LANDOVER, Md. - The Terrible Towels made for the most embarrassing scenes in recent Washington Redskins memory. Owner Dan Snyder is determined to avoid a repeat.
Thousands of Pittsburgh Steelers fans dominated the lower bowl of the Redskins stadium during the visitors' 23-6 win on a Monday night last season. Steelers players, realizing their unexpected home-crowd advantage, began waving their arms to encourage more cheers. The noise was such that the Redskins had to resort to a silent snap count in shotgun formation.
The view from the sideline below and from Snyder's 50-yard-line box above was discouraging: a sea of twirling yellow towels - during a prime-time game on national television, no less.
"You see it. Believe me, you see it," receiver Antwaan Randle El recalled this week.
To counter another expected Steelers invasion - Pittsburgh fans travel well, even in preseason - the Redskins are distributing 50,000 "Redskins Rally towels" for tonight's rematch. The game will be an exhibition; the battle for towel supremacy in the seats will be real.
"I think it's great for fans," Redskins coach Jim Zorn said. "I think it's fun that we're doing the same thing. It's a preseason game, but you know what? We have great fans. Dan wants to continue to show his support and his enthusiasm for this team and this community."
Of course, one difference is that the Redskins are having to resort to a giveaway to reclaim the atmosphere in their own stadium. Steelers fans have always had to buy their towels - currently retailing for $7.99 - with proceeds going to charity.
Told of the Redskins' plans, Steelers safety Ryan Clark - who used to play for Washington - said simply: "We're still going to beat them."
That's an unusual guarantee for a preseason game, and one that's likely to be forgotten once all the starters have been removed. Both teams are expected to have their first-stringers on the field for more or less a quarter.
Besides, for the Redskins, merely scoring would be an improvement from last week, when they were shut out 23-0 by the Baltimore Ravens.
"A lot of mistakes. We've got to cut that out," said running back Clinton Portis, who will make his preseason debut after sitting out last week. "It is really not the points - of course, we need to score more points and we want to come out of these games with wins - but at the same time we can't have penalties, we can't have mental lapses."
The Steelers, coming off a 20-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals, are expected to play without Ben Roethlisberger, who has a foot ailment. He got stepped on by a lineman at training camp this week, but the injury isn't thought to be serious.
Much of the game's emphasis will be on the usual jostling for roster spots. Both coaches want to see more from the backups, especially the rookies.
"We need to play harder, we need to play faster, we need to play smarter," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said.
At least the fans should be in regular-season form, with all that towel-waving going on.
"Burgundy towels are a great idea," Randle El said. "But the bottom line is we've got to play on the field."