Photo of a Pittsburgh Steelers fan waving a yellow terrible towel at Heinz Field.

Image Credit: Daveynin (CC BY 2.0)

The Terrible Towel is a rally towel and an iconic piece of NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers history. The idea of the Terrible Towel was dreamed up by Myron Cope who served as the voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers for more than 30 years. The Terrible Towel made it’s debut on December 27, 1975 when the Steelers hosted the Baltimore Colts during the 1975 NFL Playoffs.

Several days before the game, Myron Cope and others at the local WTAE radio station were trying to think of a way to excite the Steelers fan base. The “gimmick” had to be something that Steelers fans had easy access to and could easily bring into Three Rivers Stadium.

During a broadcast, Cope asked Steelers fans to bring yellow or black dish towels to the stadium for the game. During warmups, only a few yellow towels were spotted throughout Three Rivers Stadium. However, as the Pittsburgh Steelers starting lineup was about to be announced, the Steelers fan base revealed more than 30,000 towels that they were hiding in their coats. The rest, as they say, was history. As it turns out, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were actually skeptical about the idea of the Terrible Towel at the beginning. The Steelers went on to defeat the Oakland Raiders and then the Dallas Cowboys during Super Bowl X. The victory over the Dallas Cowboys gave the Steelers their second consecutive Super Bowl victory. The Pittsburgh Steelers would go on to win four Super Bowls during the 1970’s and the "Steel Curtain" became known as one of the best defenses in NFL history. 

Unfortunately, many other NFL fan bases have tried to copy this legendary tradition. Every year, proceeds generated from the sale of Terrible Towels are donated to Allegheny Valley School; a network of group homes and campuses for mentally and intellectually disabled people in the Pittsburgh area. Myron Cope’s son Danny still attends Allegheny Valley School and was diagnosed with Autism at a young age. Allegheny Valley School is now the official owner of the trademark to the Terrible Towel.

Today, the Terrible Towel is known as “Myron Cope’s The Official Terrible Towel” and has several variations for special occasions. Before Pittsburgh Steelers home games, celebrities are often brought onto the field to help fire up the crowd during the Terrible Towel Twirl. Celebrities that have led the twirl in the past include Joe Manganiello, Alyssa Milano, Billy Gardel, Tamara Tunie, Wiz Khalifa, Buzz Aldrin as well as former Steelers players Franco Harris, Dermontti Dawson and Terry Bradshaw.

Legend has it that opposing players and teams that disrespect the Terrible Towel tend to experience bad luck afterward. Teams that have disrespected the Terrible Towel in the past include the Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. And the acts always seemed to come back to haunt those teams on the field. Another popular tradition is for Pittsburgh Steelers fans to display their Steeler pride by snapping photos of themselves and their towels at distinct locations around the world. Fans have displayed the Terrible Towel at places such as military stations in the Middle East, the top of Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro, the Great Wall of China, the Vatican City, the South Pole and the annual Groundhog’s Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. 




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