The Strange Cleveland Browns Video Inspired By Conan The Barbarian

Though the Cleveland Browns are only one of four NFL teams to have never played in a Super Bowl, as per NBC, the 1980s were something of a golden age for the franchise, according to SB Nation. Behind 2022 NFL hall-of-fame inductee, Browns quarter back Bernie Kosar, who played nine years in Cleveland, the squad made it to the AFC championship game three times that decade (via The Cleveland Browns website). In 1986, the Browns made it to the conference championship, in just Kosar's second year behind center.

The Browns lost the AFC title to the Denver Broncos that year, according to the Broncos website. Despite that disappointing outcome in the '86 season, the team still managed to produce a video to benefit the non-profit United Way, based on reporting. The short film Cleveland made that year called "Masters of the Gridiron" remains a must-see for Browns fans to this day. 

The 1980s were a time for innovative NFL promotion

In 1985, the Chicago Bears produced the hip-hop influenced "Super Bowl Shuffle," an enduring ear-worm and among the most well-known off-the-field promotions in football history. Inspired in part by the "Shuffle," "Masters of the Gridiron" starred one-time Browns center and popular player from that era, Mike Baab, and it was produced by Baab's wife, Lolis Garcia-Baab. In 2013, Garcia-Baab recalled (via For The Win) that in 1986 the NFL started to work closely with the United Way, and the team had already produced a Christmas video when the Bears did the "Shuffle."

Inspired by the Bear's success with that video in heavy rotation on MTV, the Browns at first thought they'd try something similar. But as Baab explained in 2013 the team wanted to do something different. Baab was a fan of fantasy films like "Conan the Barbarian," so his wife suggested doing a play on Conan with a barbarian theme for the Browns' video. A few short hours later, the script for "Masters of the Gridiron" was written. Fittingly, a segment of Browns fans were already known as "Baab's Barbarians."

Gridiron starred more than just NFL players

With script in hand and the NFL and United Way in agreement, the next step was to cast the short film. Each part was played by a member of the Browns team at that time, according to, except a character called "The Lord of the League," played by the comic musician Tiny Tim (pictured). Mike Baab played a role named "Baabarian." Comedy writer Tom Pattison, who co-wrote the script, knew Tiny Tim from another project. There was also a musical interlude from hit-making Cleveland group at the time called The Michael Stanley Band.

The movie also featured a real bear, which at one point, Baab wrestled. Recalling his work with both Tiny Tim and a bear, Baab later remembered (via For The Win) Tiny Tim as a "unique individual ... He was terrified of the bear and would not come down from the top of the Squires Castle until the bear was back in his trailer. He thought the bear wanted to eat him." 

As for the story, Baabs' character gets knocked out in a game, and in a fantasy sequence, he joins up with other players to retrieve a ring from The Lord of the League. With that ring, the city by "Lake Erie" (read: Cleveland) could truly be called the home of the "Masters of the Gridiron."