Danny Cope & Allegheny Valley School – The Legacy of The Terrible Towel…

Myron Cope partnered with Gimbels department store to produce and market the first official version of The Terrible Towel for the 1978 playoffs.

While The Terrible Towel was the first rally towel, it is not a traditional rally towel. Whereas most rally towels are handed out for free at games, The Terrible Towel has always been sold since it’s initial licensing and merchandising in December 1978. Purchasing a Terrible Towel is a right of passage for Steelers fans. Fans hold onto their towels and use them for years, and often times you can tell how long a person has been part of Steelers Nation just by looking at their towel. Most Steeler fans have an arsenal of towels, but there is always that one towel, rugged and worn with cracking and flaking screen print, that is the g0-to towel with the best mojo. It’s the towel that has been waved in rain and snow, twirled furiously in glorious victories and covered one’s face in agonizing defeat. While most rally towels litter the stands after a game, The Terrible Towel is securely attached to its owner’s waistband, and pleas for finding lost towels have been known to appear in the classified sections of local newspapers. Just like there is etiquette for storing the American flag, each fan has their own unique protocol for storing towels between use. After all, The Terrible Towel isn’t a rally towel – it is the flag of Steelers Nation.

Myron Cope helped to raise millions of dollars for the Autism Society of Pittsburgh

Over its forty-year existence, The Terrible Towel has relatively maintained the same modest price point since it hit the Gimbels’ sales floor back on December 21, 1978. For Myron Cope, the towel’s creator, it wasn’t about getting rich off theidea. In fact, it is believed that he never took a cent from the sale of the towels. Cope always saw The Terrible Towel as a “positive force”, both on and off the field. The very first advertisement for the towel in the Pittsburgh Press on December 20, 1978 stated that “a portion of each purchase will be donated to a charity of Mr. Cope’s choice.” Cope donated his proceeds initially to the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and later to the Allegheny Valley School. Both organizations were near and dear to Cope and his family.

Danny Cope 

For over 50 years, Allegheny Valley School has provided facilities and programs for people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Myron Cope and his wife Mildred had their son Danny in January 1968. By 1970, when Danny was 2 years old, the Copes realized that Danny had a severe mental disability and would need care for the rest of his life. At first, the Copes were told Danny was severely autistic, but at the time little was known about autism (it later turned out he was severely brain damaged which led him to display several autistic traits). In 1972, when Danny was 4, a doctor recommended that he be institutionalized in a place where autism was understood and could provide around-the-clock care. The Copes were given a list of five institutions in the Northeast, and they drove around to each one. The Copes walked in and right back out of most facilities they visited because the conditions were so bad. They finally found the Devereaux School in West Chester, PA which was suitable for Danny. However, the price tag was $18,000 per year. Luckily by this time Myron Cope had major medical health insurance benefits thanks to his broadcasting career with WTAE. In fact, Cope made the transition from writing to broadcasting in order to obtain major medical health insurance, a luxury not available to him as a self-employed freelance writer.

Franco Harris holding 5 year old Danny Cope during a visit to St. Peter’s Child Development Center in 1973

In 1982, Cope began looking for a new school for Danny that was closer to his home in Pittsburgh. Danny was currently residing at The Devereaux School, which was across the state just outside of Philadelphia. Another Pittsburgh broadcasting legend, Bob Prince, offered Cope a local recommendation – The Allegheny Valley School. Bob Prince (“The Gunner”) was the legendary voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates for 28 years from 1948 to 1975.  Like Cope, he had a unique delivery, a penchant for story telling, clever nicknames for players and zany catchphrases. And like Cope and his Terrible Towel, Prince was also the creator of good luck charms for the Pirates – the Green Weenie (1966) and Babushka Power (1975).  Prince was also a co-founder of the Allegheny Valley School and served as a director and executive vice president. More importantly, he was a dedicated fundraiser for the school, helping to raise $4 million.  Prince’s close friend and philanthropist Patricia Hillman Miller established the school in 1960 when a local orphanage, Pittsburgh Home for Babies, closed and adoptive families could not be found for 10 children who had intellectual disabilities. Today, the Allegheny Valley School is a private, non-profit organization with facilities and programs serving more than 900 children, adults and senior citizens with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. Cope followed Prince’s recommendation and enrolled Danny at the school in 1982, and he has resided there ever since.

Myron Cope/Foge Fazio Golf Tournament for Autistic Children

Myron Cope, an avid golfer, co-founded the Cope/Fazio Golf Tournament for Autistic Children in 1981

The experience of institutionalizing Danny left an impression on Cope. As his broadcasting career took off, he was determined to find ways to use his fame and influence to raise money to improve the quality of life and care for for those with autism and severe mental disabilities. At the time of Danny’s enrollment into Allegheny Valley School, Cope had been raising money for the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and sat on their board of directors. The proceeds that he received from initial sales of The Terrible Towel were donated to the Autism Society, although at that point in time the amount was minimal compared to what the towel generates today. In 1981, Cope co-founded the Myron Cope/Foge Fazio Golf Tournament for Autistic Children. The two other co-founders were former Pitt football coach Foge Fazio and Frank Haller, who was Cope’s neighbor, friend and frequent golfing partner. The Myron Cope/Fage Fazio Memorial Invitational for Autism is now in it’s 37th year (as of 2017), taking place annually at the Montour Heights Country Club. It is the longest standing charity golf event in the state of Pennsylvania, and it has raised over $1.6 million for the Autism Society of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

The Vintage Grand Prix is entering its 35th year and has raised $4.3 million for Allegheny Valley School and Autism Society of Pittsburgh

When Danny enrolled at Allegheny Valley School in 1982, Cope focused his fundraising efforts towards the school. In 1983 he cofounded the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, a vintage sports car racing event that has become the largest in the nation. The event was the brainchild of Art McGovern and Mary Beth Gmitter who thought Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park would be the perfect venue for a vintage auto racing event. When they approached the city with the idea, approval of the event was contingent upon all money raised being donated to charity. Art and Mary immediately went to Cope, given his local fame and his autism advocacy, and Cope signed on. The city approved the event, and on September 3, 1983 the first Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix was held with all money raised from the event going to Allegheny Valley School and Autism Society of Pittsburgh. Donations in the inaugural 1983 event were $24,000. The event is now in it’s 35th year (as of 2017) and has grown into a 10-day, multi-venue event that attracts 250,000 spectators and in 2015 raised a record $400,000. All told, the event has raised $4.3 million dollars, split evenly between the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny Valley School.

The Terrible Towel & Allegheny Valley School

The Terrible Towel would have never lasted forty years without the promotional flair of its creator, Myron Cope

While the golf tournament and auto race have raised millions of dollars over the past 35 years and are still going strong, Cope’s most lasting and impactful contribution is The Terrible Towel. Cope never intended to get rich off of The Terrible Towel when he officially received the trademark in the summer of 1979. Since the towel’s initial release at Gimbels department store in December 1978, Cope donated his portion of the proceeds to the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and later to Allegheny Valley School (anything that wasn’t donated was set aside to cover legal costs of defending the trademark). While Cope had successfully fostered the growth of The Terrible Towel from a corporate boardroom gimmick to the good luck charm of the 70s Super Steelers, the ultimate longterm success of the towel was tied to the success of the Steelers. By 1982, when Cope enrolled his son Danny at the Allegheny Valley School, The Terrible Towel was no longer a hot-ticket item for Steelers fans. The Steelers dynasty was crumbling, and as the team’s popularity fizzled, so did the popularity of the towel. But Cope always viewed the towel as a “positive force” both on and off the field, and he was determined to not let it have the short life span inherent to all gimmicks. In order for the towel to be an effective conduit for money to flow to charity, fans needed to keep buying towels. While the Steelers struggled through the 1980s, Cope focused on his radio career and building his personal brand through his number-one-rated talk show. He kept fans engaged with the Steelers at a time when players like Louis Lipps and Mark Malone were the superstars on the team. Cope was the consummate promoter, and he leveraged the relationship and influence he built with his audience to try to bring back The Terrible Towel time and time again throughout the 80s and early 90s.

Terrible Towel Time Video Image

The Terrible Towel was created during the 1975 playoffs, but experienced an explosion in popularity during the 1978 playoffs when Myron Cope partnered with Gimbels to create the first officially licensed towel

In the beginning, the towel was reserved for home playoff games and Super Bowls. But after the Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons in 1980, Cope urged fans to wave The Terrible Towel at all 1981 regular season games in hopes that the towel’s magic would get the team back to the playoffs. However, the Steelers promptly dropped their 1981 season opener at home to the Kansas City Chiefs in heartbreaking fashion. Leading 33-30 at the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, and merely running out the clock with the ball on the Chiefs 28 yard line, Bradshaw fumbled the ball away as he went to hand it off to Franco Harris (the Steelers had eight fumbles and two interception in the game). The Chiefs picked up the fumble and returned it 65 yards for the winning touchdown. Despite the loss, Cope urged fans to use their towels the following week as the Steelers traveled to Miami. But the result was the same as the Steelers got blown out 30-10. The Steelers and The Terrible Towel were 0-2, and the Steelers would finish the season missing the playoffs for the second straight year. Fans stopped twirling their towels, and Gimbels (the sole licensed producer and retailer of the towel at that time) stopped aggressively marketing the towel.

1982-Steelers-Chargers-Terrible-Towel-3

The Terrible Towel made one last hurrah during the strike shortened 1982 season, when the Steelers played the Chargers in the playoffs at home. The Steelers lost, and the Terrible Towel faded away as the Steelers entered a rebuilding period.

Gimbels tried one final marketing push at the conclusion of the strike-shortened 1982 season when the Steelers hosted the Chargers in the playoffs at Three Rivers Stadium. Cope called on fans to bring their Terrible Towels to the game, reminding them of the towel’s perfect 9-0 record in home playoff games and Super Bowls. But the Steelers lost another heartbreaker, as Dan Fouts led the Chargers back from an 11 point fourth quarter deficit, throwing a go-ahead touchdown with one minute on the clock. It was the first home playoff loss ever for The Terrible Towel. Gimbels stopped marketing and producing the towel, and fans either threw their towels away or buried them deep in storage.

The shine of the Super Bowl dynasty had officially faded as aging superstars like Jack Ham and Lynn Swann began retiring and there was no one available to fill their shoes. After having some of the greatest drafts in the early 70s, the Steelers drafts of the late 70s and early 80s were filled with busts. Terry Bradshaw was nearing the end of his career and underwent elbow surgery shortly after the playoff loss to the Chargers. Despite Bradshaw’s questionable health, the Steelers decided against drafting local Pitt star Dan Marino and instead focused on defense, selecting  Gabe Rivera in the first round of the 1983 draft. Just over a month into the 1983 season, Rivera was paralyzed in an automobile accident. Bradshaw’s elbow injury was more serious than initially thought, and he was forced to miss the first 14 games of the

1983 season. When he returned in a Week 15 matchup against the Jets, he re-injured the elbow in the second quarter and never played another snap in the NFL.  Despite the devastating setbacks, quarterback Cliff Stoudt led the Steelers to a 9-2 start, but Stoudt and the Steelers dropped 4 of their final 5 games and limped into the playoffs at 10-6. The Los Angeles Raiders put the Steelers out of their misery in the Divisional Playoff game at the LA Coliseum, blowing them out 38-10.

1992-Bills-Steelers-Terrible-Towel

The Terrible Towel came out of storage when the Steelers hosted the Bills in the 1992 Divisional Playoff. It was the first home playoff game at Three Rivers since 1982.

In 1984, the Steelers won the division title with a 9-7 record in a very weak AFC Central. They stunned the Broncos in the divisional playoff, but were completely overpowered by Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship. Cope never called for The Terrible Towel since both playoff games were on the road, and despite another relatively successful season, fans were largely disinterested in a team in transition.

The Steelers would miss the playoffs for the next four seasons, and officially bottomed-out in 1988 with a 5-11 record. Only once during this time did Cope call for the towel. During the 1985 season, the Steelers entered the midpoint of the season at 3-5. But they won three games in a row and entered their Week 12 matchup against the Redskins in first place in the AFC Central at 6-5. Cope urged fans to bring their Terrible Towels to the game. The result was another loss for the towel, as the Redskins won 30-23 and the Steelers dropped out of first place in the AFC Central. The Steelers would finish the season losing 4 of their final 5 games, and finish 7-9. After the November 24, 1985 loss to the Redskins, The Terrible Towel entered its longest period of hibernation. It took almost five years to the day for Cope to call for its resurrection.

1993-MNF-Bills-Steelers

During the 1993 season, The Terrible Towel was back in production. The newly designed towel made its national debut on Monday Night Football when the Steelers avenged their playoff to the Bills in front of a record crowd at Three Rivers.

