the hash marks vertically, and can easily be spotted from overhead planes.

And if you’re perplexed by the existence of the Brownie as an NFL mascot, you’re not alone.

“I don’t know what to make of it,” Cleveland pass rusher Myles Garrett said. “It’s original, it’s unique. But I’ve always been more of a dog fan. I mean, we’re the Dawg Pound, but we have a leprechaun?

“I think we’re a little confused about what path we want to take creatively.”

One of the most inexplicable losses in franchise history tarnished Brownie’s spectacular midfield debut on Sunday. Cleveland became the first team in 21 years to blow a 13-point lead in the final two minutes. With 1:55 left in the game, the New York Jets scored a 66-yard touchdown, fumbled a punt return and then scored another touchdown to stun the Browns (31-30). In the second fan poll Via 850 ESPN Cleveland, more than 5% of voters blamed Brownie for the loss.

The Brownie could be 0-1 as Cleveland’s midfield logo heads into Thursday night’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video). But more than seven decades ago, Brownie was the boyish face of pro football’s most dominant dynasty. So prolific, he almost never became a helmet logo.

LEGEND OF Brownies originated in Great Britain and date back to at least the early 16th century. According to British fairy lore author and blogger John T. Kruse, the first reference to Brownies appeared in 1522.

“He’s a little furry … creature that lives in houses and farms with people,” Kruse told ESPN of the mythical creatures. “He does a variety of domestic and agricultural work on the condition that he receives free food and lodging from the people.”

Despite their hard work, Brownies can be quite finicky.

Brownies appreciate having milk and fresh bread left out for them overnight, Kruse noted. But they hate being spied on, whether working or eating. And they especially despise both compliments and criticism.

“Any kind of gift of clothes is very abhorrent to him. It’s seen as an insult or some kind of submission,” Kruse said. “The usual result is that he gets everything done, makes a mess of the house, and then leaves forever.”

The character Dobby in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is derived from the Brownie legend that began to surface in America in the early 20th century. In 1916, the Girl Scouts, referring to the same Brownie legend, began calling their members between the ages of 7 and 9 “Brownies,” taken from Juliana Horatia Ewing’s “The Brownies and Other Tales,” originally published in 1870.

In 1929, Detroit-based Atlas Beverage Company began producing Brownie Caramel Root Beer, with bottles decorated with a leprechaun. The company soon posted a sign promoting the soda on the side of a building in downtown Massillon, Ohio.

Despite this, Brownie the elf was born.

BEFORE PAUL BROWN won NFL titles as coach of the Cleveland Browns and collected state championships at Massillon High School.

Entering his final season in Massillon in 1940, Brown commissioned local artist AD Small to create a logo for the Tigers – Obie (representing orange and black, Massillon’s colors).

After serving in the US Navy during World War II, Brown was hired to coach Cleveland’s new professional football franchise. Owner Mickey McBride and crew held a fan contest to determine the nickname. “Browns” was a winning effort in honor of the first coach. Brown initially vetoed it. Another proposal was chosen instead – the “Panthers” until a local businessman informed the team that he owned the rights to the “Cleveland Panthers”. Brown eventually settled on the name “Browns”.

Next, the team needed a logo.

“But what do the ‘browns’ represent?” said Brown historian Barry Shuck, who has spent years researching the origin story of the Brownie elf. “Mud? Dessert? Dog poo?”

Did Brown come up with the idea for the Brownie Elf based on this Massillon Root Beer label? And did he again have Small produce this drawing?

“When you look at Obie and you look at Brownie, it’s the same character,” said Shuck, who also writes for the Browns site DawgsByNature.com. “Both are running. Both have stiff arms. Both have hats on.”

Cleveland-area newspapers didn’t mention Brownie until he appeared in a ticket ad days before the Browns’ first game against the Miami Seahawks in 1946.

Steve King, a longtime Northeast Ohio sportswriter who then worked for the Browns from 2004 to 2013, has also explored the concept of the Leprechaun Brownie for years. He even once asked Paul Brown’s son, Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, if he knew where Brownie was from (Mike Brown didn’t).

But through his research, King came to the same conclusion as Shuck.

“I’m sure I’ve gotten as close as anyone was going to get,” King said. “The truth is buried in a graveyard somewhere – and I don’t know where… but the Brownie mystery makes it so cool.”

BY PAUL BROWNOtto Graham, Lou Groza and, yes, Brownie the Elf, the Cleveland Browns won four straight All-American Football Conference titles from 1946-49.

Assistant equipment manager Tommy Flynn dresses like a Brownie on game days and mimicked Brown on the sidelines.

“If Paul Brown raised his hands, Tommy Flynn would raise his hands,” Shuck said. “If Paul Brown took his hat off and hit the ground, Tommy Flynn would take his hat off and hit the ground.”

Flynn’s jokes went away when the Browns joined the NFL in 1950. But Brownie the Elf and Cleveland’s triumphs remained. The Browns won another championship in his first season in the NFL.

By 1953, Brown wanted to showcase Brownie even more. He tasked Browns coach Leo Murphy with putting the Brownie logo on one of Cleveland’s orange helmets to see what it would look like.

“Leo is finally getting it done and he’s proud,” King said. β€œHe walks into Paul Brown’s office [and] puts it on his desk. But Brown took one look at it and said, ‘I don’t like it. Take it away.'”

Decades later, King was visiting Murphy’s house in Medina, Ohio, when Murphy said he had a secret to show him.

“He goes back and brings out that Brown helmet,” King recalled. “And it has a Brownie elf on the side. … he kept the helmet all those years, which was incredible.”

Murphy died in 2018. Whatever became of his Brownie helmet is also a mystery.

Elf BROWNIE appeared on the cover of the Cleveland Media Manager in 1961 for the last time. Modell bought the team and banished Brownie. A year later, the cover of the media manager was star running back Jim Brown instead.

But for the next 30+ years, Cleveland Plain-Dealer cartoonist Dick Dugan helped keep the Brownie spirit alive. The reader could tell whether the Browns had won or lost just by looking at Dugan’s Brownie cartoons.

“My first official act as owner of the Browns is to get rid of this little bastard.”

Former Browns owner Art Modell

“When the Browns won, the elf was proud or whatever,” King said. “When the Browns lost, he looked like he’d been beaten in a fight.”

In 1995, Modell infamously took the Browns away, moving the franchise to Baltimore. But when owner Al Lerner and president Carmen Policy brought Brown back four years later, they reinstated the Brownie.

Little by little, the legend has also returned.

The Brownie was the team’s official training camp logo in 2006. The Brownie sideline mascot made its debut in 2015.

Kevin Stefanski has worn a Brownie the Elf hat almost every day since becoming Cleveland’s head coach in 2020. This year, the Brownie is on the sleeve of the team’s jerseys.

Now he’s the face of Cleveland Square.

“We won seven championships with a dwarf?” Garrett asked. “If we get an eighth championship with this elf, maybe I’ll come here in a little elf outfit.”