"CB or NOT to be"
"CB or NOT to be"
For more than 2 decades, he has watched dozens of orange helmets launch out of the stadium tunnel. "It's a thrilling moment," Browns owner and president Art Modell said. "When that first orange helmet pops out of the dugout and the players run onto the field, a chill goes up your spine."
The reaction to which Modell referred has a rock-solid foundation. The high recognizability of the Browns' uniform caught fire in the mid 1940's, ignited by a game wining tradition and excellence in style and play. The Browns consumed 4 consecutive championships in the 4 year lifespan of the All-America Football Conference. In fact, the 1946 Browns played a perfect 14-0 season in the AAFC.
No one in the NFL expected those new kids on the block to be a contender when they joined the NFL in 1950. Certainly, no one expected them to play in 6 consecutive NFL championship games and win 3. No one expected much from those Browns. But the Browns expected a lot.
They had an unquenchable thirst for winning that conceded one losing season in 28 years (1946-73). Maybe one former Dallas Cowboys player said it best: "Those guys did everything right. They came out of the huddle right, they'd run onto the field right and they ran around the benches right. Even their uniform was right."
That ex-Cowboys' observation was accurate. As baseball's new York Yankees established themselves in pinstripes and basketball's Boston Celtics emerged in emerald green, the Browns' uniform was in a class by itself. By the mid 1950's while other clubs had dual color uniforms, only the Browns had a side stripe on their pants, markings on their jersey sleeves and a racing stripe on their helmet.
"WE HAD THE best, everything was first class," said Leo Murphy, one of the Browns' trainers since 1950. Chewing on a cigar, he reflected on the early uniforms. "I remember the league wouldn't let you wear white pants at night games because you had a white football and you could hide it," Murphy said. "So, we made our pants white and silver. The players liked them so much, they wanted to wear them for all the games."
Several theories persist as to how the Browns' colors were selected. Some say the colors of seal brown, white and orange were prompted by Bowling Green State University's colors, where the Browns held their first training camp. Others say the colors were modified from Massillon (Ohio) High School, where Paul Brown, the Browns' original head coach, first learned his trade.
But Brown said he chose the colors simply because they were a "nice meld"
Hall-of-Famer Lou Groza, one of the original Browns, is a firm believer that the players, not the uniforms, make a team. Yet he does think the Browns' uniform is special because it is "recognized as the uniform of a winner." It commands a certain degree of respect from an opponent.
"The Toe' recalled a story about the New York Giants' rookie who charged after him in a game after he had kicked off. "I avoided his block and tried to position myself to tackle the oncoming ball carrier," Groza said. But the Giants rookie wouldn't quit. He circled around to Groza's blind side and charged him again.
FLAT ON HIS back, Groza squinted up at the kid. Looking down at the elder statesman, the rookie said, "Excuse me, Mr. Groza."
In the mid 1950s, the Browns added a side stripe to their pants (brown stripe within 2 orange stripes) and a racing stripe to their helmet (white within 2 brown stripes). For a short time, the helmet carried 4-inch identification numbers corresponding to the uniforms, but equipment manager Morrie Kono pleaded with management that this pain-by number stuff was too time consuming.
They also experimented with a burnt orange jersey showing brown numbers. The jersey "looked great on an overcast day or in regular light," according to Murphy. But the bright sun made it change to a rosy red. So much for experiments.
Originally selecting white helmets, Brown changed the color to orange in 1951 so his star quarterback, Otto Graham, could spot his receivers more easily. This started a trend as other clubs placed orders with manufacturers to add colors and logos to their plastic helmet.
Only once in 42 years did the Browns attempt to put a logo on their helmets. In 1963, every other NFL club had a logo, which provided a from of marketable identity. A decal depicting a jazzed-up 'CB" was designed by Dave Boss, then-NFL artist. It was approved and placed on the helmets and the time of the 1964 training camp.
BUT BOSS HEARD there was a problem. The Browns felt they didn't need a badge to establish their identity. They weren't looking for introductions. They didn't want razzle dazzle. They just wanted to win football games, period. So, just before practice, they picked up their new helmets and one by one, peeled off the logos.
Paul Warfield made a debut in that 1964 training camp that was nothing short of spectacular. He would later become a Hall-of-Famer in his first year of eligibility. But as a rookie, Warfield thought he had a lot to live up to.
"As a young player, I was proud to wear the Browns' uniform because of what it represented," Warfield said. "I was inspired... to carry on the tradition of winning and excellence in play."
And carry on he did, setting a few lofty marks of his own for Browns posterity.
Browns former powerhouse defensive tackle Jerry Sherk, drafted out of Oklahoma State in the second round in 1970, agreed with Groza and Warfield. "The Browns' uniforms were and always will be special... because of the history behind them," Sherk said.
SHERK SAID HE thinks that history not only includes guys like Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Warfield and Groza, but people like Morie Kono who, with Paul Brown, designed the first facemask.
Sherk said, "I mean I felt I was at the heart of the tradition of football."
Sherk never said anything he didn't mean. A breakthrough in facemask design occurred in 1955 after Graham took an unfriendly elbow to the mouth, requiring 30 stitches. With the help of G.E... Morgan, a consultant for Riddell, Brown and Kono designed the BT-5.
After Graham retired in 1956, Brown had another idea. He obtained a transmitter for a citizen's band radio and placed the receiver in the quarterback George Ratterman's helmet. There was one glitch. Frequency interference caused Ratterman to pick up 2 women talking, not plays from the coach. The NFL banned radio equipment in helmets in 1957.
SHERK SAID A uniform can carry with it a winning tradition, but it's the tenacity and toughness of the men who wear them that generate the legends. The men, not the uniforms, do the intimidating.
"It's like you're a boxer and Mike Tyson knocks you out while he's wearing pink polka dot trunks," Sherk said. "You're not going to want to see Tyson again -- but the pink polka dot trunks only make you remember a bad day." On the other hand, Warfield's point is well taken, "The Raiders eye patch is self-explanatory."
A player goes through a ritual when he puts on his uniform. It never hit Warfield harder than the last time he pulled his No. 42 Jersey over his shoulder pads. He remembers it well. Echoes of ancient crowds whispered to him as he stepped onto the field, and fragments of glorious games past played out in his mind. Last ritual, last game. Of it all, he said, "It was a privilege to be a Cleveland Brown."
The Browns changed their uniforms 3 times in 10 years, keeping pace with the changing styles in sports of the '70's. It also kept equipment manager Charley Cusick busy. "The uniforms became more flamboyant," he said.
FOUR WHITE STRIPES were added to the white jersey in 1975, but the big change was from white to orange pants with a white side stripe outlined by brown stripes.
A second design overhaul in 1984 included radical changes tot he jersey, outlining the numbers in a second color and adding one wide band to the sleeves. The orange pants were changed back to white, showing a wider side stripe, one orange stripe outlined in brown. But that helmet; no one would change that helmet.
The uniform lasted one year. Ernie Accorsi, Browns vice president and director of football operations, explained the final change
"I think the Browns' uniforms of the '50s and '60s were worn in so many championships games, they became a trademark similar to the Yankees, Celtics and Montreal Canadians," Accorsi said. "They've gone decades without altering their uniforms. We have that great tradition of success here and our uniform symbolizes that."
When they took the field in 1985, it was like old times. The Browns were back. "They're classic," Warfield said. Murphy said, "There's an elegance to them." They've been champions ever since.