WFNY Roundtable: Dawg Days Over?

The ‘Dawg Pound’ became such in the mid 80’s as the fans and defensive players created an identity together. Lead by two young cornerbacks, Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield, the defense was tough to move the ball on (unless you were John Elway). This identity, of course,  stuck with Browns fans long after Dixon, Minnifield and teammate Felix Wright were gone.

Now there is a new corps in the secondary that shows some promise. Eric Wright, Joe Haden and TJ Ward are young defensive backs that could well be the cornerstones of the Browns defense for years to come. With these similarities to the original ‘Dawg Defense,’ I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before fans try to brand this new group with the old mark.

Today’s round table question: Is it time for fans (and ownership) to let the team create it’s own identity and stop trying to force the ‘Dawg’ imagery on new players?

Craig: I know it won’t be popular to say, but it is time to move on. I have heard many say that the “Dawg Pound” should have died with Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I think it is one of the problems that we Clevelanders have (other than our favorite football team failing to play well since 1999.) We missed out on a lot of change in the league while our team was gone. Meanwhile because we are such traditional fans, we keep trying to put everything in the modern era back into the neat little box that our history has created. Call it a side effect of having to go before Congress to save your team’s name, history and colors. The bottom line is that we don’t need to forget the past even as we move on from nicknames of yesteryear. The Dawgs were an era like The Steel Curtain. It is an era we should never forget and one to be proud of, but it is time to stop trying to put new people into old categories. Eric Wright, Sheldon Brown and Joe Haden don’t need to be Dixon, Minnifield and Wright. They could even be better if we are lucky. Let them carve out their own place in history.

Jacob: Growing up in a generation that fed upon the successful Indians teams of the 90’s, the “Dawg Pound” is almost a lost image. The idea still has not fallen apart because of the efforts of those loyal Browns fans who continue to sell out the stadium, but now there might be a need for a new identity.

This organization is now relying upon the efforts of defensive players like Eric Wright and all the backs drafted this year to generate excitement in Cleveland. However, the Browns have struggled to develop any sort of intriguing relationship with the NE Ohio fans. The Tribe was the story last decade, the pre-LeBron Cavs were dominating for nearly half a dozen years and that leaves the Browns in a potential-laden position today. In order for them to far exceed this other recent sports popularity in town, a different slogan, a different image and a different re-branding might be necessary.

Rick: I hear what you’re saying Jacob. And I do think the Browns as an organization have clung to the Dawg image a little much (Chomps, anyone?). What I don’t want to see is the organization trying to re-brand the team’s identity. Let the identity come naturally. Then go ahead and run with it. Everything does not always have to be marketable either…

Scott: We can always just scrap the dog all together and fully embrace Brownie the elf. Who wouldn’t want to sit in “Santa’s Workshop?” You know…aside from everyone.

Rick: Would that make Mike Holmgren Santa?

Scott: I have a feeling Coach Holmgren would be delegating those responsibilities, if you will.

This all sort of ties into the Jim Brown issue that has been talk of the last few days. Does this team – which has been at the forefront of embracing history – keep clinging to the past or do we put this all behind us and trek on? I definitely think it starts at the top, but getting the 70,000-plus to jump aboard could be another story.

TD: A year ago at this time, I would have said that the Browns need to continue to cling to the good old days as much as they can. Mostly because the play on the field was so horrible. Fast forward a year and you have the new regime with Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert, a new excitement, and a move in the right direction. That is the hope at least.

If there was ever a time to break from the “Dawg” movement, this is it. Rob Ryan’s defense showed a lot of improvement throughout the season and took on his personality. By the end of the season, you could tell that if they added a few more key pieces, they could take the next step. They did that by adding corners Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown, safety TJ Ward, and linebackers Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita. The names I mentioned are not “The Dawgs.”

“The Dawgs” will always be Hanford Dixon, Frank Minnifield, and that group. Don’t forget the old, but embrace the new.

Jacob: Just saying folks. The Browns are struggling with this new generation that fed off the Tribe and loved LeBron’s Cavs. If the team doesn’t do something quickly to grab their attention (either with new marketing or actual winning), then we could have another generation of football fans fall by the wayside.

Rick: I love the ring of honor idea. Not just for honoring the old, but giving the new players a sense that “hey that could be me someday.”

TD: Only our moronic leadership would take 12 years to figure that out.

Scott: David Veikune is just hoping for a Ring of Playing Time.

Craig: Is it too late for Mangini to blame George Kokinis for David Veikune? Who wouldn’t be in favor of blaming him for at least one thing. It is a victim-less crime really.

