Feb 8, 2009

All about Pittsburgh's Terible Towels

From the New York Times, here's the story behind Pittsburgh's Terrible Towels. The yellow towels were created by Pittsburgh broadcaster Myron Cope in 1975.
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 41.

“He’s never spoken,” Elizabeth Cope said. “Which is kind of funny, because Dad is known for his voice. It’s almost like the Terrible Towel is Danny’s silent voice.”

Hundreds of thousands of the towels — trademarked as “Myron Cope’s the Official Terrible Towel” — are sold every year, for about $7 each. Through the Steelers, who handle the marketing of the towels, the school receives a check every month, usually for tens of thousands of dollars.

A Super Bowl changes everything. The company that produces the towels, McArthur Towel & Sports of Baraboo, Wis., produced 450,000 of them last week, after the Steelers won the A.F.C. championship. The company expects to duplicate that this week before Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, its president, Gregg McArthur, said.

A Steelers victory would most likely lead to orders of at least 500,000 more for a pair of Super Bowl versions of the Terrible Towel, one with the score against the Cardinals, the other declaring the Steelers as six-time Super Bowl champions.

Before this season, Allegheny Valley School had received more than $2.5 million from the towels since 1996, said its chief executive officer, Regis Champ. Roughly $1 million of that came during and immediately after the 2005 season, when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. This season is likely to top that.


The idea for the towels came out of a 1975 meeting Cope had at WTAE, the Steelers’ flagship radio station where he was the voice of the Steelers. Executives wanted a promotional gimmick, something to raise the excitement level during the playoffs.

Pittsburgh’s blue-collar fans were not the pompom types. But towels were far more utilitarian, useful for wiping the seats or protecting against the chill. Cope dubbed them Terrible Towels. On air, he encouraged fans to bring gold or black towels to the first playoff game against the Colts. It seemed too gimmicky, until about half the crowd began waving them at the start of the game. The Steelers won their second consecutive Super Bowl, surrounded by a sea of swirling towels.

Soon they were trademarked and mass-produced. They have been imitated by other franchises, but usually they are handed out for free, and they feel both unoriginal and uninspired by comparison. Even the N.F.L. could not contain itself; it is selling a white “Trophy Towel” to fans of both the Steelers and the Cardinals.

Read the full article...

No comments: