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Big Dawg Bringing 2,000 Friends From Cleveland To Buffalo

November 14, 1996 GMT

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) _ It has been nearly a year since Big Dawg barked. Each Sunday morning, he awakes peacefully in the doghouse. No intruders, no reason to get excited. No collar.

John ``Big Dawg″ Thompson, the hefty, undisputed leader of the Dawg Pound _ the most excited group of fans in any NFL stadium _ has been silent since the Browns left Cleveland.

The Buffalo Bills will unleash him Sunday against the Browns’ former intrastate rival, the Cincinnati Bengals.

By the way, his pack includes more than 2,000 people and a dozen ex-players. And yes, they will be sitting in the end zone at Rich Stadium, an inferior setting for any bone-chewing, beer-swilling, loud-barking Dawg. But this pound will have to do.

``It’s going to be fun, because I’ll be cheering against the Bengals,″ Thompson said. ``It won’t be hard, because I’ve been doing it all my life. The bone bag’s full. I’ve got the mask, I’ve got the collar. I’ve got the orange tennis shoes. There will be a lot of people decked out in their dog paraphernalia.″

Woof, woof.

Thompson spends many of his Sundays still promoting the Browns. He speaks to civic groups and school children and virtually anyone else who will listen. All he wants, really, is his own team again after his beloved Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Cleveland is scheduled to get an NFL team in the next few years, either through expansion or if an existing franchise moves.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson set aside a block of seats for Big Dawg and his buddies so they can, if even for a day, walk into a stadium with a few beers stashed in their coats and essentially lose their minds.

Just like old times.

``It’s going to start pumping air back into our football,″ Thompson said. ``He’s the man who can give us a little bit of the excitement back. Maybe we can get a little intensity back. What am I saying? I’m sure the intensity will be back.″

The Dawg Pound, founded in 1985, is best known for harassing opposing players from their seats a few feet from the end zone at Cleveland Stadium. Browns coaches have mentioned them in pregame speeches, telling their players not to let down Big Dawg.

In their early years, Big Dawg, Jam Dawg, Sick Dawg and Ugly Dawg would find six people to carry a doghouse into the stadium. When they needed only two people to carry the doghouse out of the stadium, security officials realized they were smuggling a keg of beer to their seats.

``I flunked the Dawg Pound test after my career,″ former Browns defensive end Al ``Bubba″ Baker said. ``The mixture it takes to be in the Dawg Pound, it’s a rare breed. They haven’t missed a game, and they haven’t missed a roster move. If they can drum up the intensity on Sunday, Buffalo is going to be sky high.″

Twelve ex-players, including Hall of Famers Dante Lavelli and Marion Motley from the 1940s and 1950s, are coming in a caravan along Route 90 that connects the two Lake Erie hubs.

Baker and longtime Browns Herman Fontenot, Gerald ``Ice Cube″ McNeil and Felix Wright are among those who will join them. Former special teams star Ron Wolfley, who grew up a few miles from Rich Stadium, also is expected. All are honorary Dawgs.

``I’m going to be at a distance,″ Baker said. ``They’ve been locked up. They haven’t been to a tailgate party. No training camp to bark at. I don’t know what they’re going to do. You don’t want to let these people down. They don’t wear defeat well.″

Buffalonians and Clevelanders long have shared a relationship because of their proximity to Lake Erie. The blue-collar cities have sympathized with each other through tough economic times, annual snowstorms and hundreds of jokes about their towns and their teams.

And for four quarters against the Bengals, they will become one.

``It suits me,″ Bills center Kent Hull said. ``I remember how vocal those guys were, and they were a real asset to that football team. I would love for them to change over to the red, white and blue and start hollering for the Buffalo Bills. It’s a great marriage.″