Random Thoughts: Behind the Mask

This edition of "Random Thoughts from a Wasted Mind" by fan commentator Dale Galbraith just seemed to fit for the day before the Browns-Steelers game. Dale talks with "D.Dawg", seen in this photo, about his decades of being a hard-core Browns fan in the Dawg Pound. Plus, Dale's thoughts on the upcoming battle against the Steelers...

Behind the mask

On opening day the Browns brought back the 1964 Championship Team in order to connect today's franchise with the prestigious history of the Browns. Many of the current players said that it was a benefit to have the past greats in attendance. The day resulted in a 20-3 whipping of the Baltimore Ravens and the Browns have played well at home so far this year.

It is equally important that young fans learn from the seasoned Browns faithful what it means to be a Browns fan. Over time I will attempt to tell the stories of some of the most rabid fans in NFL history the members of the Dawg Pound. It is important to understand that not all Dawg Pound members sit on the bench seats at the east end of Cleveland Brown Stadium. Membership into this elite group has only one qualification, one must be passionate about Cleveland Browns football.

Let me introduce you to D. Dawg. He is the fan wearing the mask and the #29 jersey in the picture above. Yes, there is a real person behind the mask and his name is Vince Erwin.

Vince resides in Wooster, Ohio with his lovely wife Lisa and their three children, Logan, Meghan and Cooper. Vince is proud to claim that Logan was named after former Browns receiver Dave Logan (#85 1976-83). But he wants it to be clear that Cooper was not named after the former Ohio State coach John Cooper.

Vince has worked for Morton Salt (When It Rains, It Pours) for 28 years, and currently holds the position of Quality Control Assistant. He spent 15 of those years as president of the local union (U.S.W.A.).

When asked what he enjoys most in life? Vince responded, "I have been very blessed with a healthy family. I get my most enjoyment watching my children playing sports and growing up."

Vince is quite involved in his 2nd favorite sport of volleyball. He has been a Junior Olympic  Volleyball Coach the past 7 years. He has also coached in several school systems over the years.

D. Dawg has been a season ticket holder since 1978. He went from the "Cheap Seats" to becoming a "Bleacher Creature" and finally a member of the "Dawg Pound". All of these changes and he has sat in the same section of the stadium since day one.

When asked how did the Dawg Pound originate? D. Dawg said, "It was born soon after the first bark was heard from Dixon and Minnifield. in 1985"

For those too young to remember, Hanford Dixon (#29 1981-89 ) and Frank Minnifield (#31 1984-92) played on the corners for a stingy Browns defense in the mid to late 80's.

According to a press release by The Official Site of Southern Miss Athletics, where Hanford Dixon played his college ball, the talented defensive back remembers the origin of the Dawg Pound.

He said, "We had some great linebackers at the time, Chip Banks, Clay Matthews  and then we had a good secondary, but we didn't have a strong defensive line.

"Growing up in the South, I remembered watching the way a dog would chase a cat, and I asked the defensive linemen, 'Why don't you think about the quarterback like a cat, and you're the dog trying to catch him?

"Then in training camp, we started barking at the defensive linemen. From there, it took off. The fans started barking every time the defense made a play, but originally, it was just meant for the defensive line."

D. Dawg recalls how it evolved in the stands, "Several fans in the front row of section 61 brought in a DAWG HOUSE that they put right over the fence on the small grassy incline to the bleachers.

"The original Dawg was this guy who painted his face ½ orange and ½ brown. He brought in an animal skull on a stick (painted the same as his face). It had an articulated jaw that he would operate to simulate barking."

Over the years D. Dawg has slowly added different paraphernalia to his game day attire. But his original look consisted of his recognizable mask, a cowbell on a leather strap from the "Siper Bowl" days, a 3 ft. rawhide dog bone, and the #29 jersey with D. Dawg printed on the back.

Vince hints, "The D stands for many things but mostly Defense." 

When asked about his favorite game day memory?  D. Dawg recalled, "Well, one of the first games that I attended was on 10/10/1976. We were playing the Sissies from the East, the Pittspuke Squeelers. It was the 4th quarter, Joe "Turkey" Jones came thru the offensive line grabbed Bradshaw and dumped him on the grass. I was hooked!

"The 1987 double overtime Jets game at the stadium is also a favorite. The Dawg Pound was in it's prime! At half time the field crew came out with shovels and wheelbarrows to pick up all the dog bones off the field. The game was awesome. To be a part of all that adrenalin and  excitement from the fans as well as the players....What a buzz!"

When asked about his worst memory he said, "Watching Red Right 88 happen right in front of me! The Drive! The Fumble! How can you pick?"

