THE STORIED TRADITION OF THE TERRIBLE TOWEL

IMG_5888As playoff time is quickly approaching I thought it’d be a good time for a little bit of a history lesson. If your a Steeler fan (and probably even if your not) there’s a good chance you’ve seen those yellow towels being waved all around Heinz field (and many other stadiums across the country) but do you know what those towels stand for, how they came to be or what they mean to a lot of people today?

The beginning of those wonderful terrible towels

The year was 1975 and Myron Cope was the “Voice” of the Steelers on the flag ship station and he was approached by the VP and GM Ted J. Atkins and the president of sales Larry Garret to help them come up with a “gimmick” to help attract sponsors for the station. Cope wasn’t on board originally, he said ” I’m not a gimmick guy, I’ve never been a gimmick guy” but after being told that it would help him get a raise in his upcoming contract negotiations, he said “I’m a gimmick guy”.

The Towel makes its Debut, December 27 1975

In the weeks leading up to the game, Cope advertised the idea of the towel to fans on the radio and evening television news, using the phrase “The Terrible Towel is poised to strike. A lot of fans went and bought hand towels from the local stores which made the stores mad as they were only buying the black and yellow hand towels but leaving the full size towels which led to the actual Terrible Towels being printed (but more on that later). Though Atkins started to get cold feet from fear of the Steelers losing the game and ruining “the Gimmick” as well as some of the players being opposed to the idea of the towels Cope continued to push the idea over the radio as well as on the evening television news. The day of the playoff game arrived and Cope was looking through binoculars at the crowd and only noticed a few dozen towels here and there he was wondering about “the gimmick ” himself. The idea had even been made fun of by the local paper the Pittsburgh post-Gazette , as kickoff approached and player introductions began, the crowd exploded and Cope said he estimates there were about 30,000 towels being clinched in fist and being waved round and round and “the gimmick” became a Tradition “a rally towel” to be more exact. The Steelers would go on to beat The Colts that day 28-10, they would go on to beat the Raiders and the Cowboys to claim their 2nd Championship in a row.

The TRADITION CONTINUES 

Even through the “lean years of the 80’s the towel remained a staple at every game with legions of fans waving it to rally the Steelers. It has went on to branch off to have its own line of products When babies are born, they are wrapped in the Terrible Towel in the hospital. Couples have waved Terrible Towels at their wedding it has been to the top of Everest, it has made a trip to the international space station, it has been to some of the deepest depths of the ocean and it has been carried by many soldiers into battle in multiple countries through multiple wars. Though the traditional Yellow with Black print is the most popular, There have been different styles of the towel made for special occasions, Christmas, thanksgiving, Halloween, St. Patrick’s day, a camouflage one for “support the troops” month and even a pink one for “Breast cancer awareness month” in October.

MORE TRADITIONS, THE TOWEL TWIRL!

A new tradition was introduced at Heinz Field in 2010 called the “Terrible Towel Twirl,” with special guests having the honor of starting the entire Heinz Field crowd in a towel twirl. Among those who have participated include former players Dermontti Dawson and Alan Faneca, Joe Greene, actors Billy Gardell, Joe Manganiello, and Jesse Williams, actresses Alyssa Milano, Tamara Tunie and Jane Seymour, rapper Wiz Khalifa and Astronaut Buzz Aldrin to name a few.

MORE THAN JUST A TOWEL

Myron Cope passed away in 2008 and his casket was draped with a quilt that a fan made out of Terrible Towels. But Myron left a legacy. What a lot of people don’t know is this is not just a ” rally Rag” the great part comes from what each of those towels does for people like Danny Cope, Myron’s son. Myron Cope left behind something far more personal than a legacy of terrycloth, a battle flag for a city and its team. In 1996, he handed over the trademark to the Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School. It is a network of campuses and group homes across Pennsylvania for people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. It receives almost all the profits from sales of the towels. Danny Cope is one of the roughly 900 people the school serves. He has been a resident since 1982, when he was a teenager. He was diagnosed with severe mental retardation when he was 2. He is now 50. He has never spoken a word, which is kind of strange since his father is known for his. A quote from his sister, Myrons Daughter Elizabeth she says ” the towel is like Danny’s voice”. The Steelers still handle the marketing of the Towels but they send a check to the school every moth for tens of thousands of dollars to help the school system out.