In 1989 the Steelers opened the season with back-to-back blowout losses to the Browns and Bengals, and it appeared the team was heading for a fifth straight season without a playoff appearance. But the Steelers turned it around, winning 5 of their final 6 games to finish 9-7, and they snuck into the playoffs. The Steelers traveled to Houston and defeated the Oilers in the Wild Card game 26-23 on a 50 yard field goal by Gary Anderson in overtime. For the first time in several years enthusiasm returned to Pittsburgh. Steelers merchandise, which had been collecting dust on store shelves, began selling once again (side note: as of 1992, the most popular selling Steelers jersey was Jack Lambert, who had retired 8 seasons earlier). Cope discussed with his lawyer the possibility of once again marketing The Terrible Towel. In 1986, Gimbels had gone out of business, so no one currently held the license to produce and market the towel. But with only a week before the Steelers Divisional Playoff game with the Broncos, there wasn’t enough time. Also, the Steelers were the lowest seed, so even if they upset Denver on the road (the Steelers were 10 point underdogs), the AFC Championship would also be away. So Cope decided against putting the towel back into production. But he did get Bubby Brister to agree to wear a commemorative edition towel from the Steelers Super Bowl XIV victory over the LA Rams on his waist. However, prior to the game Brister found the towel to be too bulky and didn’t wear it. The Steelers squandered  a late fourth quarter lead but still had the ball with just over two minutes left. Needing to get in field goal range for a Gary Anderson game winning kick, Brister couldn’t handle a bad snap on third down and the Broncos recovered, sealing a 24-23 come-from-behind victory. Despite the loss, fans appreciated the Steelers effort
to salvage a season that began disastrously and break the four year playoff drought. Interest in the team was starting to grow again as promising young players like Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson gave fans confidence in the future. Cope saw the opportunity to resurrect The Terrible Towel was near.

1994 Steelers Browns Week 16

The Terrible Towel was out in force during the Steelers 1994 Week 16 matchup with the Browns. The Steelers victory clinched the AFC Central and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

In 1990, Cope was working behind the scenes with his lawyers to revive The Terrible Towel in hopes that the Steelers would make it back to the playoffs and possibly have a home playoff game. After defeating the Jets in Week 12, the Steelers headed into their Week 13 showdown with the Bengals in a three-way tie for the AFC Central division lead (Steelers, Bengals and Oilers were all 6-5). The Steelers had dropped five straight games to the Bengals, but if they could break the losing streak, they would jump to the top of the division. Also, a victory against the Bengals would give Chuck Noll his 200th victory as the Steelers head coach. Cope saw this as the perfect opportunity to revive The Terrible Towel. For the first time since the 1982 season, the towel officially returned with a very limited production run and marketing campaign. Cope partnered with Kaufmann’s to produce, market and retail the towel. The new Terrible Towels were sold exclusively at various Kaufmann’s department stores in the greater Pittsburgh area starting on Monday November 26, 1990, the week leading up to the December 2nd matchup with the Bengals. Cope promoted the towel on his talk show throughout the week and asked fans to bring old towels, new towels or just blank towels. It was the first time in five years that Cope called for the towel (the last time was November 24, 1985 when the Steelers faced the Redskins). Just like in 1985, The Terrible Towel failed to deliver another key win as the Bengals beat the Steelers 16-12 and knocked them out of first place. Despite the loss, the Steelers won 3 of their final 4 games and finished 9-7, the same record as the Bengals and Oilers. However, due to tiebreakers resulting from head-to-head matchups, the Steelers finished 3rd and missed the playoffs. The Terrible Towel’s resurgence in 1990 was limited to one game. But for the first time, the Allegheny Valley School was the beneficiary of the proceeds that Cope received from the limited sales at Kaufmann’s.

1994-Buckner-Steelers-Browns-Playoff

During the 1994 Divisional Playoff against the Browns, Brentson Buckner got fans fired up during player introductions by twirling two towels. The 1994 playoffs marked the official revival of The Terrible Towel.

For the next two years Cope did not license the towel, so once again no towels were produced or sold. In 1991 the Steelers regressed, going 7-9 and missing the playoffs. Chuck Noll retired a week after the Steelers season finale victory against the Browns.  But in 1992 the Steelers bounced-back and went 11-5 under rookie head coach Bill Cowher. After leading the Steelers to their best record since 1979, Cowher was named AP Coach of the Year, which was an accolade that Chuck Noll had never received.  In Week 15 the Steelers backed into the AFC Central Division title after a loss to the Bears, their first division title since 1984. In their season finale, the Steelers defeated the Browns to lock up the number one seed in the AFC and secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  They played the Buffalo Bills at home in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. It was the Steelers first home playoff game since they lost to the Chargers on January 9, 1983, exactly ten years prior.  Cope once again called on fans to bring their old Terrible Towels to the game, or at least bring blank towels. He also released one of his famous parody videos to promote the towel, Achy Breaky Heart. The Steelers organization looked into producing 20,000 towels to hand out to fans at the game, but they were unable to find a printer in time. Nonetheless, fans responded and the stadium was filled with twirling towels. But once again, The Terrible Towel failed to deliver. The Bills routed the Steelers 24-3 and eventually marched to their third straight Super Bowl appearance. Despite the loss, the Steelers had turned the corner and finally looked like a perennial contender once again. Cope began working behind the scenes to bring the Terrible Towel back for good.

Mike Feinberg Co. was the licensed producer and distributor of The Terrible Towel for three seasons from 1993 through 1995

During the 1993 season, Cope struck a deal with Mike Feinberg Co. to produce and distribute the towel, while he still retained the trademark and received a royalty for each towel sold. Mike Feinberg’s is an iconic party supply/novelty store in Pittsburgh’s Strip District where it has been a staple since the mid-1950s. They have always carried a wide variety of Steelers merchandise, and ironically had been sued twice by Cope (in 1980 and 1988) for producing and selling counterfeit Terrible Towels at their shop. Cope officially called on fans to bring the towel to the Steelers Monday night showdown with the Buffalo Bills on November 15, 1993. The Terrible Towel propelled the Steelers to a 23-0 shutout, the first win for the towel since the Steelers Super Bowl XIV victory over the Los Angeles Rams on January 20, 1980. But the Steelers finished the season 9-7 and traveled to Kansas City for the Wild Card game, where they lost in overtime 27-24. As a result of the Steelers mediocre season, not many towels were sold and Feinberg actually lost money on the licensing deal . Despite low demand, the towel was being distributed to multiple retailers for the first time. In addition to carrying the towel in their Strip District store, Mike Feinberg was supplying them to department stores throughout Western Pennsylvania including Hills, Kaufmann’s and JC Penny, as well as local team merchandise stores like Sports Deli/The Pro Sports Store. Previously Cope had struck licensing deals with Gimbels (1978 – 1986) and Kaufmann’s (1990) where they had exclusive rights to produce, market and retail The Terrible Towel. But the licensing deal with Mike Feinberg required distribution to third-party retailers to expand the availability and access to the towel. It also allowed these third-party retailers to market the towel in their local advertising throughout Western Pennsylvania, thus amplifying the marketing reach that previously had been confined to local Pittsburgh newspapers.

To promote The Terrible Towel for the 1992 Divisional Playoff game against the Bills, Cope released one his famous music videos

The 1994 season marked the official resurgence and permanent return of The Terrible Towel. Stores were stocked with them from the previous year when they couldn’t give them away. The Steelers had high expectations going into the 1994 season, but were only 5-3 after a week 9 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. But then the Steelers went on a seven game win streak, including a pivotal Week 16 matchup on December 18, 1994 against Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns.  Cope called for the towel to make a rare regular season appearance as the Steelers needed to beat their hated divisional rival to clinch the AFC Central and lock up a number one seed and home field advantage in the playoffs. The Steelers beat the Browns and went on to finish the season 12-4, one game ahead of the 11-5 Browns. Terrible Towels were disappearing from retailers’ shelves, and Mike Feinberg was shipping thousands to keep with growing demand. By the time the Steelers squared off with the Browns again in the Divisional Round of the playoffs at Three Rivers on January 7, 1995,  most stores were completely out of stock. Mike Feinberg’s vendors couldn’t dye and print them fast enough. The stands at Three Rivers were full of twirling towels when Steelers beat down the Browns 29-9 to advance to their first AFC Championship in ten years. When the Steelers faced the Chargers the following week in the AFC Championship game, the stands were engulfed in Terrible Towels….a site reminiscent of the Steelers last Super Bowl run in the 1979 season. The Chargers shocked the Steelers 17-13 in a stunning upset that many consider the worst in conference championship history (the Chargers were 9.5 point underdogs). Despite the loss, The Terrible Towel was officially back. Cope’s persistence had paid off, and he was receiving record royalty payments on sales of the towels, which he donated to the Allegheny Valley School.

2-6-06 Allegheny Valley School Terrible Towel Ad

In 1996 Myron Cope gifted the trademark of The Terrible Towel to Allegheny Valley School, and since then the organization has received nearly $5 million in royalties.

In 1995, the Steelers started out slow once again, falling to 3-4 after a Week 8 loss to the Bengals. But just like the year before, the Steelers caught fire. They went on an 8 game win streak and clinched the AFC Central with an 11-5 record.  The Steelers rolled through the Divisional Playoff  game at home against the Bills and then survived a last second hail mary attempt by Jim Harbaugh to defeat the Colts in the AFC Championship and advance to their first Super Bowl since the 1979 season. Terrible Towels were prominent at regular season games, and once again the stadium was a sea of twirling towels once the playoffs started. Although the Steelers lost the Super Bowl XXX to the Cowboys,  more than 300,000 towels were sold that season. Moving forward, there was no need for Cope to call for The Terrible Towel as it became a staple at all Steelers games.

In August 1996, with The Terrible Towel back for good, Cope turned over trademark ownership of the towel and all rights to its royalties to the Allegheny Valley School. As part of the transfer, Cope only requested that the money be spent on things that directly impacted the quality of life of each person at the school, rather than administrative items. A month later, in September 1996,the Steelers announced that they had acquired the merchandising rights from Mike Feinberg Co. This was a big boost for The Terrible Towel moving forward because the Steelers had the ability to better market and produce the towel, and they had the legal capacity to fend off counterfeiters. The Terrible Towel had officially become the everlasting iconic symbol of Steeler Nation.

From 2000 through 2012, McArthur Towel and Sports contracted with Chippewa River Industries to print The Terrible Towel

In 1997, the Steelers added stickers to each towel to let people know that a portion of the proceeds from their purchase goes to supporting the Allegheny Valley School. In 1999, the stickers were replaced by more prominent cardboard hang tags, which exist to this day. Prior to 1997, most consumers didn’t know that they were supporting the Allegheny Valley School when they purchased a Terrible Towel. In the first 18 years that Cope held the trademark on The Terrible Towel (1979 through 1995), approximately $100,000 was donated to Allegheny Valley School and Autism Society of Pittsburgh. In the 13 years from when Cope gave Allegheny Valley School the trademark (1996) to the time he died (2008), sales of the towel generated royalties of $2.2 million for the school. That number has now grown to almost $5 million. In the Super Bowl winning season of 2005, sales of the towel netted a windfall of $1 million for the school just in that season alone. The school receives about $0.70 from every $3.50 the Steelers collect when they sell a towel to a major retailer, and those retailers subsequently mark them up to the $6 to $8 range. The school also collects royalties off of any other merchandise bearing The Terrible Towel logo. Moreover, when the Steelers acquired the license for the towel they eventually partnered with McArthur Towel and Sports to produce the towel. In turn, McArthur contracted with Chippewa River Industries to do the printing. Chippewa River Industries is a Wisconsin based company that employs people with mental and physical disabilities. Thanks to the Terrible Towel, Chippewa River was able to employ as many as 50 people dedicated to production of the towel. For Super Bowl XL, they printed 500,000 towels, and a few years later for Super Bowl XLIII, they printed over 750,000.

On November 1, 2015 the Steelers celebrated the 40th Anniversary of The Terrible Towel. During pre-game festivities, representatives from Allegheny Valley School thanked Steeler Nation for all of their support.

The Terrible Towel is indeed a “positive force” not only for the Steelers, but more importantly for those less fortunate, like Danny Cope. As a result of everything that Cope had done for special-needs advocacy, he was awarded with the American Institute for Public Service’s Jefferson Award in January 1999. But the biggest reward for Cope was seeing the stands full of Terrible Towels at every Steelers game.  The Terrible Towel was personal to Myron Cope. That is why he was so persistent in promoting the towel and trying to make it a lasting symbol of Steeler Nation. And that is why Steeler Nation has embraced it and doesn’t appreciate the towel being disrespected. On the field, the legacy of The Terrible Towel is 7 Super Bowl appearances and 5 Super Bowl rings since Cope introduced the towel for the very first time on the Channel 4 Evening News on December 21, 1975. Off the field, the legacy is much greater…millions of dollars raised in perpetuity to help thousands of people with severe mental disabilities to live a dignified, higher quality life. Without his son Danny, Myron Cope wouldn’t have developed close, personal ties to the Allegheny Valley School. And without the Allegheny Valley School, The Terrible Towel would have most likely disappeared along with the Steelers playoff aspirations in the 1980s.

