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

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CLEVELAND — No one, least of all still living, is sure how Brownie the Elf came to be the first official mascot of the Cleveland Browns 76 years ago.

One more fact is certain: Art Modell put Elf on the shelf after he bought the team in 1961.

“My first official act as owner of the Browns,” Modell told newspaper reporters at the time, “will be to get rid of that little f—er.”

The brownie is back — and bigger than ever.

Brownie returned as the team’s midfield logo in a pre-season online fan poll that predated Cleveland’s inaugural season in 1946, an enlarged version of his original mysterious appearance.

Brownie’s latest caricature spans 45-yard lines horizontally, defies hashmarks vertically, and is easily spotted from overhead planes.

If you’re confused about Brownie being an NFL mascot, you’re not alone.

“I don’t know what to think about it,” Cleveland pass-rusher Myles Garrett said. “It’s original, unique. But I’ve always been a fan of the dog. I mean, we’re Dog Pound, but do we have a goddess?

“I think we’re a little confused about which way we want to go creatively.”

Brownie’s grand midfield debut on Sunday was one of the most inexplicable losses in franchise history. Cleveland became the first team in 22 years to blow a 13-point lead in the final two minutes. With 1:55 to play, the New York Jets scored a 66-yard touchdown, recovered an onside kick, and then scored another touchdown to put the Browns up 31-30. in another Fan poll Via 850 ESPN Cleveland, more than 5% of voters blamed Brownie for the loss.

Brownie could be 0-1 as Cleveland’s midfield logo in Thursday night’s showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video). But seven decades ago, Brownie was the young face of pro football’s most dominant dynasty. So prolific, he once became the logo on a helmet.


The Legend of Brownies have been around since at least the early 16th century, beginning in Britain. John D. According to Crouse, author and blogger of British fairy tales, the first published reference to brownies comes in 1522.

“He’s a small, hairy… creature that lives in houses and farms with humans,” Cruise told ESPN of the mythical humans. “He undertakes domestic and agricultural work with the understanding that he receives free food and shelter from humans.”

Despite their tenacity, brownies can be quite finicky.

Kruse noted that brownies appreciate leaving out milk and fresh bread at night. But they hate being spied on whether they are working or eating. They especially hate both praise and criticism.

“Any gift of clothing is really against him. It’s seen as an insult or some kind of subservience,” Cruz said. “The usual result is that he’ll undo everything he’s done, make a mess of the house, and then leave forever.”

J.K. The character Doby in Rowling’s Harry Potter books is derived from the Brownie legend that began appearing in the United States in the early 20th century. In 1916, referring to the same Brownie legend, the Girl Scouts began calling their 7-9 year old members “Brownies”, a name taken from Juliana Horatio Ewing’s story “The Brownies and Other Tales”, originally published in 1870.

In 1929, Detroit-based Atlas Beverage Company began producing Brownie Caramel Cream Root Beer, whose bottles were decorated with a baby elephant. The company soon placed a sign advertising the soda on the side of a building in Massillon, Ohio.

From that, the story goes, Brownie the Elf was born.


Before Paul Brown Winning NFL titles as coach of the Cleveland Browns, he was racking up state championships at Massillon High School.

Heading into his final season at Massillon in 1940, Brown had local artist AD Small create a logo for the Tigers — Obi (which stands for Orange and Black, Massillon’s colors).

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Brown was hired to coach Cleveland’s new pro football franchise. Owner Mickey McBride and the team held a fan contest to decide on a nickname. “Browns” winning dedication in honor of the first coach. Brown initially vetoed it. Another submission — “Panthers” — was chosen instead, until a local businessman informed the team that he owned the rights to “Cleveland Panthers.” Brown finally gave the name “Browns”.

Next, the team needed a logo.

“But what does ‘Browns’ mean?” said Browns historian Barry Shuck, who has been following the Brownie the Elf origin story for years. “Mutt? A dessert? Dog poo?”

Did Brown get the idea for Brownie the Elf from that root beer sign in Massillon? Did he, again, produce the Small Map?

“If you look at Obie, if you look at Brownie, it’s the same character,” said Shuck, who also writes for Browns site DawgsByNature.com. “Both are running. Both have a stiff arm. Both are wearing hats.”

Cleveland area newspapers made no mention of Brownie until he appeared in an ad promoting ticket sales a few days before the Browns’ first game against the Miami Seahawks in 1946.

Steve King, a longtime sportswriter in Northeast Ohio who worked for the Browns from 2004-13, spent years digging into the concept of Brownie the Elves. He once asked Paul Brown’s son, Mike Brown, the owner of the Cincinnati Bengals, if he knew where Brownie came from (Mike Brown didn’t).

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

“I’m pretty sure I got as close as anybody’s going to get,” King said. “The truth is buried in a grave somewhere — I don’t know where. … But it’s the mystery of the brownie that makes it so chilling.”


Directed by Paul BrownWith Otto Graham, Lou Groza and, yes, Brownie the Elf, the Cleveland Browns won four straight All-American Football Conference titles from 1946-49.

Tommy Flynn, an assistant equipment manager, would dress as a Brownie on game days and follow Brown on the sidelines.

“If Paul Brown throws his hands up, Tommy Flynn throws his hands up,” Shuck said. “If Paul Brown took his hat off and slammed it on the floor, Tommy Flynn took his hat off and slammed it on the floor.”

Flynn’s antics disappeared when the Browns joined the NFL in 1950. But Brownie the Elf and Cleveland’s winning ways remained. The Browns won another championship in their first season in the NFL.

By 1953, Brown wanted to show off the brownie even more. He commissioned Browns coach Leo Murphy to put the Brownie logo on one of Cleveland’s orange helmets to see how it would look.

“Leo finally got it done and he’s proud,” King said. “He walks into Paul Brown’s office [and] He puts it on his desk. But Brown took one look at it and said, ‘I don’t like it. Bring it on.'”

Decades later, King visited Murphy’s home in Medina, Ohio, when Murphy told him he wanted to show him a secret.

“He went back and brought out this Browns helmet,” King recalled. “It’s got Brownie the Elf on the side. … He’s had the helmet all those years, which is incredible.”

Murphy died in 2018. What happened to his brownie helmet is a mystery.


Brownie the Elf Last appeared on the cover of Cleveland’s Media Guide in 1961. The model bought the team and banned Brownie. A year later, the star ran behind Jim Brown on the cover of Media Guide.

But over the next 30-plus years, Cleveland Plain-Dealer cartoonist Dick Duggan helped keep the Brownie spirit alive. A reader can tell whether the Brownies won or lost just by looking at Duggan’s Brownie cartoons.

“My first official act as owner of the Browns was to get rid of that little f—er.”

The former Browns owner is an art model

“If the Browns won, God was proud or whatever,” King said. “If the Browns lose, he looks like he’s been beaten in a fight.”

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

Gradually, the legend returned.

The brownie was the team’s official training camp logo in 2006. The Brownie sideline symbol debuted in 2015.

Kevin Stefanski has worn a Brownie the Elf hat nearly every day since becoming Cleveland’s head coach in 2020. And this year, Brownie is on the sleeve of the team’s practice jersey.

Now, he’s the face of Cleveland’s field.

“We won seven championships with Elf?” Garrett asked. “If I get the eighth championship with that elf, I might come here with some elf clothing.”

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