Located on the shore of Lake Erie, Cleveland, Ohio, is a city with lots to offer. It is home to many popular attractions, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the famous West Side Market, and the West Pierhead Lighthouse.
Many people talk about Cleveland with a smile, and this is especially true for the city’s sports fans. From 1964-2016, no major professional sports team from the city won a championship, and Cleveland earned a bit of a reputation as a cursed sports town. Despite this long stretch of failure, sports fans in Cleveland remain among the most loyal in the country.
Even the hapless Cleveland Browns, who hold the longest active playoff drought in the NFL and who suffered through the league’s second winless season in 2017, maintain a great deal of fan support.
The Browns have a long (and complicated) history. They also have one of the more interesting names in the NFL. It seems so simple, and yet, it isn’t really clear what “Brown” has to do with Cleveland. So, why are they called the Cleveland Browns in the first place?
Why Are They Called the Cleveland Browns?
When it comes to the origin of the Cleveland Browns’ name, there are two leading schools of thought. The first theory is generally accepted by most people, though others hold firmly that the latter is more accurate. We’ll present both stories below:
The history of the Cleveland Browns begins in 1944, when a taxi-cab magnate named Arthur B. “Mickey” McBride secured a Cleveland, Ohio, franchise in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). McBride was not a huge sports fan himself, but liked the idea of owning a team. He would ultimately select Paul Brown as coach. Brown, being a great football mind, was given a large salary, a portion of team ownership, and complete control over personnel decisions. It was for all intents and purposes, Brown’s team.
Many in the organization thought the team should be named the “Browns” after the team’s coach and general manager. However, Coach Brown was against this. So instead, McBride held a fan contest in May, 1945, to name the team. Cleveland Panthers was the most popular choice, but this name was rejected since it had been the name of a previous failed Cleveland football team. That August, despite the objections of the team’s head coach, McBride opted to go for the second most popular selection – Browns.
While it may have seemed like the name “Browns” was an obvious nod to Coach Paul Brown, he often would refute this fact in the media. Instead, he claimed that the Browns were named after famous boxer Joe Louis, who was nicknamed the “Brown Bomber.”
Coach Brown ultimately left the organization in the 1960s after a dispute with the new owner Art Modell, and the Browns also began to support the Joe Louis origin story.
A 1995 Washington Post article even seems to back up this claim:
“Contrary to popular belief, the Browns were not named for their famous coach Paul Brown. Rather, they were called the Brown Bombers, after the nickname of the revered boxer of that era, Joe Louis. The name later was shortened to the Browns.”
However, despite his early references to the Joe Louis story, Coach Paul Brown never really endorsed it later in life, admitting that the team was in fact named after him.
Joe Louis never had any particular ties to the city of Cleveland, and today, the Browns organization officially supports the Paul Brown origin of the name, despite those that continue to assert the name comes from the “Brown Bomber”.
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Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.