 

 

Miami Dolphins White Hanky & Oakland Raiders Black Socks…

During the 1975 season, female Pirates fans (nicknamed the Babushka Brigade) waved babushkas when the team needed a boost

Legendary Pittsburgh Pirates KDKA broadcaster Bob Prince created The Green Weenie (1966) and Babushka Power (1975) to get fans more interested and involved in the games. Both gimmicks made the fans feel like they were part of the team’s success, and as a result, the gimmicks were highly successful and popular. In mid-December 1975, WTAE general manager Ted Atkins called Myron Cope into his office  and asked him to come up with a gimmick for the upcoming playoffs that would connect fans with the team and prove to sponsors that Cope had influence over his audience. There is little doubt that Prince’s success with Babushka Power just a few months earlier during the baseball season was the reason that Atkins called the meeting. Prince had proven that fans in Pittsburgh were receptive to gimmicks and calls to action.  And he had also shown that local businesses were eager to capitalize on the popular gimmicks in their advertising as well. Without Bob Prince and his Green Weenie and Babushka Power, there most likely would have never been a Terrible Towel. But there was another gimmick that influenced the creation of The Terrible Towel – the Miami Dolphins white hanky.

Miami Dolphins – White Hanky

In the 1970s, fans cheered on the Miami Dolphins by waving white handkerchiefs

During the 1970s, the AFC was dominated by the Steelers, Dolphins and Raiders. During the decade, they accounted for seven Super Bowl victories. Before the Steelers could break through and advance to their first Super Bowl in franchise history, they had to get past the Dolphins and Raiders. In 1972, the Steelers defeated the Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoff game on Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception. But they lost in the AFC Championship to the Miami Dolphins, who would go on to beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII and finish a perfect 17-0. As the Dolphins marched to perfection in 1972, they were cheered on by fans waving white handkerchiefs. During the 1971 season, Dolphins radio broadcaster Rick Weaver came up with the hanky gimmick, which he nicknamed “Hanky Power”.

Miami Dolphins play-by-play broadcaster Rick Weaver introduced the white hanky gimmick during the 1971 season

Weaver was broadcasting San Francisco 49er games prior to joining Miami radio station WIOD 610-AM as the Dolphins play-by-play announcer for the 1971 season. He went on to become the longest tenured Miami Dolphins announcer in franchise history, spending 23 seasons behind the microphone and retiring at the conclusion of the 1993 season.  Weaver’s hiring in 1971 couldn’t have been more timely, as the Dolphins made it to the Super Bowl in his first three seasons behind the microphone.

The Dolphins inaugural season was 1966, and fans suffered through four losing seasons until Don Shula became head coach in 1970. That year the Dolphins went 10-4 after finishing the season on a six game win streak and advanced to the playoffs for the first time. They finished second behind Shula’s old team, the Baltimore Colts, in the newly formed AFC East. The Dolphins would lose their Divisional Playoff game against the Raiders, while the Colts would go on to defeat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V. In 1971, the Dolphins started off slow at 1-1-1 but then rattled off another six game win streak. They entered their Week 10 matchup with the division rival Colts holding a slim half-game lead over the defending Super Bowl champions.

Dolphin fans wave white hankies during the 1971 AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Colts

In the week leading up to the November 21, 1971 matchup with the Colts, Weaver and his station WIOD urged fans to bring white handkerchiefs to the game.  WIOD was attempting to show advertisers how many fans listened to the station and to show the influence the station had over their listening audience. White handkerchiefs were a cheap, readily available, utilitarian item that fans could easily bring to the game and wave. And they would be highly visible from Weaver’s perch in the press box and to the viewers at home on the telecast. Weaver and the radio station also wanted to gauge how many people in the stadium were listening to his broadcast. During the broadcast, Weaver would give fans the directive to wave their hankies. Back then it was commonplace for fans to bring portable pocket-sized transistor radios into the stadium and listen to the live game broadcast from their seats (especially for those fans sitting in the nosebleeds who couldn’t easily make out what was happening on the field). While transistor radios had been around since the late 1940s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that their price and size started shrinking substantially. By the 1970s, the popularity of portable transistor radios were equivalent to what an iPod would be today. By orchestrating the handkerchief wave through his broadcast from the press box, Weaver would be able to illustrate to the station and advertisers how many fans tuned into his game broadcasts and how popular transistor radios were among Dolphins fans.

Rick Weaver released his version of the white hanky during the 1972 season

When game day arrived, a record 75,312 fans packed the stadium. Weaver called on fans to wave their hankies after the Dolphins scored a touchdown, and an estimated 50,000 people responded as the stadium became a see of white handkerchiefs. The Dolphins beat the Colts 17-14 and took a firm grip on first place in the AFC East. What began as a stunt quickly became a ritual. The next week against the Bears the Orange Bowl was again filled to capacity with hanky-waving fans who propelled the Dolphins to their eighth straight win. The Dolphins went on to win their first division title in franchise history, and defeated the Colts one more time in the AFC Championship to advance to their first Super Bowl.

The Horrible Hankie was handed out at the 1981 AFC Championship game

Weaver tried capitalizing on the gimmick during the 1972 season by selling his version of the white hanky. He had 5,000 produced but claimed he didn’t sell a single one, as fans preferred to just bring their own hankies. The white hankies were prevalent at Dolphin games throughout the 1970s, but began disappearing toward the end of the decade. During the 1981 playoffs, the hanky made a comeback during the playoffs when the Dolphins faced the Chargers in the AFC Divisional Playoff. The Dolphins handed out “The Horrible Hankie” (named to mimic The Terrible Towel) to a sold-out Orange Bowl crowd.  The hankies got plenty of use in a shoot-out game that has since been nicknamed the “Epic in Miami”. The Dolphins fell behind 24-0 in the first quarter, but behind quarterback Don Strock they chipped away at the lead in the second quarter to pull within 24-10. With six seconds remaining in the first half and the ball on the Chargers 40 yard line, the Dolphins ran a successful  gimmick “hook and lateral” play that resulted in a touchdown as time expired. After scoring 17 unanswered points, the Dolphins went into the half only trailing 24-17 and had all the momentum on their side. The game eventually went deep into overtime tied 38-38, but the Chargers pulled it out with a field goal to win 41-38.

The Dolphins have handed out various versions of the white hanky at playoff games and to commemorate milestones

Since then, the Dolphins have handed out various versions of the white hanky at the stadium for playoff games or to commemorate milestones, like in 2012 to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 perfect season and in 2015 for the franchise’s 50th anniversary celebration.

 

Oakland Raiders – Black Socks

Raiders fans waved black socks and hankies during the 1974 Divisional Playoff against the Dolphins and AFC Championship against the Steelers

From 1967 – 1977, the Raiders won nine division titles and advanced to nine conference championships, but only appeared in two Super Bowls. In 1967 the Raiders had a breakout season as they went 13-1, won their first AFL Championship and  advanced to Super Bowl II where they lost to the Packers. The Raiders advanced to the AFL Championship in 1968 and 1969, but lost both times. After the merger in 1970, the Raiders continued to be one of the dominant teams in the NFL. However, they still couldn’t get over the hump and back to the Super Bowl. They lost the AFC Championship to the Colts in 1970 and got shocked by the upstart Steelers in the 1972 Divisional Playoff on Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception. In 1973, they beat the Steelers in the Divisional Playoff and made it back to the AFC Championship game, where they faced the Dolphins in front of 75,000 hanky waving fans at the Orange Bowl. The Dolphins crushed the Raiders 27-10 and advanced to their third straight Super Bowl, while the Raiders dropped to 1-4 in conference championships.

The Raiders radio network asked listeners to wave black socks during the 1974 Divisional Playoff against the Dolphins

In 1974, the Raiders won another division title with a 12-2 record, and the Divisional Playoff game was a
much anticipated rematch against the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Dolphins. This time the game was at the Oakland Coliseum. In the week leading up to the game, Raiders captain Gene Upshaw called on fans to bring black handkerchiefs to the game to taunt the Dolphins. According to Upshaw, “There was nothing more disturbing than walking into the Orange Bowl last year and have 80,000 screaming people waving those white hankies at you. You feel like your with the only 47 friends there are left in the world… We’re asking all the fans to give the Dolphins a taste of what it’s like to feel like you’re the only people here from your home town.” It was Oakland defensive end Horace Jones who came up with the idea for black handkerchiefs. In the 1973 AFC Championship game against the Dolphins, Jones was ejected in the final minutes, and when he left the field Dolphin fans all he could see were thousands of fans waving their white hankies at him. The Women’s Oakland Raiders Booster Club responded to the Raiders request and set up booths throughout the stadium where they handed out 5,000 black hankies to fans.

Clarence Davis’ game winning touchdown catch between three Dolphins defenders became known as the “Sea of Hands” play, and the 1974 Divisional Playoff is considered one of the best of all time.

Not to be outdone, the Raider’s radio network came up with the promotion “Sock it to the Dolphins Day” and asked listeners to bring black socks to the game to wave. This was retaliation against their Miami radio counterpart Rick Weaver and his white hanky gimmick. The response was so great that there was a shortage of black socks in Oakland, so fans were asked to bring anything black to wave, including rags and under garments. The Oakland Tribune declared the day of the game “Black Flag Day” and again urged fans to wear black and bring something black to wave.

Raiders fans responded, and the stands were full of waving black hankies and twirling black socks. The game would go down as one of the greatest in playoff history, and became known as the “Sea of Hands” game. Trailing the Dolphins 26-21 with two minutes left in the game and the ball on their own 32 yard line, Ken Stabler led the Raiders down inside the Dolphins 10 yard line with 35 seconds left. On 1st down and goal from the 8 yard line, Stabler dropped back and looked for star receiver Fred Biletnikoff in the right side of the end zone, but Biletnikoff was blanketed in coverage. Stabler stepped up in the pocket, and as he was being dragged down from behind by the Dolphins defensive end Vern Den Herder, he floated  a desperation pass into the left side of the end zone to Raiders running back Clarence Davis. Davis was surrounded by three Dolphins, but fought through a “sea of hands” to make the catch, and held onto the ball as Dolphins defensive end Manny Fernandez put a final hit on him as he went to the ground. The Raiders come-from-behind 28-26 victory ended the Dolphins dynasty and sent the Raiders to their second straight AFC Championship game.

Ken Stabler floats the game winning touchdown pass towards his running back Clarence Davis in the end zone as Dolphins defensive end Vern Den Herder trips him up from behind.

The Raiders hosted the Steelers in the AFC Championship, and Raiders fans once again waved black socks and handkerchiefs. The Raiders held onto a 10-3 lead entering the fourth quarter. But the Steelers dominated the final quarter and cruised to a 24-13 victory, advancing to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. In 1975 the Raiders advanced to their third straight AFC Championship, but once again lost to the Steelers. Finally in 1976 the Raiders would get over the hump, defeating the Steelers to win the AFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl XI against the Vikings, which they won 32-14. Their rivalry with the Steelers during the 1970s was one of the fiercest in NFL history. The teams squared off in the playoffs in five consecutive seasons from 1972 through 1976, including three straight AFC Championship matchups. In the end, the Steelers went 4-2 during the 1970s in AFC Championship games and won all four Super Bowls they played in. Despite appearing in five straight AFC Championship games from 1973 through 1977, the Raiders only had one Super Bowl appearance and victory to show for it.

The Terrible Towel

The Dolphins white hanky created during the 1971 season spawned the Raiders black hanky and socks in the 1974 playoffs. And both gimmicks undoubtedly influenced the creation of The Terrible Towel for the 1975 playoffs. Myron Cope and the Steelers saw first-hand how these gimmicks galvanized their respective fanbases and created a level of enthusiasm in the stands unparalleled at other NFL stadiums.

1973 Dolphins Steelers MNF Video Image

Dick Anderson gave Dolphins fans plenty of opportunities to wave their white handkerchiefs against the Steelers on Monday Night Football in 1973.

In Week 12 of the 1973 season, the Steelers traveled to Miami to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Dolphins on Monday Night Football. It was a rematch of the 1972 AFC Championship game in which the undefeated Dolphins beat the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, and eventually won Super Bowl VII and capped the only perfect season in NFL history. It was the Steelers first trip to the Orange Bowl since November 14, 1971,  which was just one week before Rick Weaver called on Dolphins fans to wave white handkerchiefs during the November 21, 1971 divisional showdown with the Baltimore Colts. Dolphins fans waved their white hankies for the Monday Night Football cameras and unnerved Steelers third-string quarterback Joe Gilliam, who in his second season, was making his first career NFL start. Terry Bradshaw had been benched in the second half of the Steelers Week 6 matchup with the New York Jets. Trailing 14-12 entering at the end of the third quarter, backup quarterback Terry Hanratty (Terry No. 2) replaced Bradshaw and brought the Steelers back for a 26-14 win. The following week in a divisional matchup against the Bengals, Bradshaw assumed his starting role, but dislocated his shoulder in the second quarter and missed the next four weeks of action. Hanratty stepped in and guided the Steelers, but in Week 11 against the Browns he sprained his wrist on the third play of the game and was replaced by Gilliam.

