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In American Football, what is "the Terrible Towel™"?

By R. Anacan
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Terrible Towel™ is a well-known symbol of the Pittsburgh Steelers, an American football team in the National Football League. The Terrible Towel was created as a promotional gimmick by Steelers radio broadcaster Myron Cope in 1975. In the week leading up to a playoff game against the Baltimore Colts in December 1975, Cope encouraged Pittsburgh Steelers fans to bring small yellow dish towels to the game to show their support for the team.

Although The Terrible Towel™ is now ubiquitous at Steelers football games, many players were initially hesitant of the idea. Linebacker Jack Ham reportedly told Myron Cope, “I think your idea stinks!” Even with the ambivalence of the players, tens of thousands of fans came to the game excitedly waving their yellow towels. The Steelers defeated the Colts by a score of 28-10 and the legend of The Terrible Towel™ began.

The Steelers made it through the playoffs and were the representative of the American Football Conference (AFC) in Super Bowl X. The team decided to produce their own official towel, with the wording “Myron Cope’s Official The Terrible Towel™” emblazoned on them for the Super Bowl. The Steelers went on to defeat the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football Conference (NFC) by a score of 21-17.

The success of The Terrible Towel™ prompted other professional sports teams to create their own versions of the towel. The Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League created “Towel Power” in 1982. The Minnesota Twins of Major League Baseball developed “The Homer Hanky” in 1987. In 2009, The National Football League created “The Trophy Towel” for the winners of the Super Bowl championship game.

Even with the many other towels created over the years, the original Terrible Towel™ is still arguably the most popular and well known of the sports towels. Myron Cope trademarked his creation, and in 1996 he donated the trademark to the Allegheny Valley School which provides care and assistance to children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. Since 1996, proceeds of sales of The Terrible Towel™ and related merchandise have generated over $2.5 million US Dollars for the school.

Myron Cope was the radio broadcaster for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 35 years. He retired in 2004 and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2005. Cope died on 27 February 2008 at the age of 79 years old.

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Discussion Comments
By anon303000 — On Nov 12, 2012

Agreed. The Vancouver Canucks did not copy the Pittsburgh Steelers! The Vancouver towel had a completely different meaning as it started when the coach at the time (Roger Neilson) placed a white towel on the end of a hockey stick and held it up to signify surrender to the officials after a disputed call. This was then picked up by the fans as a rallying cry leading them all the way to the finals (which they lost).

By anacan — On Apr 21, 2010

I appreciate your comments, but the information from this article was culled from a variety of sources.

By anon78283 — On Apr 17, 2010

This is an incorrect and shameful article. The vancouver Canucks did not copy the "gimmick". It came from an event of surrender to awful referees. That is the true sole behind the towel. The terrible towel is a cheap gimmick and inspired nothing, because no one wanted to follow in the footsteps of commercialism garbage.

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