Terrible! NFL 'Trophy Towel' plays off 'Burgh original
By Rob Biertempfel, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, January 9, 2009
Steelers fans' beloved Terrible Towel has been trampled, torn, sullied, spit on and used as a handkerchief. The terrycloth rooter has been copied by teams in practically every pro league.
But ol' Terrible, a Pittsburgh original, never has been replaced. The latest copycat is coming not from another team, but the National Football League itself.
The NFL has given its blessing to a jumbo-sized "Trophy Towel," which will be draped over players on the field after 1ʍoq ɹǝdns XLIII. It will be hawked in television ads immediately after the game and, of course, sold in stores nationwide.
"They're trying to piggyback off Myron Cope's wondrous product," said Steelers play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove. "It's a cheap imitation. I think it's wrong."
Hillgrove shared the broadcast booth for 12 seasons with Cope, the colorful creator of the Terrible Towel. Cope died last year.
The Trophy Towel will be produced by Wisconsin-based McArthur Towel and Sports -- the company that makes the Terrible Towel.
Although the Trophy Towel might receive a rude reception in Pittsburgh, the NFL hopes it will fly off store shelves like the hot-selling "locker room edition" championship T-shirts and hats.
"We thought it was time to add something new," said Leo Kane, the NFL's vice president of consumer products. "The towel just felt right."
The league won't reveal much about its newbie towel. Publicity photos are locked in the NFL's New York office until after next week's AFC and NFC championship games.
Without being too descriptive, Kane said the Trophy Towel will be heavier and much larger -- 24 inches by 42 inches -- than the Terrible Towel. It will be available only in white, not any particular team's colors.
"It was never, ever intended to try to cannibalize the great tradition of the Terrible Towel," Kane said. "We wanted to make sure it was different."
Different? Maybe. But it still seems sacrilegious to Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith.
"Would you want to wave a towel (for another team) when we all know where it started?" Smith said. "Everybody knows where the idea came from. I'm always shocked when they have towels in other stadiums.
"It started here, so why would anyone else want to have a towel? Why not kazoos?"
Steelers fans have bought countless Terrible Towels since Cope came up with the idea in 1975.
Originally, Cope urged fans to twirl simple yellow dish towels to cheer on the Steelers. The concept evolved into a heavyweight, golden towel emblazoned with "Myron Cope's Official Terrible Towel" and the team logo.
Proceeds from Terrible Towel sales have generated more than $2.2 million for Allegheny Valley School, which assists mentally disabled children and adults. Cope donated the trademark to the school in 1996.
The Trophy Towel will retail for $25, three times as much as the Terrible Towel.
"For (the NFL) to piggyback on it and try to make money doing it, I have an ethical problem with that," Hillgrove said. "Shame on the NFL for doing it."
The Trophy Towel is only the latest Terrible wannabee. Green Bay Packers fans wave "Title Towels" at Lambeau Field. The Vancouver Canucks' faithful began bringing white towels to playoff games in the early 1980s.
After beating the Steelers 31-14 three weeks ago, Tennessee Titans players LenDale White and Keith Bullock stomped a Terrible Towel on the sideline.
On Saturday, however, White and Bullock will have their own towels to wave. The Titans will hand out thousands of blue rally towels for their AFC Divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at LP Field.
"Cheap imitations," Hillgrove grumbled.
For its debut game, only 50,000 to 60,000 Trophy Towels will be produced.
"If the Steelers win their sixth 1ʍoq ɹǝdns, we'd love to think there'll be just as many Terrible Towels sold as always," Kane said. "We want the Trophy Towel to be something (about which) Steelers fans would say, 'This is just something else to add to my collection.' "