In a wacky wild card weekend of unbelievable upsets, the Cleveland Browns upended the favored Pittsburgh Steelers, defeating Pittsburgh in a game that looked to be on its way to a lopsided blowout. Now, Steelers fans who hoped their Terrible Towels would be on hand for cheering Pittsburgh through the playoffs will have to use them for crying over the game.
In case you missed it, the Steelers fumbled a snap in the first few seconds of the game, with hilarious results. Watching the fumble, I couldn’t help but remember the infamous opening fumble at Super Bowl XLVIII, the harbinger of a complete collapse by the Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks as Denver lost in a 43-8 rout.
This was just the beginning of a first quarter that couldn’t end soon enough for Pittsburgh. Credit the Steelers with fighting back despite Cleveland closing out the first quarter with a powerful 28-0 lead. Cleveland held on, winning 48-37, a reminder that it’s difficult to dig yourself out of a four-touchdown deficit. Steeler fans and pundits will be taking a long look at this season’s complete collapse as they use their Terrible Towels for crying towels.
An ironically-named New York Times article, “CHAMPIONSHIPS; The Steelers’ Towel Is Not for Crying” reveals the purpose and amazing origin of the Terrible Towel. The towel is the brainchild of Myron Cope, aka “The Voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
“It was 1975,” Cope recalled today, “and I was broadcasting for radio station WTAE. They told me to come up with a gimmick. I told them I’m not a gimmick guy. They said, ‘Your contract expires in March.’ I’m a gimmick guy, I told them.”
The idea took off, with fans bringing black and gold towels to the December 27, 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Colts game. Legend has it that local department stores sold out of black and gold towels as fans embraced the good luck charm. On December 20, 1978, Gimbel’s Department Store began selling the first “Terrible Towel.”
Cope told fans to bring their black and gold towels to the game and as often happens, the idea became a piece of merchandise. No matter how you feel about the Steelers organization, the sales of the towel help fund the Merakey Allegheny School, which helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 1996, Cope donated the rights to the Terrible Towel to the school (which his autistic son Danny attended).
Despite the towel’s association with the Steelers’ six Super Bowl titles, even Cope understands it is no guarantee of victory. The late, great sports journalist and sportscaster noted back in 1995:
“The towel was 6-0 during the 70’s. But since then it was 0-2. But it wasn’t the fault of the towel. It was the fault of the Steelers. The towel doesn’t help those who can’t help themselves.”
It’s not the end of the world for the Steelers but it is the end of the season. Thankfully those crying towels are there and will help a good cause in the process.