Joe Gilliam got his first NFL start against the Dolphins on Monday Night Football in Week 12 of the 1973 season, as Terry Bradshaw and Terry Hanratty nursed injuries.

Bradshaw suited up for the Monday Night showdown with the Dolphins, but Noll gave Gilliam the starting nod since Bradshaw wasn’t fully recovered from his injury. Between the glare of the national spotlight and the roar of nearly 70,000 hanky-waving fans, Gilliam was rattled from the start and never gained his composure. He went 0-7 with three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) in just under one quarter of play. By the time Bradshaw replaced Gilliam on the final play of the first quarter, the Steelers were facing a daunting 20-0 deficit. Bradshaw didn’t fair much better, as he threw two interceptions of his own in the first half (one returned for a touchdown). Dolphins safety Dick Anderson had four interceptions in the first half, including two that he returned for touchdowns (and another that he returned to the 2 yard line). The Steelers trailed 30-3 at halftime, but they clawed back in the second half as Bradshaw found some rhythm. The Steelers scored 23 unanswered points in the second half and silenced the hanky-waving Miami crowd, but the hole they had dug in the first half was just too deep. The Dolphins prevailed 30-26, and the Steelers lost their third straight game and fell into a three way tie in the AFC Central with the Bengals and Browns. The Steelers would finished the 1973 season tied for the AFC North lead with the Bengals. The Bengals however owned the tiebreaker, so the Steelers settled for the Wild Card berth and faced the Raiders for the second straight season in the Divisional Playoff, this time on the road in Oakland. There would be no miracles for the Steelers this time around as the Raiders bounced back from the heartbreak of the Immaculate Reception a year earlier and routed the Steelers 33-14.

The Steelers trailed the Raiders 10-3 entering the fourth quarter of the 1974 AFC Championship. But the Steelers scored three touchdowns in the final quarter, including this Lynn Swann TD reception that put the Steelers on top for good.

The following year in the 1974 playoffs, the Steelers looked like they were going to host the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship at Three Rivers Stadium. But the Raiders come-from-behind win against the Dolphins on the “Sea of Hands” play with 26 seconds remaining in the Divisional Playoff gave them home-field advantage for the AFC Championship. For the third year in a row, the Steelers faced-off against the Raiders in the playoffs, and for the second straight season they traveled to Oakland. The Steelers were greeted at the Oakland Coliseum by an energized capacity crowd twirling the same black hankies and socks that a week earlier had been used to deliver the miracle win over the Dolphins. The first half was a defensive slugfest, with the Steelers and Raiders trading field goals and entering halftime tied  3-3. While the Steelers found success with their running game (out-gaining the Raiders 224-29 on the ground), the Raiders went to the air (out-gaining the Steelers 271-95). With just over 5 minutes left in the third quarter, Ken Stabler connected with  Cliff Branch on a 38 yard bomb to the left corner of the end zone. The touchdown put the Raiders up 10-3 and injected new life into the sock twirling Raiders fans.

But the Steelers answered right back on their ensuing possession, marching methodically down inside the Dolphins 10 yard line as time expired in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Franco Harris ran it in from 7 yards out to tie the game at 10-10. On the Raiders next possession, Jack Ham picked off Ken Stabler for the second time on the day and returned it to the Raiders 9 yard line. Bradshaw then hit Lynn Swann in the back of the end zone to put the Steelers up for the first time 17-10 with just under 12 minutes remaining. The Raiders would cut into the lead a few minutes later with a George Blanda field goal that made the score 17-13 with just under 8 minutes to play. The Raiders had the ball on their 20 yard line with just under 2 minutes to play. But Stabler through his third interception on the day, this time to Steelers cornerback J.T. Thomas who returned it to the Raiders 24 yard line with one minute left. The raucous Raiders crowd who moments earlier had been twirling their black hankies and socks in hopes of a second straight miracle, now headed for the exits. The Steelers were content to just run out the clock, but Franco Harris found a hole and and jaunted 21 yards for his second touchdown, sealing a 24-13 Steelers victory.

It was the Steelers first AFC Championship win in franchise history, and two weeks later in New Orleans the Steelers would win their first Super Bowl, defeating the Vikings 16-6 in Super Bowl IX. It was the only time the Steelers won a Super Bowl without The Terrible Towel waving them on. The Terrible Towel wasn’t even a thought in Myron Cope’s head at the conclusion of the 1974 championship season, but the seeds for its creation had been planted. A year later on December 13, 1975 the Steelers beat the Bengals in Week 13 to clinch the AFC North and home-field advantage in the playoffs. During the week that followed,  Cope’s bosses at WTAE called him into a meeting to come up with a gimmick that he and the station could promote for the playoffs that would get Steelers fans energized and engaged, and at the same time show how much influence the station had over its audience. Something that would turn fans from mere spectators into active participants who felt like they had direct influence over events on the field. Something utilitarian that every fan owned or could obtain easily at little cost. Something that could be invoked when the Steelers needed a boost. Something very similar to the Dolphins white hanky, the Raiders black socks and the Pittsburgh Pirates babushkas.

 

Miami Dolphins fans got a lot of use out of their white hankies during the 1973 Monday Night Football showdown with the Steelers. Joe Gilliam’s first NFL start at quarterback for the Steelers was short-lived, as he was benched at the end of the first quarter after throwing three interceptions.

Raiders fans twirled black socks and hankies to propel their team to a miracle victory over the Dolphins in the Divisional Playoff, but they were no match for the Steelers in the AFC Championship. Franco Harris scored two 4th quarter touchdowns as the Steelers silenced the Raiders crowd and advanced to their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bob Prince – The Green Weenie & Babushka Power

Bob Prince interviews Pirates players including Bill Mazeroski after their Game 7 World Series victory over the Yankees

While Myron Cope was unique in his own right, there is no doubt the he was heavily influenced by the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince. Prince was one of baseball’s best known play-by-play broadcasters and spent 28 seasons with Pirates. He was hired in 1948 to replace Jack Craddock and do play-by-play alongside Rosey Rowswell, and then fired at the conclusion of the 1975 season. He had a distinct voice, brash style and rapid fire delivery, which earned him the nickname “The Gunner”. He also handed out his fair share of nicknames to Pirate players, and was known for his colorful metaphors and equally colorful sports jackets. Prince was an unabashed “homer”, and his firing in 1975 led to disaffection amongst the Pirates fanbase which took many years to repair. Prince was extremely charitable and was a cofounder of the Allegheny Valley School and major fundraiser for the school, reportedly raising upwards of $4 million. He recommended the school to Myron Cope for his son Danny, and got Cope involved in fundraising for the school as well. Cope would eventually turnover the trademark of The Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School, and to date the towel has raised an additional $5 million for the school. Prince was also a great promoter. When the Pirates were struggling to maintain interest amongst its fanbase and fill seats, Prince came up with gimmicks like The Green Weenie and Babushka Power. There is no doubt that the success of these gimmicks directly influenced the creation of The Terrible Towel.

The Green Weenie

Danny Whelan Photo

Pirates trainer Danny “Doc” Whelan created the Green Weenie hex

The Green Weenie hex was promoted by Bob Prince during the 1966 season, but it was actually created by Pirates trainer Danny Whelan. Whelan was an Irishman with a larger-than-life personality who spent nine years with the Pirates, but was best known for his eleven seasons as the trainer for the New York Knicks from 1967 through 1978. Whelan was  part of the Knicks championship teams of 1970 and 1973 and was always visible courtside wearing his trademark orange warmup shirt. Whelan helped Willis Reed make his dramatic return in Game 7 against Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers. Reed tore his right thigh muscle in Game 5 and missed Game 6, which the Lakers won and tied the series to force a decisive game 7. Most people thought there was no way Reed would start. But after being shot up with a healthy dose of Cortisone, he made a dramatic entrance into Madison Square Garden and provided the emotional spark that the Knicks needed to put the Lakers away and win their first ever World Championship. Whelan was also credited with giving Walt Frazier the nickname “Clyde”.

Danny Whelan with Willis Reed during Game 5 of the 1970 NBA Finals

But in Pittsburgh folklore, Whelan is known for sparking The Green Weenie gimmick during the 1966 season. Prior to joining the Pirates in 1959, Whelan spent twelve seasons as a trainer in the minor leagues for the Rochester Red Wings in the International League. Whelan was a local celebrity during his time in Rochester. The Red Wings held a “Danny Whelan Night” celebration during the 1956 season, and after it was announced that Whelan was leaving to join the Pirates, the mayor of the city declared February 10, 1959 as “Danny Whelan Day.” Whelan was known for the nicknames he gave players and his unique expressions, which included yelling “Green Weenie” from the dugout at opposing batters to “shake them up.” Whelan had served in the Navy during World War II, so it is likely that he picked up the term “Green Weenie” while in the service. Marines coined the slang term Green Weenie as a reference to the military’s bureaucracy, and the connotation usually means “getting screwed over.” Whelan’s use of the term during ballgames was meant as a hex on opposing batters. When the Green Weenie gimmick took off during the Pirates 1966 season, it was very popular among servicemen overseas.

Danny Whelan wearing his trademark orange warmup shirt in the 1970-1971 Knicks team photo

During the 1960 season with the Pirates, Whelan bought a rubber hot dog and painted it green. The novelty hot dog was a fixture in the dugout during the Pirates World Series championship run and was an “inside” supersticious gimmick for players. After each game Whelan would ceremoniously lock it in the training room medicine cabinet. After winning the 1960 World Series, Whelan put his green weenie away. But during the 1966 season, a clubhouse gimmick from six years earlier suddenly became a national phenomenon. Myron “The Hot Dog King” O’Brisky oversaw concessions at Forbes Field for over 40 years on behalf of his parent company, Sportservice. Prior to the Pirates June 28, 1966 game against the Houston Astros at Forbes Field, O’Brisky served some spoiled hot dogs at the pregame spread in the Pirates clubhouse. Whelan grabbed one of the rotten hot dogs and taped it to the dugout railing. Going into the bottom of the second inning, Astros pitcher Dave Giusti had a 1-0 lead. Willie Stargell singled to lead-off the inning and advanced to second on a groundout. Giusti was facing Pirates first baseman Donn Clendenon when Whelan shouted at Giusti from the dugout “You’re gonna walk him!” while pointing the hot dog in the direction of the pitcher’s mound. Giusti did indeed walk Clendenon. Pirates catcher Jim Pagliaroni followed with a single to drive in Stargell and tie the game at 1-1. Bill Mazeroski then doubled in Cledenon to put the Pirates on top 2-1. Giusti would be chased in the fifth inning with the Pirates leading 4-3, which would ultimately be the final score. During his broadcast, Bob Prince noticed the hot dog attached to the dugout railing and called it to viewers’ attention.

Chunk-o-luck Voodoo Stick 1965

The Chunk-o-luck Voodoo Stick was the original incarnation of the Green Weenie that fans brought to Forbes Field to hex opponents

The following night, Pirates announcer Bob Prince asked Danny Whelan about the hot dog incident during his broadcast, and the Green Weenie hex was officially born as Whelan described the backstory. However, it was Myrtle Miller who supposedly sold Prince on the idea of invoking the Green Weenie during future broadcasts to hex opposing players and teams when the Pirates needed a boost. At the time, Myrtle Miller was the manager at Gus Miller’s Newsstand, a novelty store located across the street from Forbes Field. Her father Gus Miller was chief usher at Pirate games starting in 1901 when the team played at Exposition Park. He followed the Pirates to Forbes Field in 1909 (where he remained chief usher until 1947), and started a newsstand and novelty shop next to the ballpark that would become a landmark in the Oakland neighborhood. Gus Miller’s newsstand sold the original version of the Green Weenie, a novelty item produced by toy manufacturer Chunk-o-luck called the Voodoo Stick. The elongated, green rubber voodoo doll had long hair and metal bell earrings that jingled when the doll was shaken, and the doll squeaked when squeezed. While it in no way resembled a hot dog, it was green and that fact it was a voodoo doll made it perfect for hexing opponents. While Danny Whelan used his green rubber hot dog from the dugout, and Prince decorated his broadcast booth with long green balloons representing the Green Weenie, fans initially adopted the Chunk-o-luck Voodoo Stick sold at Gus Miller’s Newsstand as their version of the Green Weenie.

Green Weenie Hex Gun Finished

The Green Weenie Hex cardboard gun was pointed at opponents to jinx them

The Green Weenie gimmick was working as the Pirates came out of the All-Star break and defeated the Cubs 10-4 on July 14, 1966 and took over first place in the National League. They would remain in first place until the last day of July when they dropped both games of a doubleheader to the Phillies. But on August 4, 1966 the Pirates beat the Dodgers 8-1 to improve to improve to 63-44 and again assumed first place, which they held most of the month of August. With the Pirates success, the Green Weenie was starting to attract national recognition, even garnering an article “Whammy With a Weenie” in the August 12, 1966 issue of Time magazine. During the Beatles third concert tour of America in August 1966, John Lennon was presented with a Chunk-o-luck Voodoo Stick. Department stores like Kaufmann’s piggy-backed off of the Green Weenie’s popularity by referencing it in advertisements.

Heinz Green Weenie Inflatable

Heinz sold their own version of the Green Weenie, a 3′ inflatable pickle

With the popularity of the gimmick skyrocketing as the Pirates battled for the NL pennant, other versions of the Green Weenie began to be produced and marketed. Heinz sold a giant 3′ inflatable Green Weenie (which was actually a pickle). On September 1st and 2nd, the Pirates held an autograph session at a local mall where thousands of cardboard Green Weenie Hex guns were given away. Fans and players participated in a Green Weenie Whammy ceremony, where they pointed their guns in the direction of Forbes Field to hex all upcoming opponents. A few weeks later as the pennant race entered its final stretch,  A.G. Trimble Company jumped into the Green Weenie merchandising craze by offering buttons and stickers.

1966 Green Weenie

The “Official Green Weenie” rattle has become synonymous with the gimmick

But it was a souvenir plastic rattle produced by Tri State Plastics in Coraopolis, PA that became synonymous with the Green Weenie gimmick. The “Official Green Weenie” was an 8-inch-long, hot dog-shaped piece of green plastic with beads inside that rattled when fans shook it at opposing players. It had a cardboard backing with directions on how to use it, which read: “POINT at opposing player and give ’em the GREEN WEENIEeeee SOUND. CAUTION – use only when in deep trouble.” While it was branded as the “Official Green Weenie”, it was actually not affiliated with Bob Prince or the Pirates. Two local Pittsburgh natives, Ned Cole and Louis Guardian, applied for the copyright and started the GW Goodluck Charm Company, which was also known as Jinx Enterprises. They subcontracted the manufacturing to Tri State Plastics and the distribution to John Robbins Company. The Official Green Weenies began production in late August, and by September 7, 1966 over 250,000 had been produced, with 30,000 more being produced each day. A local grocery store chain and Pittsburgh-area Ford dealerships used them for promotional giveaways. Myron O’Brisky (who inadvertently spawned the Green Weenie phenomenon) sold them at Forbes Field, and local stores in the area retailed the Official Green Weenie for $0.50.

AG Trimble Buttons and Sticker

Pittsburgh-based promotional company AG Trimble produced Green Weenie buttons and bumper stickers

The Pirates held on to first place until back-to-back losses to the Cardinals on September 10 and 11 dropped them back to second place. The Green Weenie remained popular as fans used it to will the Pirates back into the lead for the NL Pennant throughout the month of September. But the Pirates would never regain first place, and they ended up finishing third (three games behind the NL Champion LA Dodgers) after getting swept by the Giants in the final series of the year. The Green Weenie’s magic had run out, and demand for the plastic rattles completely vanished. Tri State Plastics put the extra materials in storage thinking that the gimmick would make a comeback. But even with World Series wins in 1971 and 1979, the Green Weenie never reemerged. As a result, Tri State Plastics threw away all extra material at the conclusion of the 1979 season.

1990 Giant Eagle and Buick Green Weenie

In 1990 the “Official Green Weenie” was briefly brought back into production as the Pirates battled the Mets for the NL East crown

But in August 1990, the Pirates organization contacted Tri State Plastics to produce Green Weenies once again. That year the Pirates, led by Barry Bonds, broke a decade of mediocrity and raced to an NL East Division title. Tri State Plastics was able to source the necessary materials, and in six weeks they churned out 200,000 units which were distributed to Giant Eagle and Buick and local retailers. Buick gave away the Green Weenie at Pittsburgh-area dealerships, while Giant Eagle sold them for $0.99 with ten cents of the proceeds from each sale going to Bob Prince Charities (which included the Allegheny Valley School). While the 1966 versions contained no corporate branding, the 199o versions did contain either the Giant Eagle or Buick logo on the cardboard backing. The Giant Eagle branded Green Weenie also had the KDKA logo printed on it since KDKA was the radio station of Bob Prince (the creator of the Green Weenie), as well as the official radio and television station of the Pirates. The Buick branded Green Weenie did not have the KDKA logo because rival radio station WLTJ had worked out the promotional deal with Buick. The Green Weenie’s were also sold at Mike Feinberg’s in the Strip District and McCrory’s drug store in downtown.

While it only lasted for three months in 1966 (and reappeared for a month in 1990), the Green Weenie was a successful gimmick. It got fans fired up and interested in the Pirates, it was marketed successfully and it was often mentioned in Pirate game recaps. It even garnered national attention, which in turn peaked the interest of companies who used it in their advertisements and promotions. Bob Prince had created and successfully promoted Pittsburgh’s original good luck charm.

Babushka Power

But Prince wasn’t done. In 1975 he created another gimmick, Babushka Power. The Pirates moved from Forbes Field to their new home at Three Rivers Stadium midway through the season in July 1970. All of the sudden the Pirates went from a 35,000 seat stadium to a 50,000 seat stadium. Even when the Pirates were doing well at Forbes Field, they usually finished near the bottom in the National League in attendance. For instance, their best attendance at Forbes Field was 1960 when they went on to win the World Series against the Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s game 7 walk-off home run. That year they totaled just over 1.7 million fans, an average of only 22,000 fans a game. So the Pirates never came close to filling Forbes Field on a regular basis. Now the Pirates found themselves in a much larger stadium that was geared more towards football than baseball. Attracting a large enough crowd to create a noisy atmosphere became a constant challenge. The Pirates were contenders each year throughout the 1970s, winning the NL East six times and bookending the decade in 1971 and 1979 with World Series trophies. But over the course of the 1970s, the Pirates only averaged about 15,500 fans per game (total attendance from 1971 through 1979 was 11,291,829). The Pirates wouldn’t break the attendance record set in 1960 (1.7 million) until 1988 (1.86 million).

Murphy’s Mart produced these “Babushka Brigade” babushkas for the August 19, 1975 Babushka Night game against the Giants

Attendance was steadily declining from the Pirates first full season in Three Rivers Stadium in 1971 through 1974. Despite finishing first in the NL in 1974, the Pirates were averaging 5,000 less people per game than in 1971, when they won the World Series. So in 1975, the Pirates turned their attention to promotions and getting people back into the stadium. One promotion the Pirates ran in 1975 to fill seats was Ladies Night. For select games ladies received $1.35 off of regular ticket prices (regular ticket prices were $4.50 for box seats, $3.50 for reserved seats and $2.00 for general admission). The first two Ladies Night games on April 17th against the Expos and on June 18th  against the Cardinals had mixed results. The initial Ladies Night against the Expos only drew 5,500 fans, while the promotion had better success against the Cardinals where attendance topped 30,500. But the Pirates still needed something more engaging like the Green Weenie gimmick, so Pirates VP Jim O’Toole turned to Bob Prince to brainstorm some ideas. Playing off of the Ladies Night promotion, Prince proposed nicknaming the throngs of women that attended the promotional games the “Babushka Brigade” and encourage them to bring babushkas to the game and wave them in support of the Pirates. Babushka is the Slavic term for headscarf, and babushkas were mostly worn by older women. Pittsburgh had the largest population of citizens with Slovak descent, so the babushka had a gimmick quality that was uniquely Pittsburgh. O’Toole approved Prince’s idea, and the Pirates added a special Babushka Brigade Ladies Night to the schedule for July 8th against the Dodgers. Prince promoted the Babushka Brigade during his broadcasts and encouraged fans to bring babushkas to the July 8th game.

The Babushka Brigade cheers on the Pirates against the Giants on August 19, 1975

Fans responded to the promotion, and over 29,000 people attended the Tuesday night game. In the five previous Tuesday night home games that season, the Pirates had averaged only 8,800 fans. Although the Pirates lost 3-0 to the Dodgers, the stands were full of babushka-waving women. Given the huge success of Babushka Brigade night, the Pirates decided to do a babushka giveaway that would coincide with the next Ladies Night promotion scheduled for the July 30, 1975 game against the Philadelphia Phillies. The “Babushka Night” promotion was only promoted during Prince’s broadcasts. On the night of the game, the walkup gates that sold tickets could not handle the crowds since not enough gates were open, and the game had to be delayed 18 minutes to get fans into their seats. Ladies received plain black and gold babushkas, which they ended up waving throughout the game.  The Pirates ended up beating the Phillies 8-1 in front of 43,260 fans, which was a record weekday crowd up to that point at Three Rivers Stadium. The promotion also drew a record 12,345 women to the game. Prior to that Wednesday night game, the Pirates had played seven other Wednesday night home games that season and averaged  just a little over 12,500 fans.  The Babushka Brigade was out in full force and the  “Babushka Power” gimmick was officially born.

Ford Dealership Babushka Power

Pittsburgh-area Ford dealerships gave away babushkas to customers

Fans started twirling babushkas during games for good luck and Prince would invoke it in the broadcast
booth when the Pirates needed a boost. The Pirates added another “Babushka Night” to the schedule for their August 19, 1975 Ladies Night game against the Giants. This promotion was sponsored by local retail chain and Pirate ticket broker G.C. Murphy’s (Murphy’s Mart). They produced the babushkas, which this time were branded with the Pirates logo and “Babushka Brigade”, which became the name for the thousands of women who attended the games moving forward and twirled their babushkas for good luck. For $1.49 women received a ticket to the game along with a babushka. In fact, Murphy’s had first promoted the August 19th Babushka Night on July 30th, one day before the Babushka Night against the Phillies. So even if the babushka gimmick had been a dud against the Phillies on July 31st, it appears that Prince and the Pirates were invested in the gimmick no matter how it was received. While the second Babushka Night only drew 22,602 fans (almost half of the first promotion), it was still almost 7,500 more fans than their average that year. The Pirates would beat the Giants 4-0, snapping a six game losing streak and propelling them back into first place in the NL East. Babushka Power had worked again.

s-l1600-14

As the Babushka Power gimmick continued to grow, eventually babushkas were available at the stadium

On Saturday August 23, 1975 the Pirates played an afternoon game against the Reds that was nationally televised on NBC. While it wasn’t a Ladies Night promotion, the babushka was still prevalent and made it’s national debut as thousands of fans twirled them in the stands for the cameras. The Pirates would end up losing that game 12-7. A few days later on August 27, 1975 the Pirates held another Ladies Night promotion when they played the Braves, and Prince did the game broadcast from the center field seats where he sat with the “Babushka Brigade”.  The Pirates would lose to the Braves 6-2, but over 21,000 people did attend the weekday game. The final Ladies Night was on Saturday September 13, 1975 against the Expos, where the Pirates lost 5-2 in front of only 17,310 fans. While the four official Babushka Night promotions produced mixed results in terms of crowd size and team success, they succeeded at creating buzz around the team, and Babushka Power permeated all home games down the stretch. The gimmick motivated a disinterested fanbase to not only go to the ballpark, but to cheer and feel connected to the team. It was estimated that the gimmick brought 100,000 extra people to the ballpark, and it reinvigorated enthusiasm. A more lively crowd helped the Pirates excel at home and make up for their troubles on the road. It also got local businesses involved like the aforementioned G.C. Murphy’s, as well as Pittsburgh-area Ford dealerships who used Babushka Power in their advertising and gave away babushkas to customers. And Babushka Power also garnered national attention, including a mention in the September 1, 1975 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Bob Prince interviews Pirates players including Roberto Clemente after their World Series victory over the Orioles in 1971

While the Green Weenie failed to power the Pirates to the playoffs in 1966, Babushka Power propelled the Pirates to an NL East title and a playoff matchup with the Reds for the NL Pennant. Pirate pennant fever and Babushka Power spread throughout the city, but was short-lived as the Reds swept the Pirates in three games. A few weeks later, Bob Prince was surprisingly fired by KDKA, and Pirates management did not intervene to try to reverse the decision. One of KDKA’s criteria for the firing was the declining attendance at games which ultimately affected sponsorship money for the broadcasts. Prince took the fall, despite the fact that his off-the-wall Babushka Power gimmick had increased attendance on average 2,000 fans per game from the previous year. Fans were shocked and on Wednesday November 5, 1970 nearly 10,000 fans showed up for a farewell parade for Prince (the Pirates had twenty home games that season where they were unable to get 10,000 fans to show up). Many people in the crowd waved babushkas, and Prince carried his Green Weenie as he road in a fire truck down the parade route. Pirates attendance would drop in 1976 by an average of 3,000 fans per game, which many fans attributed to Prince’s firing although many factors were at play. Attendance would remain relatively stagnant until the Pirates brief resurgence in 1990, when they topped 2 million fans for the first time in team history.

The Terrible Towel

A month after Prince’s farewell parade, Steelers color analyst Myron Cope was called into his general manager’s office at WTAE-Radio. In the office with his GM Ted Atkins was VP of Sales for WTAE-Radio Larry Garrett. They tasked Cope with creating a gimmick that would involve Steeler fans. WTAE-Radio was the flagship of the Steelers since 1970, and with the Steelers coming off of their first Super Bowl victory in 1974 and already locking up a playoff spot for 1975, the higher-ups at WTAE were looking for a way to show that Cope and the station had influence over the fans. If they could get the Steelers fanbase to adopt a gimmick for the playoffs, they could prove to advertisers that Cope had huge influence over his audience, and thus sponsorships would pour in for Cope’s nightly radio show and Steelers broadcasts. WTAE also had to renew their contract with the Steelers every few years, and they had to prove to the Steelers that they could bring in the listening audience and promote the team effectively. There is no doubt that WTAE had been studying their rival station KDKA and the influence that Bob Prince had on his audience with the Pirates, including Prince’s ability to get the Pirate fanbase not only to embrace the Green Weenie gimmick in 1966, but to also get behind “Babushka Power” only a few months prior. The suits at WTAE wanted Cope to be more like Prince, and they wanted to prove to the Steelers and their current & potential sponsors that their station had a large listening audience which they were able to successfully engage with calls to action. When it came time to brainstorm ideas, Larry Garrett suggested a towel, which was a strikingly similar to the concept of the babushkas that were twirling at Three Rivers for the Pirates just months prior. And furthermore, this towel was to serve as a good luck charm for the Steelers, much like the babushka.

There is no doubt that Babushka Power led to the creation The Terrible Towel. Without Bob Prince and his successful gimmicks, particularly his babushka, WTAE would have pressured Cope to create and promote a gimmick for the Steelers. Without Bob Prince, there would be no Terrible Towel. But without Myron Cope, The Terrible Towel would have never come to fruition and still be around 40 years later. Without Myron Cope, The Terrible Towel would have just been a concept kicked around in a boardroom meeting and would have never materialized into the symbol of Steeler Nation.

 

Triple Yoi!!! – Myron Cope The Broadcaster

Myron Cope Bob Costas Interview 1985

Bob Costas interviews Myron Cope about his transition from a sportswriter to broadcaster (Dec 21, 1985)

In 1968, 39 year-old Myron Cope was enjoying a successful career as a professional freelance sports journalist and had a modest level of financial security thanks to his contract with Sports Illustrated. He just had his first child, Danny, with his wife Mildred. And he was about to receive the first of several phone calls that would change his life. On a January morning in 1968, Cope received a call from publicity director Bernie Armstrong Jr. at Pittsburgh radio station WTAE 1250AM. The station was purely a music and news station, but was trying to develop a sports image. Cope was a local guy with national credentials, and he could bring instantaneous credibility to the sports broadcasts. WTAE wanted him to do a couple of short five-minute commentaries each weekday morning. He could continue his freelance writing career, and broadcast his commentaries from home or on the road to provide flexibility. With the birth of his new son weeks prior, Cope took the opportunity to obtain some supplemental income. Cope’s one-of-a-kind voice first burst over the airwaves on Monday January 29, 1968 at 7:35am.

Myron Cope’s game analysis was definitely “colorful”

WTAE radio had a deeper agenda when it came to creating a sports presence… they wanted to land the Pittsburgh Steelers game broadcasts. By getting Cope and establishing a credible sportscast and voice, they hoped to woo the Steelers from competitor KDKA. KDKA was a 50,000 watt powerhouse, while WTAE was just a 5,000 watt station. But events were working in WTAE’s favor. The Pittsburgh Steelers were founded in 1933 by Art Rooney and had undergone 35 years of futility. In there first 35 years of existence from 1933 through 1967, they only had eight winning seasons. In 1968, the club went 2-11 and followed that up in 1969 by going 1-13. With the Steelers legacy up to that point being one of perennial losers, they were second fiddle in the city to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who at that time were in playoff contention year-in and year-out. In addition to broadcasting Steelers games, KDKA also carried the Pirates games. On days when Pirate games and Steeler games coincided, KDKA would carry the Pirates game live and then play the Steelers on tape-delay following the baseball game. In the late 60’s, Dan Rooney began to take over day-to-day operations of the Steelers from his father Art. Dan did not like the current situation with KDKA and felt that the Steeler organization needed to show some self-respect and step out from the shadows of the Pirates. So he moved the rights to the Steelers broadcasts to WTAE for the 1970 season, the same season the Steelers moved into Three Rivers Stadium.

Myron Cope 1980

Myron Cope 1980

In 1970, Cope had been doing his commentaries at WTAE-AM radio for two years, and was still writing. He now started doing three commentaries a week on WTAE Channel 4 News, alongside sportscaster Ed Conway. Through Cope’s TV commentaries, viewers heard the moniker “Immaculate Reception” for the first time, were introduced to the Terrible Towel, and watched Dr. Cope and his Cope-r0-scope dissect upcoming opponents. In summer 1970, Cope received another life changing phone call. This time it was from then Steelers PR director Ed Kiely. Kiely was looking for a color analyst for the Steeler broadcasts. The Steelers had retained longtime play-by-play broadcaster Jack Fleming. Fleming had been doing Steeler games since 1958 on WWSW radio, and when the Steeler games moved to KDKA radio in 1962, Fleming followed. Fleming had been teamed up with Tom Bender on the broadcasts at KDKA where they usually rotated each quarter between play-by-play and analysis. But the Steelers wanted to go in a different direction for Fleming’s broadcast partner in the booth and have a definitive color analyst. The Steelers initially offered the job to broadcaster Dick Stockton and made a formal announcement in June 1970. However, Dick Stockton would turn down the job. Future PR Director Joe Gordon was in the first year of his job as an underling to Kiely, and he suggested that the color analyst be Cope since Cope was already part of WTAE, was intimately familiar with the team and city and had a unique style. So Kiely phoned Cope and wanted to know if he would like to be the color analyst for the Steelers. Cope had no experience, but accepted the job on one condition. He wanted the Steelers to know that he wouldn’t be impartial. If the Steelers were playing well, Cope would be ecstatic, and if they were playing poorly, he would say they were lousy. Basically, Cope refused to be a “homer”, and the Steelers were totally okay with that, as they wanted to increase attention towards the team and drive attendance at their new home, Three Rivers Stadium. In July 1970, Cope was officially named the color analyst for the Steelers.

5-11-74 WTAE Channel 4 News Ad

Myron Cope made the jump from radio to TV in 1970 when he began delivering his sports commentaries on the Channel 4 news

Cope’s timing to become the color analyst for the Steelers was impeccable. The Steelers had just finished a 1-13 season in 1969 under first year coach Chuck Noll, winning in Noll’s debut game against the Lions and then losing 13 straight games. From their founding in 1933 through the conclusion of the 1969 season the Steelers had a record of 162 wins-268 losses-18 ties, with only 8 winning seasons over that span. They made the playoffs once during this span in 1947, when they went 8-4, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs 21-0. But the pieces were quickly falling into place for a Steelers renaissance. As mentioned, in the late 1960s Dan Rooney had taken over day-to-day operations of the club (he eventually was named president in July 1975), which meant an internal infrastructure was now being created to deal with personnel decisions. Gone were the days when Art Rooney put all the power in the hands of the head coach. Dan Rooney’s first major personnel decision was not renewing the contract of head coach Bill Austin at the conclusion of the 1968 season.

In 1969, the Steelers hired Chuck Noll as their head coach, and at 37 years old, he was the youngest head coach in the league. Noll had grown up just across the border in Ohio and played for the Cleveland Browns for seven seasons. Prior to being hired by the Steelers, Noll was the Defensive Coordinator for the Baltimore Colts, who under head coach Don Shula had gone 13-1 in 1968 but eventually lost Super Bowl III to the New York Jets, who were led by Joe Namath. Noll brought a winning attitude with him, and was a young, first-time head coach with energy. Before Noll’s arrival, the Steelers had a been a revolving door of head coaches, with 16 coaching changes since their founding in 1933.

Myron Cope and Jack Fleming 1980s

Also in 1969, the Steelers finally began to draft well, and started plucking premier talent out of lesser-known southern colleges. Chuck Noll was selected and formally introduced as head coach on January 27, 1969. He arrived in Pittsburgh that evening, which happened to be the eve of the NFL draft. The following day on January 28, 1969 the Steelers drafted defensive tackle Joe Greene out of North Texas State as their top choice and 4th overall selection in the draft (the 1969 draft also produced offensive tackle Jon Kolb in the 3rd Round out of Oklahoma State, and future Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Steel Curtain member L.C. Greenwood in the 10th round out of Arkansas AM&N). After going 1-13 in the 1969 season, the Steelers landed the first overall pick in the 1970 draft after winning a coin toss with the equally awful Chicago Bears. The Steelers selected future Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw out of Louisiana Tech with the number 1 pick overall, and future Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount in the third round out of Southern University. In 1971 they added linebacker Jack Ham from Penn State, defensive end Dwight White from East Texas State University and defensive tackle Ernie Holmes from Texas Southern. So within three draft classes, the Steelers had created the original Steel Curtain: Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes. In 1972, the Steelers took running back Franco Harris out of Penn State 13th overall, and in 1974 they had the greatest draft class in NFL history when they added wide receiver Lynn Swann (USC), linebacker Jack Lambert (Kent State), wide receiver John Stallworth (Alabama A&M) and center Mike Webster (Wisconsin). Within six draft classes between 1969 and 1974, the Steelers had created a dynasty that would go on to win four Super Bowls in six seasons.

Three Rivers Stadium Steelers Season Ticket Packages 1970

The final piece of the Steelers renaissance was a new home at Three Rivers Stadium in 1970. Prior to moving into Three Rivers, the Steelers had been playing their games at Pitt Stadium, so the upgrade from a college facility to a modern pro facility was much needed. Fans endured an ugly 1-13 season at Pitt Stadium in 1969 during Noll’s first season at the helm, and helped the Steelers establish a home attendance record of 273,958 (which was still second worst in the NFL). Having a brand-spanking-new stadium was a huge draw and helped the team attract new fans who otherwise wouldn’t have gone to watch a perennial loser. The Steelers sold approximately 25,000 season ticket packages in 1970 after selling only 16,000 the season prior. The Steelers improved to 5-9 in 1970, but had a winning 4-3 record at their new home and set an attendance record of 323,387. In 1972, the Steelers won their first ever division championship, made the playoffs for only the second time in team history, and won their first playoff game on Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception. While they would go onto to lose the AFC championship to the Miami Dolphins (the eventual Super Bowl Champion and only undefeated team in NFL history), excitement surrounding the team was at an all-time high. Season ticket holders jumped from 30,000 to the maximum 44,500 for the 1973 season, and a waitlist was created that exists to this day (currently 50 year wait with over 60,000 names).  During the 1970s, the Steelers went 69-13 during the regular season at Three Rivers, with an 8-1 postseason record at 1979 Steelers Yearbook Cope Fleming WTAE Adhome. Over there 31 years at Three Rivers Stadium the Steelers would go 182-72 with a 13-5 playoff record. After failing to win a single division championship in their first 37 years of existence at Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium, the Steelers were Central Division champions 14 times during their time at Three Rivers. The home crowd was a big part of the Steelers success, as the team had 29 consecutive seasons without a losing record at home (1970-1998).   They sold out every game from November 5, 1972 to the closing of the stadium at the conclusion of the 2000 season (with the exception of an October 18, 1987 game against the Colts that featured replacement players due to the 1987 players strike).

It should be noted, that 1970 was also the season the NFL & AFL officially merged to create one league. The Steelers (along with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts) moved from the old NFL to join the new AFL teams in the AFC, thus giving the two conference (NFC and AFC) equal number of teams. Prior to 1970, the Steelers had played in the NFL Century Division along with the NY Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Browns. Starting in the 1970 after the merger, the Steelers would compete in the new AFC Central (now the AFC North), along with the Houston Oilers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

Myron Cope And Terrible Towel 1979

Myron Cope 1979

So on September 20, 1970 Myron Cope found himself sitting in the brand new press box at Three Rivers Stadium in his first game as the color analyst for the Steelers, just as the franchise began its transformation from perennial loser to one of the best teams in pro football behind rookie quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Along the way, the Steelers attracted and developed one of the largest and most ardent fan bases in the country, and Cope became “the Voice” of Steeler Nation. While the Steelers lost their first game at Three Rivers to the Houston Oilers 19-7 (their 14th consecutive loss in what would become a franchise worst 16 game losing streak), the worst days were behind the franchise.  During Copes 35 years from his perch in the press box (1970 through 2004), he witnessed a team that had previously been 162-268 with one playoff victory prior to his hiring, go 322-212. During that 35 year span the Steelers went to the playoffs 21 times, playing in the AFC Championship game 12 times (including 6 times in the 1970s) and advancing to 5 Super Bowls, 4 of which they won. He broadcasted every game at Three Rivers Stadium over its 31 year existence. He retired after the 2004 season, during which the Steelers posted their best record in franchise history, going 15-1 under Ben Roethlisberger (they lost to the Patriots and Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game). The year following Cope’s retirement in 2005, the Steelers won their 5th Super Bowl. Cope was in the the right place at the exact right time.

