As many of you are aware, Browns fans are notorious for being incredibly dedicated to their team. Some might even say they are crazy. Take a look at the video below and you can decide for yourself just how far Cleveland tailgaters will go.
This Righteous Rig is called “The Dawg” and is the creation of Ryan Mayhugh.
Ryan has been a Browns fan his whole life and in 2002 he introduced his wife Neema (at the time she was his fiance) to the Browns tailgating experience. Neema grew up in New York and was a big Giants fan, but pulling into the West 3rd parking lot at 8am in December and seeing it more than half full, she was hooked on the Cleveland tailgating experience. The couple decided to relocate to Cleveland from the NYC area in 2005, but Neema made Ryan promise that they would get Browns season tickets. He sent in the form the following day. Herein lays the first requirement in having a tailgate vehicle like The Dawg van – a wife who loves football and tailgating, and is tolerant of irrational behavior.
When the couple relocated from New York to Cleveland in early 2006, they only had one car. When looking for a second vehicle that they could use for emergencies, Ryan thought he might as well see if they could use it for tailgating. They looked at a few different options on the internet and one morning Ryan found a 1975 Dodge Xplorer van on eBay. It was only a few miles away, so he contacted the owner and took it for a test drive. It ran well, and the owner’s uncle had bought it brand new in 1975 and he still had the owner’s manual and all the repair records. They went home and placed their bid and a few hours later, they were the proud owners for the low price of $1,500.
They bought it in mid-July, and only had a month and a half until the season started. They knew they wanted it to be different – a simple orange and brown paint job wasn’t going to do the trick. So they parked the van in the driveway, invited a bunch of friends over, bought a few cases of beer and started brainstorming. The winning idea was to make it into a furry Dawg (the Browns unofficial mascot). Then everyone went home and Ryan and Neema were left with the hard part – turning the idea into reality.
Ryan looked around online and came across the most wonderful fabric in the world: tangerine colored poodle furry fleece from Jo-Ann fabrics. It happened to be on sale (for some reason it wasn’t flying off the shelves) so they ordered 40 yards of it. They also ordered 10 yards of Browns licensed fleece from Jo-Ann for the ears, tail and collar.
So they had the fur, but didn’t quite know how they were going to keep it attached to the van, which of course, was pretty important. Ryan ended up calling a salesman at Industrial Webbing and told him what they were trying to do. After a brief pause as he tried to digest what was being told him, he asked if they were trying to replicate the Shaggin’ Wagon from the movie “Dumb and Dumber”. That was exactly the perfect description of what they were trying to do. Ryan bought a high grade Velcro that has a strong epoxy on one side that sticks to the van, and the other side is sewn to the fur. It was the perfect product.
Now that the main ingredients were purchased, they started sewing. Ryan’s sister made the tail, ears and sewed the large section of fleece together for the main body. His parents and wife all chipped in on the sewing machine and made the other accessories, like the eyes, tongue, nose and dawg tag. Ryan’s Dad even ordered industrial grade magnets that hold the fur in place near the wheels and the bottom of the doors. After about a month, the van was in good shape and The Dawg was born. Total cost of all materials was in the $300 range.
On the inside, they put up a few posters (including a Bernie Kosar poster that they found at a garage sale during a vacation in Maine) and filled in with pictures and football cards of Browns greats like Jim Brown, Clay Matthews, Brian Sipe, Paul Warfield and LeRoy Kelly. They have made a few improvements since it debuted in the West 3rd lot on September 9, 2006 (wheel covers, large Dawg decals on either side of the body, etc.) but otherwise it has just about everything needed.
After a great season in 2007, including a 7-1 record at home, the Browns have struggled as of late. Some people wonder how Ryan and his family can dedicate so much time, energy and money to a football team. To be honest, sometimes he wonders that himself. But he never questions it when he is sitting in the parking lot, cooking eggs at 8 am on a cold Sunday morning in the winter and talking about the upcoming game over a breakfast beer. Even if the Browns don’t win, the tailgate is always fantastic when you have ‘The Dawg”.