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Browns can get more from Oregon than uniform inspiration

4/15/2015

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns' drastic uniform changes will not magically lift the franchise out of its losing abyss. Opposing teams care little about the Browns’ cutting-edge cross stitching by the chest area or the “CLEVELAND” block lettering on the front.

But if Cleveland somehow reverses the trend of one winning season in the last 12 years, and does so soon, it’s reasonable to wonder if the Browns will look to Tuesday night’s unveiling as an emotional touchstone of sorts, a springboard.

Team president Alec Scheiner alluded to the possibilities with a fairly innocuous comparison.

“We could be like Oregon of the NFL,” Scheiner said.

Scheiner was referring to the team’s uniform versatility -- Cleveland can wear nine different combinations of orange, brown and white -- but he might as well have acknowledged the on-field implications, too.

Oregon’s rise as a program coincided with drastic uniform changes in 1999, when Nike matched a lightning-yellow “O” emblem with a metallic green helmet. This was an aggressive departure from the Ducks’ traditional yellow-and-dark-green look with the “U-O” helmets.

Before 1999, Oregon had never recorded a double-digit-win season. The program was respectable but averaged 5.9 wins from 1980-99.

Since the uniform changes, Oregon has 10 double-digit-win seasons. Good players and coaches such as Chip Kelly were the catalysts, but the uniforms are part of the program’s identity. And, yes, uniforms can help with recruiting, which means nothing in the NFL.

The Browns’ live event to display uniforms created good vibes for the franchise. The players universally liked the changes. Safety Donte Whitner, wearing the all-orange uniform, cited Deion Sanders’ old mantra of looking good, feeling good, playing good.

Scheiner said he hopes the Browns compete for championships in these uniforms.

Vibes mean little when defensive ends close in. Left tackle Joe Thomas said, “uh, no” when asked if uniforms matter in how a team plays.

But for timely inspiration, just look at the Seattle Seahawks, who have appeared in two Super Bowls since a Nike-driven uniform overhaul in 2012.

The Browns don’t have a transcendent star such as LeBron James; still, they are taking a page from LeBron’s playbook by paying homage to the city of Cleveland, which has paid off for at least one local team. Perhaps the Browns are next.

“Let’s make it Browns. Let’s make it tough,” NFL creative director Shandon Melvin said of the redesign.

Teams look tougher with a quarterback, a position the Browns treat like a turnstile. If that franchise cornerstone comes soon enough, though, fans will remember the day he’s delivered, probably an NFL draft night.

They might remember the uniform unveiling, too.

The two events might cross-stitch.

With a Duck in the middle.