OTHERS HAVE TRIED TO IMITATE IT.

Many teams have tried to imitate the “Terrible towel” passing them out at games, but none of them have the history or the success that “The Terrible Towel” has had, some teams pass them out to try and combat the sea of yellow that shows up at their own stadiums, but they’ve had little success as Steeler Nation is Worldwide.

A LITTLE PERAONAL STORY OF MY OWN

I was able to make it to my First game at Heinz field this year. I live in Georgia, and my son his girlfriend and I left on a cold Thursday morning and drove all day to make it in time to watch the Steelers hammer the Titans, and yes we each carried our own Terrible Towels and waved them all game long, ( to the point my shoulder hurt for a week, but it was worth it ) but probably the most spine tingling moment I remember from the game, was the beginning of the fourth quarter, the giant screens went black and as the music began to pump through the speakers I knew what time it was “Renegade” began to blare through the speakers as highlights flashed on the giant screens and the stadium was covered in yellow and black towels Being waved, a virtual sea of yellow, it was amazing something this Steelers fan from Georgia will never forget!

THE CURSE OF THE TERRIBLE TOWEL

Well there have been many players who thought it’d be a good idea and “funny” to disrespect the Pittsburgh treasure, some might think it’s “silly” and “juvenile”‘to think that somehow disrespecting the towel could bring “bad juju ….. If that were the case, you might want to talk to Keith Bullock ,LenDale White, Jeremy Hill, T.J. Houshmandzadeh And Tress Way, all of these players thought it’d be a good idea to disrespect the towel. Keith and Lendale thought it’d be funny to blow their noses on it and throw it on the ground and stomping it It was 2008 and after beating the Steelers. They ended up losing their next two games, including a playoff one, and it carried into the next season when they started 0-6. They were done. Houshmandzadeh decided to clean his cleats with it , In Game 13 of the 2005 season, Houshmandzadeh’s Bengals beat the Steelers 38-31 at Heinz Field. Houshmandzadeh celebrated a touchdown catch by wiping his cleats with the Terrible Towel. At the time, the 9-3 Bengals looked to be one of the favorites in the AFC, and a successful postseason was expected.
However the Curse of the Terrible Towel went into effect. The Bengals lost as many times in their next five games as they had in their first twelve, culminating in their first 31-17 wild-card playoff loss to whom else? The Pittsburgh Steelers!

Jeremy Hill tried and failed to tip one in half when Hill scored an early touchdown in the Steelers’ 24-20 win over the Bengals, he found a Terrible Towel that had fallen onto the field and did that’s when he tried to rip it The Bengals went up 17-3 at that point and looked in control. But once the curse kicked in, Pittsburgh outscored Cincinnati 21-3 and took the Bengals officially out of playoff contention.and they’ve been in a funk ever since. Last season Washington Redskins punter Tress Way let his mom disrespect the towel when she burned it in a video. Pittsburgh beat the Redskins 38-16. Later in the year,
all felt the wrath of the towel and the Curse could get New England this year if what the fans did after this years game they used it as a door mat on their plane headed back to New England after their controversial win in Pittsburgh this year. In short don’t disrespect the Towel bad things happen when you do!

  • CONCLUSION

As i wrap this up I hope some of you have learned something, I’m sure a lot of you already knew a lot of this but for those who didn’t ….next time you wave that towel wave it with a Lil more pride because now you know, it’s not just a “rally rag” to those of us who know it’s a whole lot more!!!

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