Cornerback, Cleveland browns, 22
Joe Haden walks into 78th Street Studios wearing a beer pong T-shirt and a smirk. “It shows off the lighter side of my personality,” he jokes of his style selection. “I mean, we’ve all played it in college.” But the attention isn’t just on his nostalgic choice of wardrobe; it’s also on what’s hanging from his neck. “Here, try it on,” he says, handing off an apple-sized Browns helmet pendant made with 20 carats of orange-colored diamonds. “It looks good.”
That’s just the kind of person the 22-year-old Cleveland Browns cornerback is. He’s fun. He’s accessible. He embraces this town. He’s Mr. Cleveland. Haden has attended Cavs games dressed as Anderson Varejao in a curly wig and jersey and as Baron Davis complete with glasses and goatee. He’s even dressed in pitcher Tony Sipp’s uniform for an Indians game. “For one thing, I’m a fan,” he says of supporting the city’s teams. “I see how much it means to the people of the city of Cleveland to have someone going around showing support. I would do it regardless, but I really like the nickname.”
It goes beyond cheering on the sidelines. Haden has handed out turkeys for Thanksgiving Day at St. Augustine Church with T.J. Ward; he’s worked with Coats for Kids and recently participated in teammate Josh Cribbs’ Shop with a Jock. “Everybody’s not as fortunate as us,” he says. “I know that when I was younger how much it would have meant to me to meet one of my favorite players and just hang out and chill with them.”
Social media has helped Haden reach his fans, too. The 70,000-plus followers of
@joehaden23 have had a chance to join him for a Cavs game and to grab a bite with him at places such as Sushi Rock in Beachwood.
The outlet is also a way for Haden, who grew up in Fort Washington, Md., to connect with those who look up to him. “High school kids want to know what I did to get here. They ask for workout plans,” he says.
Haden would know. His father owns a gym, and Haden says if he wasn’t playing football, he would be a personal trainer. “My father used to be a professional body builder. I would definitely be in the family business,” he says.
While in high school, Haden was the starting quarterback for all four years, setting a Maryland public school record for career passing yards and tying the record for career touchdown passes. The transition to the defensive side of the field was “totally a different feeling,” he says. “With defense you are trying to knock people’s heads off, and on offense you’re trying not to get your own head knocked off. I prefer defense. It’s a lot safer. You’re doing the hitting.”
Haden has quickly made a name for himself on the field, too. He is the first Browns player since 1968 to intercept a pass in four straight games. And he’s learned the rivalries. After the Week 14 loss to Pittsburgh, he tweeted that the loss was especially hard on him.
“It hurt. It hurt more than any loss,” he says.
But Haden tries to stay positive. His tattoo on his right forearm serves as a reminder: It says, “Dreams come true,” above the NFL shield with the numbers 4/22/10, the day he was drafted by the Browns in the first round.
“I love everything about football. Everything,” he says of playing in the NFL. “The fans of Cleveland are die-hard. You bring up the Browns, and the whole tone of their voice and the atmosphere changes. You don’t see that anywhere else.”
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