Steelers fans stockpile Terrible Towels for Super Bowl

Updated: January 31, 2006, 6:03 AM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- For Steelers fans, rooting for the home team is almost unimaginable without a Terrible Towel. Some stores are even running out of them.

The towel was conceived as "a gimmick that would more closely involve the fans with the team," said Myron Cope, a retired sportscaster who teamed with a promotion director at WTAE radio to invent the accessory in 1975.

The black-and-gold terry cloths have come to symbolize the Steel City and its storied football team.

As the Steelers prepare for Sunday's Super Bowl in Detroit, Terrible Towels again are essential for any true Steelers fan.

"Everyone just has to have a Terrible Towel," said Marcia Hellman, 45, who manages Mike Feinberg Co., a leading seller of Steelers paraphernalia. "It's part of the Steelers."

Hellman said the store, founded decades ago by her father, has temporarily run out of the towels in recent days; the demand has been the strongest she's seen in 20 years. Some customers have bought as many as 200 Terrible Towels at a time.

Ron Makay, a 40-year-old streetside vendor, said he sold 50 towels in roughly 20 minutes. Waving one, he said, is "the epitome" of Steelers support.

Cope wanted simple items to stir up the fans, "something that everybody has and that will not endanger the person sitting next to them or in front of them."

"I thought on it for a little bit and I said that's it, and we'll call it the Terrible Towel," he said. "And I'll be on radio and television yelling at people to bring out a yellow, gold or black towel to the game. And I'll say the Terrible Towel is poised to strike."

Cope said the towel's catchy name was the result of "a brainstorm" and could inspire "strange things" to happen to Steelers opponents.

"The Terrible Towel has mysterious connotations. ... You have to use your imagination," he said.

In 1996, Cope gave the Terrible Towel trademark to the Allegheny Valley School, a facility for the mentally retarded. Cope has an autistic son, Danny, who has lived at Allegheny Valley for more than 20 years.

Sales of the towels have generated more than $300,000 for the school this season and more than $1 million over the past nine years, said Dorothy Hunter Gordon, the school's chief development officer.

Tim Carey, merchandising manager for the Steelers, said there was "a frenzy" of demand and that they tended to sell in large numbers because of their low cost.

"Because it retails for seven or eight bucks, it's really pretty affordable," he said. "You have one on your car, you have one on your TV. You can have more than one."

McArthur Towel & Sports Co. of Baraboo, Wis., expects to produce nearly 1 million Terrible Towels this year, the largest number ever.

Other teams, including the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, have tried to introduce their own towels.

"Like all copycats, they flop," Cope said. "Maybe they (fans) sit on them and if they take them home they use them for dust rags."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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