Underneath the Pumpkin: Who is Browns super fan Pumpkinhead?

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 27: A Cleveland Browns fan cheers during the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 27: A Cleveland Browns fan cheers during the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

On any given Sunday, over 60,000 fans pour into FirstEnergy Stadium to watch the Browns play. Only one of them watches the game with a pumpkin over his head

On a Saturday night in 2004, Gus Angelone gets ready for a Cleveland Browns game unlike any normal fan would.

With head coach Butch Davis sinking Cleveland’s season into a 4-12 nightmare, Gus is sitting around his west side home, contemplating a way to make the Browns fun again.

With his favorite holiday, Halloween, just around the corner, Gus swings through the grocery store, breaks out his carving knife and slices into some pumpkins. He masterfully carves three unique jack o’lanterns with different facial patterns and sizes. Afterwards, he takes a brush and paints a thin brown and white stripe down the middle of the gourds.

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And thus, Pumpkinhead was born.

Actually, three Pumpkinheads were born. Gus had prepared the pumpkins for himself, his brother and their cousin.

“Next thing I know I’m on the jumbotron. I was all over TV. I thought it was a lot of fun, so I started doing it for every game,” Angelone said.

Long before he’d become the well-known superfan that Cleveland knows today, the now 43-year-old remembers being his son’s age, around 10 years old, and watching Bernie Kosar and Webster Slaughter inside of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. His Browns fandom stems from the days of playing football in the snow with his brothers, wearing their Browns jerseys, mimicking the athletes that played less than 30 minutes away from the Angelone’s Parma Heights home.

Gus remembers preparing to graduate from Valley Forge High School and beginning his service with the United States Marines. During that time, Cleveland was losing the Browns to Baltimore.

While most Clevelanders were heartbroken and devastated, Gus calls the team’s move “a blessing in disguise” for his own personal life, as football was no longer one of his main concerns.

“I was just a kid fresh outta high school, trying to find myself,” Angelone said.

He joined the Marines with a few of his friends from high school, where he’d begin his service in 1994.

Gus returns to Cleveland around 1999, ironically, the same time as his once beloved Cleveland Browns would come back to the city they once left for heartbreak.

Still working in the reserves for the Marines, Gus found his way back to the Browns. He was working part-time for MBNA, a credit card company owned by Al Lerner, the Browns owner at the time.

Gus would set up his credit card booth at the stadium for Browns home games, but found himself wandering away into the orange seats to watch his home team play. As the season progressed, he’d sign just a few people up for cards, give them their free beach towel gift, and take off to go watch the game.

As the trio was heading to the Muni Lot, with their pumpkins on hand, James, Gus’s brother, gets cold feet about the whole “Pumpkinhead” idea. They sell one of the pumpkins to a random fan on the street for $50 and smash another one before heading into the stadium.

“Ah screw it, I’m going to wear mine into the game as we intended,” Gus says, refusing to give up his pumpkin.

Before he knows it, Gus finds himself plastered all over the jumbotron at Cleveland Browns Stadium. He starts taking photos with fans, with a heavy pumpkin on his head, and they seem to love it too. What started out as an idea for just one game, turned into a weekly tradition.

Until after Thanksgiving in 2004.

Pumpkins are officially out of season, and Gus can’t find a pumpkin to wear on his head for the next home game. With this being a weekly tradition he’s quickly falling in love with, he decides to visit craft stores to find an alternative.

Angelone’s Pumpkinhead uniform, as simple as it might seem, is very intricate and has evolved over the years. To this day, Gus still isn’t comfortable sharing the exact details of how his gourd is prepared, as he really doesn’t want pumpkin imposters flooding FirstEnergy Stadium.

For a short amount of time, Gus rocked a Brandon Weeden No. 3 jersey. But with his Pumpkinhead brand quickly growing, he stepped up the mascot’s attire from what used to be an actual pumpkin, to a painted artificial pumpkin helmet, decked out with lights. He also has a brown, custom stitched, “Pumpkinhead No. 31” jersey that he wears proudly to his tailgates and into the stadium.

What started as a way to make a bad football team fun, has turned into a yearlong commitment. With the Browns recent rapid return to relevance, the character that Gus created out of fun is as important to the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland Browns community as ever before.

Superfan characters, like Pumpkinhead, are moderately common around the sporting landscape. John “Big Dawg” Thompson was famous for wearing a dog mask in the Dawg Pound, and actively trying to get the Browns back in Cleveland. The “BoneLady” is another example of a superfan from Cleveland Browns past.

Gus pulls into the Barley House on Sunday morning around 6, before the sun is up, before the players even arrive to the stadium to play against the Seattle Seahawks. The Pumpkinhead tailgate requires a weeklong preparation for Gus, who works as a fork truck driver for General Motors in Parma.

Throughout the week, behind the scenes, Gus, without the pumpkin on his head, makes sure food, beer and guests are booked for his weekly tailgate. He started these tailgates completely by himself, and watched them grow from just a couple of people, to hundreds of fans every week. Eventually, he teamed up with the radio home of the Browns, 92.3 the Fan, to collaborate on weekly events. This week particularly, Gus worked diligently to book DJ Hazmat, a local DJ who raps about the Browns on social media.

On Friday, Gus picks up his vibrant orange trailer that is parked near the Barley House. The trailer features images from years worth of “Pumpkin Nation” tailgates. But at its forefront, features the trademarked Pumpkinhead logo, as well as portraits of Browns players Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Myles Garrett and various legends from the past.

As the sun comes up, and fans start to pour into Pumpkinhead’s tailgate, music plays loudly, local radio station 92.3 the Fan arrives with morning host Ken Carman, and the tailgate is underway.

Throughout the morning, Gus takes hundreds of pictures with fans underneath his pumpkin helmet. He makes numerous trips to his trailer, climbing on top of it with DJ Hazmat to hype up the crowd with confetti and t-shirt cannons.

Before long the party dies down and fans make their way into FirstEnergy Stadium. With another successful tailgate under his belt, and his sons CJ, 12, and Vince, 10, by his side, Pumpkinhead starts towards Alfred Lerner Way, to watch the Browns and Seahawks with his boys.

As he arrives into his front row seats, just above the tunnel that the visiting team runs out of, Gus and his sons try to motivate the fans in their section. As the opposing team runs out, Pumpkinhead bangs on the overhang, pointing and heckling muffled remarks from underneath his pumpkin. Sometimes, a player from a visiting team will yell something back, which is always one of Pumpkinhead’s biggest accomplishments.

CJ and Vince remember a few years back, a time when their dad drove them to the Browns headquarters in Berea to pick up a package. Gus was chatting with some folks from the Browns, when left tackle Joe Thomas approached the boys to play a quick game of Madden in the locker room.

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“They’ve been with me the entire time, since they were little boys,” Gus says. “The motivation for me, behind the whole character, is all the benefits I get to share with them.”