Myron Cope 1975

With the new job description of color analyst added to his resume in 1970, Cope decided to fully transition into broadcasting and leave his writing career behind. Now that broadcasting was occupying a greater chunk of Cope’s time, he no longer had the downtime to dedicate to writing. He still contributed several stories to Sports Illustrated throughout the 1970s, but he was no longer under contract with the magazine. While broadcasting was by far more financially lucrative than the world of freelance writing, Cope always insisted that his transition into broadcasting from journalism had nothing to do with the money. Rather the main reason Cope went all-in on broadcasting is that he received major medical insurance benefits. When Cope verbally agreed to join KDKA in 1969, WTAE beat KDKA’s offer to retain Cope as a sportscaster, and part of that offer was a benefits package that included health insurance. In the cutthroat world of freelance writing, perks like benefit packages were nonexistent…even getting a retainer contract from a magazine was a rare luxury. By 1970, Cope and his wife Mildred realized that their 2-year-old son Danny had a mental disability, which at the time was believed to be autism. It would turn out that Danny was severely brain damaged and as a result displayed autistic traits. The medical bills were already starting to come in for Danny’s treatment, and Cope was now informed by doctors that Danny would need to be institutionalized at a facility that understood his disability and could provide 24 for care . So having major medical insurance was imperative, and going back to freelance writing was no longer an option.

In June 1973, WTAE radio hired Ted Atkins from KIIS-AM in Los Angeles as the station’s new General Manager. Atkins would immediately begin to revamp the radio lineup, which included replacing Tom Bender on the weeknight sports report from 7pm to 8pm. Atkins felt that Bender’s program was too boring. Cope was still doing his commentaries three times per day, so he was the logical choice to replace Bender (Cope had already replaced Bender on Steelers broadcasts in 1970). On August 8th, 1973 it was announced that Cope would replace Bender, and on August 31, 1973 WTAE debuted it’s new format with Myron Cope’s sports show airing from 7pm to 8pm each weeknight. His daily commentaries also increased from three to four per weekday, with two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Ever since starting his daily sports reports in 1968, Cope had signed off with his famous “this is Myron Cope on sports.” His new sports talk show would soon become known as “Myron Cope on Sports”, and his callers who made brilliant points were dubbed “Cope-a-nuts”.

Myron Cope 1983

By 1979, Cope was doing five commentaries daily along with his one-hour sports show each weeknight and Steeler games on Sundays. In 1983, Cope temporarily added Pitt football games to his schedule when he teamed up with Bill Hillgrove to do color analysis for the games. Johnny Sauer was the color analyst for the Pitt Panthers but had a medical emergency that caused him to be sidelined for the 1983 season. In March 1985, Cope signed a new contract with WTAE. Just like in 1969, Cope had been approached by KDKA to switch radio stations. KDKA was also trying to outbid WTAE for the radio rights to Steelers broadcasts, and one of the stipulations the Steelers had was that Cope had to continue as color analyst. In 1984, WTAE had paid the Steelers $575,000 for the local broadcasting rights. As a result of the bidding war with KDKA, in 1985 WTAE was now paying $1.2 million for the rights. After maintaining the rights to Steelers broadcasts, the next priority was making sure Cope didn’t leave the station. Cope was happy with his overall situation at WTAE and had no intentions of leaving. Just like in 1969, he used the negotiations as leverage with WTAE to obtain a better contract. Starting on March 25, 1985 Cope’s evening sports talk show was now increased an hour from 6pm to 8pm. But his weekly commentaries were cut in half from five per day to just two per day in the morning. This gave Cope a more balanced work schedule that he desired. Although the Steelers entered a period of mediocrity during the 1980s as the shine of the 1970s Super Bowl dynasty wore off and future Hall of Famers retired, Cope’s popularity continued to rise throughout the 1980s. Myron Cope on Sports was the highest-rated program on WTAE year in and year out during the 80s, and was consistently the number one show in its time slot. 

Myron Cope 1989

In 1989, Cope was 60 years old and the grind of a weekly two hour sports talk show along with his Steelers broadcasts and daily commentaries were beginning to take a toll. Cope had worked 16 straight years without a vacation. In addition, his wife Mildred had been diagnosed with cancer. Cope would take a sabbatical from his radio show starting on May 1st with plans to return in mid-July. He wouldn’t return to the airwaves until August 1st, 1989 after renegotiating his contract to lessen his workload. Upon his return, he was now only doing two nightly radio shows per week on Monday and Tuesday from 6pm to 8pm, as well as only two commentaries on Monday and Tuesday mornings. He continued to be the color analyst for the Steelers.

Following the conclusion of the 1993 season, Cope’s longtime play-by-play partner Jack Fleming retired after 36 years. Bill Hillgrove replaced Fleming starting in the 1994 season, and he is currently in his 23rd season as the Steelers play-by-play broadcaster. Prior to joining the Steelers, Hillgrove had been a long time play-by-play broadcaster for Pitt football and basketball and had worked alongside Cope in 1983 on Pitt football broadcasts. Three weeks into the 1994 season on September 20th, Cope’s wife Mildred passed away due to cancer. Cope would miss his first ever broadcast the following week on September 25th when the Steelers played the Seahawks in Seattle.

Myron Cope Final Radio Show WTAE 1995

Myron Cope during his final radio show on April 4, 1995

After his wife’s passing, Cope (now 66 years old) decided to reduce his workload yet again to have more free time. On Tuesday April 4th, 1995 Cope broadcast his final radio sports talk show on WTAE, as well as his final morning commentary. Moving forward he would just do Steeler game broadcasts alongside Bill Hillgrove. Starting on September 28th, 1997 following the Steelers-Oilers game, Cope’s Cabana debuted outside of Gate D at Three Rivers Stadium following the conclusion of Cope’s postgame locker room show (which he actually conducted in the Steelers weight room). The Steelers had erected a tent to entertain VIP’s prior to the games, and wanted to try to utilize the tent post game. Thus, Cope’s Cabana was born and nearly 300 Myron Cope fans would pack the tent after each game to listen to post-game commentary from Cope and catch a glimpse of their beloved icon. Cope’s Cabana would continue after the move to Heinz Field in 2001, taking place on the stage in The Great Hall, and the last Cope’s Cabana was held following the Steelers AFC Championship loss to the Patriots in January 2005 (which was Cope’s last Steeler’s broadcast as he retired a few months later in June 2005). Over the years, Cope was notorious for his musical genius. His singing was ear-piercingly painful and his delivery spastic, but yet it was so enjoyable.  The “Cope’s Cabana” theme song ranked right up there in his musical catalog, which included hits like “Y’ Cain’t Touch This” (1990 Pirates), “Achy Breaky Heart” (1992 Steelers), “Yoi! Steelermania” (1996 Steelers) and of course his annual renditions of “Deck the Halls”.

On Monday December 28, 1998 when the Steelers visited Jacksonville, WTAE carried it’s final Steelers broadcast after 29 consecutive seasons as the Steelers’ flagship station. Two months later in February 1999, it was announced that the Steelers were moving to the FM dial to WDVE, which currently holds the broadcasting rights through 2018. Cope and Hillgrove were retained (a stipulation of the Steelers), as well as Tunch Ilkin, who had newly joined the team for the 1998 season.

Myron Cope Radio Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 2005

Myron Cope was the first football announcer inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame

In September 2002, Cope underwent back surgery but didn’t miss a game. The Steelers had an early bye in Week 3 of the season, and Cope elected to have surgery during that downtime. He was right back in the booth for the Steelers 3rd game of the season against the Browns in Week 4. By 2004, Cope was beginning to have increasing health issues. In July 2004, prior to his 35th and final season, the 74 year old Cope (who was a lifelong smoker) had throat cancer surgery and was hospitalized with pneumonia. He returned in time for the start of the season, but his voice was noticeably weaker. In November, during the Steelers Week 9 matchup against the Eagles, Cope left the game at halftime due to a dizziness resulting from a fall at his home the day prior. He was ultimately hospitalized for a concussion and missed the Week 10 matchup against the Browns, which was only the second game he missed in his entire 35 years of broadcasting (the other being against
the Seahawks in 1994 following his wife’s death). The Steelers went 15-1 in 2004 but lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game at Heinz Field in January 2005. This would be Cope’s final broadcast as he retired five months later on June 21, 2005 at the age of 76 at the behest of former Steelers PR Director and friend Joe Gordon (who recommended Cope for the job back in 1970). Gordon had promised to be honest with Cope and let him know if his on-air performance was declining, which he let Cope know following the conclusion of the 2004 season. The Steelers did not replace Cope in the booth, and decided to stick with a two person crew of Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin.

On August 6, 2005 at the Hall of Fame Festival dinner in Canton, Ohio, Cope was awarded the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. The award was created in 1989 and is awarded annually by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in pro football. According to the Hall of Fame, no one had called pro football on radio for 35 consecutive years. Three months later on November 5, 2005 Cope became the first pro football announcer inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.

Myron Cope Tribute 10-31-05 Steelers vs Ravens

Myron Cope led fans in one final Terrible Towel wave on October 31, 2005 when the Steelers hosted the Ravens at Heinz Field for Monday Night Football

The Steelers held a tribute to Cope during their Monday Night Football game against the Baltimore Ravens on 10/31/05. Cope participated in the coin toss, which the Steelers won and subsequently marched down the field on the opening drive for a touchdown. He also led a Terrible Towel wave over the jumbotron prior to departing the sidelines to his seat. Throughout the game tribute clips of Cope were played on the jumbotron. And in the end, Jeff Reed kicked a game winning field goal with just over a minute left to defeat the Ravens 20-19. The Steelers would go on to the Super Bowl and beat the Seahawks for their 5th Lombardi Trophy. Many Steelers fans wanted Cope to come out of retirement to announce that game, but Cope declined.

On the morning of February 27, 2008 Myron Cope passed away at a nursing home in Mt. Lebanon at the age of 79. Two days later on February 29, 2008 a final tribute was held in front of Pittsburgh City Hall. The irreplaceable “Voice of the Steelers” was gone, but his legacy will live on forever thanks to his creation that has become the good luck charm and symbolic flag of Steeler Nation – The Terrible Towel.

Myron Cope City Hall Tribute

Hundreds of fans gathered at Pittsburgh City Hall as a final tribute to “The Voice of the Steelers”

Myron Cope WTAE Obituary Segment

Following Myron Cope’s death, WTAE aired this excellent retrospective

History of Steelers Football – By the Numbers

The first half of the Steelers existence should be nicknamed “The Forgettable Forty.” From 1933 to 1972 the Steelers had a combined record of 184 wins – 287 losses – 18 ties (winning percentage of .376). They only had 9 winning seasons in their first forty years. In fact, they had more head coaches during this time (14) than they did winning seasons. During this span, the Steelers had just 2 playoff appearances (1947 and 1972…they also appeared in the 1962 Playoff Bowl against the Lions). Their best season during this span was 1972 when they went 11-3 and won their first playoff game in franchise history when they defeated the Raiders on Franco Harris’ infamous Immaculate Reception.

Compare that with the second half of their existence from 1973 to 2012, where the Steelers had a combined record of 382 wins – 238 losses – 2 ties (winning percentage of .614). During this time, they only had 7 losing seasons and 3 head coaches. They went to the playoffs 25 times, and advanced to the AFC Championship game 14 times in those 25 appearances. They appeared in 8 Super Bowls and won an NFL record 6 Lombardi Trophies during this span.

For Steelers fans born since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the worst season they have had to live through is 5-11 in 1988. Other than that, a few 6-10 seasons (1986, 1999 and 2003), a few 7-9 seasons (1985, 1991 and 1998) and a few 8-8 seasons (1981, 2006, 2012 and 2013). Let’s compare this with other storied franchises during this same span. The Dallas Cowboys have had seasons of 3-13 (1988), 1-15 (1989), three consecutive 5-11 seasons (2000-2002) and went 4-12 in 2015. The Patriots were horrendous at times, going 2-14 twice (1981 and 1992), as well as 1-15 (1990). The Packers had four 4-12 seasons during this time (1986, 1988, 1991 and 2005). The 49ers finished the 1970s with back-to-back 2-14 seasons (1978 and 1979), and then had a couple of 4-12 seasons (1999 and 2005) and a couple more 2-14 seasons (2004 & 2016). The Miami Dolphins only had two losing seasons from 1970 through 2003, but then went on to have losing seasons in 8 of their next 12 seasons, including a 4-12 record (2004) and 1-15 record (2007). The team that is closest to the level of consistency as the Steelers are the Denver Broncos. Despite a 4-12 blemish (2010), the Broncos have posted one 5-11 season (1990) and one 6-10 season (1999).

