Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Origin of the Cleveland Browns Elf

I have been actively searching for the origin of the "Fear the Elf" slogan for awhile. Since I have yet to find it, I decided to post the article I found on the Cleveland Brown's website about the origin of the Brown's elf mascot.

Origin of elf remains a mystery
Steve King, Associate Editor
Because of injuries, the Browns had to add a lot of new faces toward the end of the 2004 season. But for some people - especially those less than 40 years old - there was one new face whose name couldn't be found anywhere in the souvenir game program.

It was the Brownie elf, a pixie-type character with big, pointy ears, wearing slip-on boots, a belt with a big buckle and a stocking cap - and a football tucked underneath his right arm.

Browns equipment manager Bobby Monica put the elf on the back of the capes the players wear during cold-weather games. Monica said it is the first time he has done that, or really put the elf onto anything significant, since he came to the Browns in the 1999 expansion season.

That's pretty much been the story with the elf - sometimes he's with the Browns, and sometimes not.

Browns alumni relations manager Dino Lucarelli, the team's unofficial historian, said the elf was with the team "at the very start" when the original franchise was born nearly 60 years ago in 1946.

"It was the first official team emblem of the Browns," Lucarelli said.

The elf graces the cover of the first four Browns media guides, 1946-49 in the All-America Football Conference. And it is featured prominently with other mentions of the team at that time.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer helped popularize the elf. The late Gordon Cobbledick, the former sports editor, decided to use the elf caricature on the front page of his section to accompany coverage of the Browns, especially game stories. The use would even reach to the front page of the entire paper on certain occasions.

If the Browns had won the day before, the Brownie elf would be smiling broadly. But if they lost, the elf would appear battered and bruised. He would have a black eye, some bandages or a cast, and maybe a few missing teeth. It's the same way the paper treated the Indians via their Chief Wahoo character.

So fans who had missed the previous day's game - remember, this is long before ESPN and other 24/7 sports stations - needed only to look at the elf to know whether the Browns had won or lost.

The elf became so popular, in fact, that the Browns' first head coach and general manager, Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Brown, thought about putting it onto the side of the club's plain orange helmets in 1953. So he asked trainer Leo Murphy to do a mock-up of what the helmet would look like, painstakingly drawing the elf onto a decal that could be placed onto the helmets.

So what happened when Brown saw the finished product?

"He didn't like it," said Murphy, a Medina Township resident who was trainer of the Browns from 1950, the year they entered the NFL, until his semi-retirement following the 1988 season. "He told me to take it off and leave the helmets like they were."

That was good news to Murphy, who had designed the helmets in the first place only a year before.

But how the elf was born - where he came from, who designed him, and why - remains a mystery. And why an elf for the Browns? Why not some other character?

"If anyone would know the whole story on that, it would be me because I was buying all the equipment not long after that happened. And I don't know," Murphy said.

Put Lucarelli into that category as well.

"I've never seen the answer to that mentioned or written anywhere," Lucarelli admitted. "Paul Brown obviously commissioned someone to come up with it, but who that was, I don't know."

Or did he?

"I had heard or read once - I don't remember where - that the elf was taken from a Sears ad at the time, but I can't be sure of that," Monica said.

Sears director of corporate advertising Nancy Turk can, though.

"I don't see any evidence of that being the case," she said.

Stories have also circulated that the elf's origin is from the Girl Scouts. Supposedly, the wives of prominent Browns players who were also Scout leaders made up the elf from those characters associated with Brownie troops.

There may - or may not - be something to that. Newspaper clips from the early, formative days of the Browns, in 1945 and '46, do not include anything about the elf, least of all its origin. But the first appearance of the elf comes in a newspaper ad for tickets to the 1946 season opener against the Miami Seahawks at old Cleveland Stadium

The ad, which ran several weeks before that game, includes the elf, with a mean look on his face, running with a football. It is very similar to the elf that's on the cover of that first Browns media guide in 1946.

Most important, though, is the inclusion of this phrase in the ad: "Here come the Brownies."

Wherever it came from, the elf remained the emblem of the Browns through the championship years of the 1950s and until the first part of the '60s. But he started becoming extinct when Art Modell bought the club on March 21, 1961 and began putting his own imprint onto the team.

"Art was quoted on numerous occasions then that, ‘My first official act as owner of the Browns will be to get rid of that little (elf),' " Lucarelli said.

The elf, though, managed to slip through security and onto the cover of the team's 1961 media guide - for the second year in a row. But by the time the club's 1962 media guide came out, the elf was gone. It remained that way for the duration of Modell's ownership of the Browns, which ended when he moved his franchise to Baltimore following the 1995 season.

After firing Brown shortly after the conclusion of the 1962 campaign, Modell was even more determined to change things, especially those, like the elf, that were tied closely with Brown's tenure.

In lieu of the elf, the Browns quickly adopted the orange helmet as their official emblem. It stayed that way through all of the Modell years, and picked up again in 1999 when the Browns were re-born. It is still the official emblem now.

"But the elf is starting to come back," Lucarelli pointed out.

Aside from the work Monica did on the players' capes, the elf is beginning to appear again on some other items. How far that process goes, remains to be seen. The "new" Browns have also used a "Dawg" logo, which is readily identifiable with today's younger fans."

The Dawg looks a lot meaner and tougher than the elf, but then again, it lacks the elf's charm and longevity - and it's not holding a football, either.

Readers: Anyone know the true origin of the elf? Send Steve King an e-mail at


ron stratton said...

i've been looking for this a long time. thank you!

Anonymous said...

hi i am a browns fan for almost 35 years i always saw the elf on football cards and other browns older stuff. thanks for letting us know whats going on with the elf. i also got a tattoo of the elf walking through cleveland ohio. when i was at the game a lady with the browns took a picture of my tattoo i had to sign a waver for the photo but could not find the picture anywhere in the browns pictures...