Over the years Vince has had several favorite Browns players. He mentioned just a few, "Dino Hall, Kevin Mack, Eddie Johnson, Hanford Dixon."

Then after a short pause he added, "Steve "The Warrior" Everitt, even though he was from Michigan."

When asked if there were any players he disliked? He was quick to answer, "Andre "Bad Moon" Rison."

When asked if there were any current players he didn't care for? D. Dawg growled, "What are you trying to do, set me up? They may find me!"

Vince has had many memorable moments as a Browns fan over the years, but one sticks out more than others. He describes it like this, "I once was invited to a Browns Backers dinner in Rochester, New York. The morning after, I went down to have breakfast in the hotel restaurant, before starting my trek home. There in one of the booths, sitting alone was Marion Motley (he was one of the featured guests).

"He invited me to sit with him, I was truly honored. I sat there and listened to him for over an hour. He told me how it used to be, and a few of his stories. I don't think that could ever be replaced or duplicated in these times. Today you have contracts worth millions and players who feel they must be paid for their autographs."

Oh yes, add Marion Motley to D. Dawg's list of favorite players.

There have been a couple of times when Vince's face turned red under his mask from embarrassment. Both occasions happened at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

He dropped something during a night game. So at half time he crawled down between the rails and wall, then down the back of the bleachers to the underbelly of the Pound. That's where he stumbled on a barely clad couple that wanted their child to be conceived during a Browns game. They didn't seem to be bothered that he was there or concerned about the score of the game.

Then after carrying the rawhide bone for several years it was suddenly decided by Browns management that it was now a weapon and wouldn't let D. Dawg enter with it. So he would leave it outside. Then with the help of a 40 ft. rope and some friends the Bone would enter the stadium over the back wall of the Pound. Once the Bone was inside no one would ask Vince to remove it. Stadium Security stationed in the Dawg Pound knew him well. They knew he would never use the bone for anything other than an instrument to fire up the crowd. They also knew Vince is not a drinker so alcohol would never impair his judgment. He was able to sneak the Bone in for about a year before one of Cleveland's Finest busted him.

When asked what could the Browns do to make his game day better? Vince said with a smirk on his face, "Let me bring the Bone back! Other than that, the security crew have always been a great group!"

D. Dawg also has some thoughts about Cleveland Browns Stadium.

First of all he passionately states, "There is no replacing the old stadium."

He then continues, "Since you can't bring back the old. Remove those who sit on their hands or are there just to entertain a guest for a business write-off"

As far as this years team goes D. Dawg has this to say, "Well, I see no playoffs. I hate to say that and hope that I am wrong, but we are so inconsistent. Garcia is, or has been mediocre at best. Is that because of the O-line? Yeah partially, but he has not impressed me much."

In closing Vince had this message for Browns fans, "Stay tough, our time will come. We are the best fans in the world for staying united  globally without having a true winner in so long. That's dedication and hope!

"I am one of the many who has made the Dawg Pound the best seats in the house. I may have been the first Dawg Mask in the Pound but I am definitely not the most important. There are several people out there that don't wear a mask that are as much responsible for what has developed in Cleveland Stadium. Just keep it going  with or without the Dawg Pound look. Positive energy is a powerful thing that can be easily transferred from the seats to the field and back again."

Vince Erwin alias D. Dawg is just one of the passionate fans in Cleveland Browns Stadium. My hope is that the passion will spread through every seat and that someday the whole place will be known as the Dawg Pound. Not just the bench seats on one end of the stadium.

Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame will probably ask for Ed Reed's jersey and ball from his record setting 106 yard interception return for a touchdown against the Browns last Sunday. I hope they don't put them in the same display case with Jeff Garcia's and Andre Davis's jerseys for the 99 yard touchdown reception which set the NFL record for the longest pass play. After all, the ball did come out of Garcia's hand on both occasions.

Blueprint to beat the Steelers

If the Browns are to beat the Steelers Sunday it is imperative that they don't fall more than one score behind. Because the Steelers love to get a team down by a few scores. Then they attack relentlessly on defense and control the ball with the run on offense. That means the Browns' defense better show up when the whistle blows. They cannot afford a slow start. It wouldn't be a  bad idea for the Browns to come out aggressively on offense. Maybe a four wide receiver set with a no huddle. Try to catch the Steelers off guard and get them down by a few scores. It would be interesting to see how they react with the table turned in a hostile environment. Most of all the Browns can't turn the ball over or make the stupid penalties that have plagued them constantly this season. One last plea. There are huge official clocks located at both ends of the stadium. They are there to be managed not wasted.  


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