Andrew: Quite frankly, I don’t think it matters one way or the other. Doing a forced re-branding of the team isn’t going to affect wins and losses on the field, and at the end of the day, that’s all fans really care about. I have no problem with the “dawg” branding/imagery nor would I be heartbroken if it left. It’s just something to distract fans while they cheer for a losing franchise. I can’t envision any kind of campaign that would make me any more or less of a fan of the Cleveland Browns than I already am. Whether we cling to the past or embrace the history, I think it’s all good as long as Czar Holmgren can finally turn this franchise around. If the Browns can finally make smart front office moves and put a competitive product on the field, we’ll all be ecstatic no matter if we’re barking like dawgs, wearing elf logos, or following whatever new brand/image is created. Just win, baby!

DP: When the team was coming back and the plans for the new Cleveland Browns Stadium were announced, the first thing I heard was “expanded Dawg Pound.” 20-year-old me was ecstatic. I cut my football teeth on those late-80’s teams that gave birth to the monniker. Then, when I actually saw what the new “Dawg Pound” was–uncomfortable bleachers in an otherwise non-descript section of the stadium that looks like every other section of the stadium–my enthusiasm was lessened. Perhaps I was growing up. Or, perhaps it was a good idea gone bad in the new era of corporate stadiums and branding and marketing.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the introduction of the “plushy dog mascots” at the games. The Dawg Pound was about intimidation; it was about a tough defense, and about the fans who were maybe a little too crazy to be in with the “regular seats”. It wasn’t about cute puppy mascots giving away Donatos’ pizzas and dancing around on the field with high school cheerleaders. From the stories I’ve been told about the original Dawg Pound bleachers by people I know very well who were at those games, it was about getting as drunk as possible, being as loud and rowdy as possible, and making that end of the stadium a tomb for opposing teams.

The two-fold issue there is that: 1) the players that personified that era of the Dawg Pound are long gone, and have mostly been replaced for the last decade by sieve-like defenders, and 2) most of the people that made up the Dawg Pound of the late-80’s are actually still there… but are twenty years older. Combine that with the cynicism that comes with a decade of putrid football since the team’s return, and you have a recipe for a Dawg Pound that isn’t really anything of spectacular wonder anymore. It’s more a surly collection of unstatisfied fans now than any kind of a home field advantage.

Don’t get me wrong: the fans down there are knowledgable. Many of the “veterans” are more often than not still several sheets to the wind. There’s a lot of character burned in by a lot of losing down there. But those “veterans” are really down in the bottom few rows. Gone are the days where the entire section was full of the same people in the same seats every game. Gone are the days where you had to have a special kind of mental condition to desire sitting down there.

Nowadays, there are opposing fans down there for every game–to wit, Saturday night a guy clapped for every positive thing the Rams did. Certainly his right no matter how you feel about the “Family Friendly” atmosphere desired; but, also something that would have been done with great trepidation in the original Dawg Pound – you entered at your own risk. The other new addition is the early-20-something guy who’s had several beers too many, has heard stories of the Dawg Pound circa 1988, and believes it’s singularly his job to revive that tradition. Only, in one of life’s sweet ironies, the “lifers” down there usually give that guy a dirty look and generally ignore him.

The point of all of this?

The Dawg Pound as those fans knew it–those fans that really made it what it was–is no more. I enjoy sitting there because I’m close to the field, I have some friends down there, and the people there really know their Browns football. I don’t sit there because of the mystique or the history or the legends of what the section once was at the old stadium.

The truth is that once Muni fell, the real Dawg Pound fell with it. Some fans hold on to it for many different reasons, perhaps: 1) it reminds them of a time when they were younger and crazier, 2) it reminds them of a time when the team was good year in and year out, or maybe most specifically 3) it reminds them of a time when the stadium–specifically that end of it–was one of the best home field advantages in football and that they were part of the reason why. I don’t have to tell anyone that goes to CBS regularly how insignificant the home field advantage of the last decade has been. Go to a Steelers game now; the stadium is generally 20 percent y’inzers.

I don’t know why some cling to the Dawg Pound brand. But, I can speak with pretty solid certainty that most of the true “Dawg Pound” fans that still have their tickets down there would tell you that it isn’t the Dawg Pound anymore, and that it shouldn’t be called the Dawg Pound anymore because to do so is an insult and a disservice to what the original Dawg Pound actually was and stood for.

For me, I look at it in a couple of ways, since I’m technically a “newbie” down there in the grand scheme of things. To continue calling it the Dawg Pound is to imply that we have a preconceived belief that Browns football will never be as good as it was back then. That’s not only unfair, but it’s self-defeating. If, based on early returns, this new front office can build a winning team, how is it fair to that team to be implicitly compared to teams of twenty years ago? It also sets a strange standard for younger Browns fans, perhaps one that shouldn’t be emulated. After all, the Dawg Pound of old was like the Wild West.

In summary, I’m all for celebrating history; this franchise has more than its share of good history. But, the Dawg Pound as a stadium entity has been dead since 1995. It’s time to put the monniker to rest, too, and to move forward into the future.