It's no big surprise that I'm surprised.
After all, I can be pretty clueless at times, and haven't shown the greatest inclination for being able to adapt to a changing world. I still think that The Ramones are the epitome of rock and roll. I have absolutely no idea what's fashionable from a clothing sense, as anyone who has watched the video stream of our radio show can attest.
Still, I thought I had a pretty good feel for the pulse of Browns fans. I spend my entire day talking to fans, hanging out on the forums, and otherwise avoiding real work by talking football.
Even with all of this preparation, I was nevertheless taken aback by something I learned when we started to get into re-naming the website and magazine.
What I learned was this: there are a number of people who are sick of the nickname "dawg". This number includes among it some of my best friends and some of this site's most loyal supporters.
Our long-time compadre Nasdaq is among the anti-dawg folks. He wrote the following in the "Subscriber Lounge" and sums up the anti-dawg sentiment nicely: "I gave my democratic vote. Let the process play out. My only hypernegative response is anything with "dawg" in the title. Why? It is now generic and marketed up the yang. They screwed Hanford out of any royalties and he invented it. It's beat. "
He's right, of course.
Our old friend, the late Eddie "The Assassin" Johnson, had a hand in developing the snarling, barking dawg image of the team's defense as well. He's the guy I think of when I think of the phrase.
* * *
The image of the "dawg" and "dawg pound" is intimately tied to the teams of the mid-to-late 1980s, particularly the defensive unit, which would fire itself up through barking and growling.
The growth of the "Dawg Pound" and other imagery grew from there, propelled entirely by fans. No gang of businessmen came together and decided that the team would now adopt a "dawg" nickname. No marketing genius decided that the bleachers would be known as the "dawg pound".
It was 100% organic, grown by players and fans. It was all us, and it was great.
All of that got conveniently forgotten as the Browns returned in 1999.
Carmen Policy and crew arrived in town with a business plan designed to profit from the creation of players and fans. The team aggressively moved to market the Dawg mystique, while not comprehending it in the slightest.
A less-than-threatening cartoon dog was created, with a football in its mouth, and plastered all over merchandise and on the front of the bleacher section. Our threatening and unruly pound was replaced by animated dog races on the scoreboard, costumed mascots wandering around the sterile confines of the new Cleveland Browns Stadium, and fluffy little dolls given away with Kids Meals at Burger King.
Typical of the self-destructiveness and obliviousness of the Carmen Policy era, the team brought along a roomful of lawyers threatening to sue anyone who used their newly-trademarked term "Dawg Pound" in a pro football context.
At the same time, the bleachers were moved back from the field, items of personal expression banned for reasons clear only to the team's front office, and the fans themselves were quieted down through aggressive security.
The Cleveland Browns corporate machine stole the dawgs away. Right in front of our eyes.
From the passion of blue-collar players and fans came a sterile, kid-friendly, profit stream for Cleveland Browns, Inc.
The "dawg" persona, which so accurately mirrored our passion for our Browns, was sucked into a giant factory somewhere that takes anything cool and makes it blandly acceptable for mass consumption. Animal ferocity was turned into cheap toys and cartoons.
I understand why so many of my friends hate it now.
* * *
To hell with that. I don't care. I'm still a dawg.
Dawgs are emotional. I have a hard time not gritting my teeth and growling when I have a rooting interest in a football game. (Note to friends and family: Don't call my home during Saturday night's Ohio State game).
It's the animal spectacle of it all - the hits, the fighting for extra yards, the effort. Football must be tied at some basic level to the adrenal gland. We all get fired up - just ask any opposing player foolish enough to wander close to the pound in the 80s, or any official who breaks instant replay rules in favor of an opponent.
My family's pet - a German Spitz who came to us through an animal rescue unit - is the same way. He gets fired up when he sees an interloper on his turf - be it a furry rodent or mailman. He lets loose with a ear-shattering din that has nearly given me a heart attack twenty times since he arrived in our home. We're the same way when we see a big stupid black bird on our field, or a strange and smelly visitor from Pennsylvania.
Dawgs are loyal. Again, our Spitz loves his family and goes crazy when he sees family members after even the briefest absence. It reminds me of how we welcomed this team back to town, despite their problems and weaknesses. They were ours and we were happy to see them, beyond all reason. Love, unconditional.
Dawgs are persistent. Even when when we were stabbed in the back, we kept coming back and looking for our football team. Nothing would make the fans give up. We kept barking and digging and making noise until the NFL and Art Modell had no other choice.
I can't do justice to how appropriate the dawg persona is, in my opinion. Many of the other characteristics of real-world dogs and metaphorical dawgs ring true. Truthworthiness, devotion, ferociousness. Those adjectives belong to Browns fans more than any other in the NFL.
Maybe the Cleveland Browns teams who have been in this city since 1999 haven't earned the right to be called "dawg" like their predecessors in the 1980s. They're a bunch who hasn't accomplished a great deal, at least not yet. There have been a lot of transients and nomads passing through town in the last six years who never had a clue what Cleveland football was all about.
But when I think of the Dawgs, it's not just the players. It's us.
The Cleveland Browns I believe in, the Cleveland Browns which mean so much to this town, the so-far imaginary team I see in my mind's eye, are a bunch of hard working and fired-up guys who get the job done. A bit scruffy, perhaps, but loyal, passionate, dedicated, hard-working.
Just like their fans.
We're Browns fans. We're dawgs.
And no misguided front office business type, no marketing guru, no lawyer, no one, is going to take that away from us. Ever.