The House The Terrible Towel Built
An everyday dishtowel turned iconic symbol of fanhood, The Terrible Towel transformed a household item into a household name.
The Terrible Towel turns 35 this year. Through the decades this-the most recognizable sports-fan symbol in the world, noted by the Associated Press-is the rally towel of one of our region’s legendary sports teams.
Symbolic of the down-and-dirty, rough-and-tumble Steelers, the towel was created by the late Myron Cope, the color commentator for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a local sports journalist.
In 1975, Cope’s bosses at WTAE Radio asked him to come up with a clever promotional gimmick for the station that would be embraced by Steelers fans. After considering black masks emblazoned with then-head coach Chuck Noll’s motto, "Whatever It Takes," Cope came up with a less expensive idea: a gold rally towel. Cope spent several weeks promoting the idea on the radio, with little apparent success. He even took a sample towel into the Steelers’ locker room for a straw poll.
"I think your idea stinks," said linebacker Jack Ham. One can imagine Cope reacting to Ham’s assessment with his trademark, "Feh!"
Thirty-five years later, the Terrible Towel is a symbol of one of the NFL’s proudest franchises. Cope once described its power like this: "The Towel is a positive force that lifts the Steelers to magnificent heights and poses mysterious difficulties for the Steelers’ opponents-only if need be."
Five Terribly Good Things You Should Know About The Terrible Towel
- The Towel Touches Down: Making its debut on Dec. 27, 1975, in a Steelers divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Colts, an estimated 30,000 Terrible Towels rallied a victorious 28-10 win.
- One Size Fits All: A symbol of Pittsburgh, The Terrible Towel represents its city and region around the world-popping up in vacation pictures and appearing with Seth Meyers on NBC’s "Saturday Night Live."
- (Black &) Gold Star Approach to Helping Others: In an effort to support Breast Cancer Awareness, a pink Terrible Towel with embroidered white letters debuted in October 2009.
- The Towel Is Multifunctional: Rally with the Steelers; wipe down your stadium seat, or use as a doily on your kitchen table.
- Why Being Terrible Feels So Good: In 1996, Cope handed over the rights to The Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School (AVS), an institution specializing in programs for the developmentally disabled with locations across Pennsylvania- with a corporate center located in Coraopolis. Cope’s son Daniel was born with brain damage and has lived most of his life at AVS. Proceeds from The Terrible Towel have raised more than $2.5 million for the school.