When the Cleveland Browns unveiled their new uniforms to the world Tuesday night at the Cleveland Convention Center, it felt as close to a home game at FirstEnergy Stadium as you could possibly get.
Fans milled around the concourse with beverages just like they would at a tailgate in the Muni Lot. Pump-up videos inside the auditorium blared with Browns highlights and up-tempo music. Members of the Dawg Pound were barking non stop in anticipation.
And the barking isn't going stop anytime soon.
Nine different Browns players, including Pro Bowlers Donte Whitner and Joe Thomas, unveiled nine brand new uniform combinations. An orange jersey and orange pants were added into the mix and Cleveland was added to the front of the jersey. The Browns front office brass worked hand-in-hand with the NFL and Nike for two years on the significant changes.
Whitner, a Cleveland native and Glenville High School graduate, bleeds Cleveland. A year ago, Whitner turned down lucrative offers from other teams to come back to what will always be home for him.
The Browns are now the only team in the NFL with the name of their city in such a pronounced fashion on the front of the jersey. And to Whitner, that means everything.
"If anybody loves it, it's me who loves it," Whitner said. "When you hear Browns some people don't know what you are talking about. When you hear Cleveland, you know where that is on the map. If anybody loves it, I love it. I love having Cleveland on the front and I bet you a lot of the fans, if not all of them, like this Cleveland on the front."
If there's second place behind Whitner in terms of Cleveland pride, it's Thomas. The blue collar Pro Bowl left tackle represents what this city was founded upon: a dedicated worked who puts his hard hat on every day and does his job, never complaining once.
Some franchises have legendary owners. Some organizations have legendary stadiums. And the Browns? They have Cleveland and its die-hard fans.
"There's that connection here that's unique in the NFL. I think the name of the city on the front is pretty awesome," Thomas said. "And I think it kind of helps convey to the players that this city is really a part of the team, more than any other city in the country."
Whitner saw the jerseys for the first time a month ago for a photo shoot, so he knew what was coming. The 29-year-old safety basked in the fervent evening, signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. He sought out Hall of Famer Jim Brown on the orange carpet.
Whitner gets that playing for the Cleveland Browns is a lifetime contract with the fans. He understands the history. And along with the new jerseys, he wants to be a main character in the chapter that catapults the Browns back among the NFL's elite.
To do that, you need change.
"When you compare them to the old jerseys – the old jerseys kind of look a little boring. We felt like it was time for a change …We're proud we get a chance to play in them."
Thomas joked earlier in the evening that the uniform change doesn't tickle him as much as it will the flashier wide receivers and defensive backs on Cleveland's roster. For Thomas, the night was just as much about the boiling energy seething from the thousands of Browns fans on hand.
"Usually you don't really interact with the fans this time of year," Thomas said. "You just show up for workouts and you start your offseason stuff. Sometimes you lose track of what it's really all about."
Let the debating begin about which of the nine combinations is the best. Whitner boldly loves the orange-on-orange and thinks they'll look spiffy on TV. Thomas, always in his old school tenor, likes the traditional brown jersey with white pants.
The uniform change is a big deal in team history. Minor tweaks have been made throughout the years, but nothing this bold.
It's a tad rash to predict a change in appearance will tip the fortunes of the franchise. But Whitner thinks it just may.
"Deion Sanders said it all the time: When you look good, you feel good," said Whitner. "And when you feel good, you play good."