The Curious Case of the Football Team from Space
The out-of-this-world story of how a Big designer created the first officially NFL-licensed merch for a football team from space.
Content by Jordan Sowards
The Cleveland Browns suck and everybody knows it.
If that seems too harsh, just ask any Browns fan. They’ll shoot you straight. They’ll say, “The Browns suck, they’ve sucked since they came back in ’99, and they will forever and always be my team because I love them.”
After all, isn’t that what true fanhood is all about? Real, unflagging, unconditional love for your team—even when they suck as bad as the Cleveland Browns.
Adam Crigger, UI/UX designer extraordinaire and one of Big’s favorite sons, became a Browns fan in 1999 at the tender age of 11. Even as a man-cub, Crigger was possessed of an offbeat sense of humor, and he was drawn to the Browns by their bizarrely banal team logo. (In case you don’t know, it’s simply a blank orange football helmet.)
Part of young Crigger’s motivation was the chance to be a fan before anyone else. Filled with the sort of sanguine idealism that only youth can inspire, he saw it as an investment in his future: Become a fan now, and reap the benefits when your team goes all the way, without looking like some Johnny-Come-Lately, bandwagon-stowaway poseur.
Year after year, the Browns’ record would disappoint—but for Crigger, his fandom never did. Eventually, he discovered the Cleveland Browns subreddit, where he could connect and commiserate with the other Browns faithful, and occasionally engage in a little therapy through escapist fantasy. Enter: The Space Browns.
Once upon a time, a Browns fan went to space. In 1997, NASA astronaut Donald Thomas flew a Cleveland Browns flag aboard the space shuttle Columbia during a mission, as well as having his NASA portrait taken in front of a Browns flag, holding a Browns helmet, with a Browns patch adorning his spacesuit. (Note: the Browns didn’t even exist as a team in 1997. Like I said, Browns fans do not play.)
The Space Browns are a hopeful construct of one anonymous YouTube user, inspired by the cheerful tableau of astronaut Donald Thomas and heaven only knows what else. As the Cleveland Browns languish on earth, intergalactic football squad The Space Browns comes to the rescue, teaching the Earth Browns how to finally be less terrible, and there is much rejoicing.
The whole epic yarn was conceived and immortalized in this very important music video:
Hope is a powerful thing. The Space Browns grew to capture the hearts and minds of the subreddit’s enthusiasts. When the Earth Browns let them down, those mythical gridiron heroes in the sky were there to carry that emotional weight for the devoted.
Crigger, as a consummate creative and someone who loves to see a good joke through to its ultimate conclusion, decided to design some Space Browns merch. At first the idea was just for online funsies, but the fans went bonkers for them and demanded he print shirts.
Now, the NFL is notoriously prickly about their intellectual property, so Crigger knew this was shaky ground. But as a Browns fan, he knew how to hold out hope in the face of all-but-certain defeat.
But then—plot twist! A reddit user chimed in, claiming to be one of the fun-loving maniacs who co-created the original Space Browns video. He tells Crigger that the Browns would have a weak claim of trademark infringement, but would be unlikely to pursue any legal action. He knows this because he himself is a trademark attorney. Having watched that video, you might consider these claims dubious at best. But for Browns fans, a little hope goes a long way.
So Crigger pressed on, submitting the shirt design to be printed and sold. Since the design made no mention or visual reference to the Earth Browns, Crigger was confident in his legal position as outlined by the reddit user. Plus, since all the proceeds were going to the charitable Cleveland Browns Foundation, it seemed like a win-win situation. But since every party has a pooper, somebody had to go and ruin the fun.
The word on reddit was that some stool pigeon had finked on him to the NFL, which made the t-shirt printer drop the job faster than a hot potato with a racial slur written on it. Now that the No Fun League had the glorious Space Browns in their sights, the prognosis was dire and the fans were despondent. The last gossamer thread of hope was unraveling before their tearful eyes.
Space Browns fans suddenly faced an unprecedented crisis: they were about to be disappointed by the Space Browns. For the first time ever, their perfect celestial team with the sterling record was on the verge of taking a big L.
But just like the awkward electro-pop origin story of the Space Browns or the hamfisted final scene of Jurassic Park, this story features a dramatic rescue by an unexpected hero.
As it turns out, a fellow Space Browns fan had a contact at the Earth Browns organization—and wouldn’t you know it, she turned out to be a bit of a Space Browns fan herself.
As an organization, the Earth Browns are very in touch with their adoring fanbase, and extremely supportive of creative, fan-led efforts like this one—especially if they’re philanthropically motivated. And apparently, they also have a very healthy sense of humor because next thing you know, Crigger had an officially licensed NFL product on his hands.
For several weeks this summer, Earth Browns fans could support their favorite space football team by purchasing officially licensed Space Browns shirts. Crigger’s campaign raised more than $2,600 for the Cleveland Browns Foundation, which supports schools and other educational initiatives in the city.
And just think: It never would have happened if the Earth Browns hadn’t come to the Space Browns’ rescue.
Correction: This story was edited on October 16, 2017 to remove the redditor’s username and update his comments.