From the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 through the 2016 season, 12 teams have overall winning records:

  1. Steelers are 444-282-2 (winning percentage .611) with 9 losing seasons
  2. Broncos are 426-296-6 (winning percentage .589) with 10 losing seasons
  3. Cowboys are 426-302 (winning percentage .585) with 12 losing seasons
  4. Dolphins are 424-302-2 (winning percentage .584) with 10 losing seasons
  5. Patriots are 413-315 (winning percentage .567) with 13 losing seasons
  6. Vikings are 405-320-3 (winning percentage .558) with 12 losing seasons
  7. 49ers are 402-322-4 (winning percentage .555) with 19 losing seasons
  8. Packers are 386-333-9 (winning percentage .536) with 16 losing seasons
  9. Redskins are 382-343-3 (winning percentage .527) with 16 losing seasons
  10. Raiders are 379-343-6 (winning percentage .525) with 17 losing seasons
  11. Eagles are 371-349-8 (winning percentage .515) with 21 losing seasons
  12. Colts are 369-357-2 (winning percentage .508) with 19 losing seasons

While the Steelers are the winningest and most consistent regular season team since the merger, in the end all that matters are Lombardi Trophies. While the Steelers, Broncos, Cowboys and Patriots each have 8 Super Bowl appearances, the Steelers have the most Super Bowl wins with 6 championships. The Cowboys and 49ers each have 5 rings, while the Patriots and Packers have 4. The Broncos, Redskins and Giants each have 3.

History of Steelers Broadcasting….

Since the Steelers inaugural season in 1933, the team has had a steady presence on radio. After all, Pittsburgh was the birthplace of broadcast radio. In October 1919, Frank Conrad, a Westinghouse electrical 10-31-20-radio-ad-election-resultsengineer operating a radio station (8XK) from his garage, captivated amateur radio enthusiasts when he first broadcast music from his record collection over radio. Conrad’s musical broadcasts became so popular that in September 1920 local Pittsburgh department store Horne’s installed a radio receiver in its downtown store to receive amateur broadcasts, and became the first department store to advertise and sell radio sets. A month later in October 1920, Conrad’s employer Westinghouse Electric capitalized on the increasing popularity of his amateur broadcasts by establishing the first commercial radio station (KDKA). KDKA’s first broadcast was on the evening of November 2, 1920 when it announced the election results between Warren Harding and James Cox to an audience of about 1,000 listeners. KDKA was officially launched on December 22, 1920 when it started daily programming. A year later, Westinghouse was producing radios that were marketed and sold throughout the city.

The first major league baseball radio broadcast was on August 5, 1921 when the Pirates defeated the Phillies 8-5harold-arlin-photo at Forbes Field. A couple of months later on October 8, 1921 the first college football live radio broadcast took place at Forbes Field when the University of Pittsburgh defeated West Virginia University 21-13. All Pitt home games that year were broadcast on the radio. These historic sports broadcasts were announced by KDKA’s Harold Arlin, considered radio’s first broadcast announcer. Arlin was an engineer at Westinghouse when he applied and got the job to be KDKA’s full-time announcer. He left the world of radio broadcasting in 1925  when he accepted a promotion within Westinghouse, but he pioneered a field that would produce Pittsburgh sports broadcasting legends like Rosey Rowswell, Joe Tucker, Bob Prince, Mike Lange and Myron Cope.

The Steelers are currently in their 84th season, and since their founding in 1933 they have had four flagship radio stations: WWSW, KDKA, WTAE and WDVE. For the first six seasons on radio station WWSW (1933 through 1938), only Steeler away games were broadcast. The team thought that broadcasting home games would keep fans from coming to the ball park. The broadcasts were not live from the ballpark, because in those days many radio stations lacked the technology or sponsorships (budget) to do live game broadcasts. Instead, WWSW would re-create the games remotely in studio, where the announcer and sound engineers received play-by-play game action over ticker tape (the wire) from a telegraph operator at the ballpark. Sound effects like crowd noise were added in the studio to make the 12-31-49-wwsw-ad-joe-tucker-bob-princelistener feel like the broadcast was coming directly from the stadium. The first Steelers broadcast on WWSW was October 15, 1933 when the Steelers played the Packers at City Stadium in Green Bay.

In 1939, KDKA became the primary station for the Steelers. For the first time, all Steeler games were broadcast, both away and home. In addition, KDKA had the technology to broadcast direct from the ballpark. However, the quality of the live broadcasts often suffered from technical difficulties, so as a backup WWSW still re-created the games in studio via ticker tape (telegraph) and broadcast simultaneously. If the live game broadcast was interrupted on KDKA, fans could switch to WWSW and not miss any of the action. The opening game between the Steelers and Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field on September 14, 1939 was the first live Steeler broadcast direct from the field (the Steelers scheduled opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 10, 1939 was postponed). The following week on September 24, 1939 the first ever Steeler home game was broadcast locally in Pittsburgh when the Steelers played the Chicago Cardinals at Forbes Field.

10-2-39-kdka-wwsw-direct-from-field-broadcastIn 1940, the Steelers returned to WWSW. The station now had the ability to broadcast direct from the field. KQV served as the partner station that re-created the games and broadcasted them simultaneously alongside the WWSW live broadcasts. Again, all Steelers games (both home and away) were broadcast, which would be the case moving forward. Starting in 1941, only live Steeler broadcasts direct from the ballpark were carried on the radio; re-created studio broadcasts were officially phased out.
In the broadcast booth, the Steelers had frequent turnover for the first few years of their existence.  In the Steelers inaugural season of 1933, Ed Sprague called the games. In 1934 and 1935, Al Helfer was behind the microphone. In 1936, Jack Craddock replaced Helfer and did the play-by-play until he left the station in November 1936.  Joe Tucker replaced Craddock and continued behind the microphone for the 1937 & 1938 seasons. When KDKA became the main Steelers flagship station for the 1939 season and started broadcasting live from the field,  Russ Hodges was the play-by-play voice (Hodges later became famous for calling Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” game-ending, pennant-clinching home run against the Dodgers in 1951 when he cried repeatedly “The Giants win the pennant!”).

Joe Tucker would return to the microphone in 1940 and would be the main play-by-play announcer on joe-tucker-photoradio and/or television for the next 28 seasons, eventually being forced out after the 1967 season. Tucker was the original “Voice of the Steelers” and the first of several long-tenured voices behind the microphone for Steeler broadcasts.

When Tucker returned to the broadcast booth in 1940, television was still in its infancy. Residents of Pittsburgh had just gotten their first glimpse of television a year earlier in June 1939 when local department store Kaufmann’s showcased the technology during a week-long exhibition at its 5th Avenue flagship store. Later that same year on October 22, 1939 NBC televised the first NFL game when it broadcast the Philadelphia Eagles and Brooklyn Dodgers.

The first televised Steelers game was on October 21, 1945 when they defeated the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds in NYC. However, Pittsburgh residents were unable to watch the game because the city didn’t have television service. On January 12, 1949 WDTV (a Dumont station) officially launched in Pittsburgh. In the weeks leading up to the launch, numerous department stores began advertising and selling television sets. On the evening of January 11, 1949 over 4,000 people filled the Syria Mosque concert hall to watch the inaugural live telecast that was broadcast to homes throughout Pittsburgh.

On September 25, 1949 ABC broadcast the first game from Pittsburgh when the Steelers opened their season by beating the New York Giants at Forbes Field. However, once again, local Steeler fans were unable to watch the game live on television. WDTV was restricted from carrying live broadcasts of Steeler games for the 1949 season. Atlantic Oil (now Sunoco and Arco) sponsored Steeler radio broadcasts, and they stipulated in their contract with the team that none of the games could be televised live. However, they did strike a deal where the games could be filmed and replayed later in the week. The games were boiled down to one-hour films and shown on Thursday nights at 10pm. Joe Tucker, who had been doing play-by-play for the Steeler radio broadcasts on WWSW, handled the same duty for the televised replays. Bob Prince, who joined Tucker on radio broadcasts in 1948, handled the color commentary and commercials.

For the 1950 season, in addition to being broadcast on the radio, all games were once again filmed and then converted into 30 minute highlight reels that were aired on Wednesday nights at 9:30pm on WDTV8-26-50-tucker-prince-wwsw-ad. Again, Tucker and Prince did the radio broadcasts for each game as well as the commentary for the televised highlights.

Finally, in 1951 local fans were able to see the Steelers live on TV for the first time when they faced the Browns in Cleveland on October 21, 1951. Five away games were carried live on WDTV for the 1951 season, while home were blacked-out. From 1951 through the 1972 season, the NFL had a league-wide policy where away games were televised in local markets while home games could only be heard on the radio. Much like when home games weren’t broadcast over the radio back in the 1930s, the league was concerned that fans wouldn’t attend home games if they could watch them from the comfort of their living rooms. Finally in 1973, the NFL ended this policy and allowed local markets to broadcast home games as long as those games were sold-out 72 hours in advance. On September 16, 1973 the Steelers first ever home game was televised locally in the Pittsburgh market when they defeated the Detroit Lions. From 1973 through today, the Steelers have had a weekly presence on local television and radio.

10-28-56-kdka-radio-and-tv-steelers-adJoe Tucker remained teamed up with legendary Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince through the 1956 season. When the Steelers played at home and were only broadcast on radio, Tucker did the play-by-play while Prince provided the color commentary. However, when the Steelers were on the road, Prince did the play-by-play on the radio while Tucker traveled with the team to broadcast the televised games. In 1955 ,the Steelers moved their radio broadcasts from WWSW to KDKA. Tucker and Prince were joined by Red Donley and Ken Hildebrand. While Tucker was broadcasting televised away games, Donley and Hildebrand worked alongside Bob Prince on the radio.

Prior to the 1957 season, Iron City Brewing Co. became the new sponsor of Pirates baseball radio broadcasts, while Duquesne Brewing Co. remained the sponsor of Steelers broadcasts. As a result of this conflict, Bob Prince (Pirates announcer) was removed from his double-duty as a Steelers broadcaster. For the 1957 season, Tom Bender was brought on to replace Prince, and he teamed up with Joe Tucker and Red Donley.

The Steelers relationship with KDKA only lasted three years. KDKA was also the flagship station for the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the first several weeks of each football season (late August, September and early October) it was common for Pirate games to overlap with Steelers games. KDKA always carried the Pirate games live due to the club’s popularity and sponsorship obligations, and the station would tape and rebroadcast the Steeler games after the conclusion of the baseball games. The Steelers organization wasn’t happy about being overshadowed by the Pirates, especially since they were trying to expand their popularity and fanbase. So in 1958, the Steelers broadcasts moved from KDKA back to WWSW. Tucker and Donley remained on the broadcast team, while Bender stayed at KDKA. As a result, Jack Fleming was hired to replace Bender and assist Red Donley with the away radio broadcasts when Tucker was doing the television broadcasts.

At the conclusion of the 1961 season, Red Donley left the Steelers broadcast booth and became the play-by-play announcer for the Pitt Panthers. Starting in 1962, Jack Fleming replaced Donley and became the main play-by-play announcer for Steelers road games, and provided color commentary alongside Joe Tucker when the Steelers were at home. When Fleming was doing play-by-play, he was sometimes assisted by Steelers publicity director Ed Kiely who provided the commentary.

In April 1964, the Steelers once again left WWSW and signed a contract to return to KDKA. Since KDKA 7-5-66-kdka-new-contract-steelers-dan-rooneywas still the flagship for the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the main hurdles in the negotiations was avoiding the broadcast conflicts between the Pirates and Steelers when they played simultaneously. KDKA agreed to farm-out the conflicting Steelers games to other stations to broadcast live, rather than taping and rebroadcasting like the station had done during their previous stint as the Steelers flagship. So from 1964 through 1967, when the Steelers and Pirates played at the same time, the Pirates broadcast live on KDKA-AM, while the Steelers broadcast live on WWSW and KDKA-FM. KDKA-AM would also replay the taped broadcast of the Steelers following the Pirates games.

The Steelers put pressure on KDKA to keep Joe Tucker in some capacity, but Tucker was the sports editor at rival WWSW. To appease the Steelers, KDKA  allowed Tucker to continue broadcasting Steeler games on television (WWSW granted permission to KDKA to use Tucker), but his radio broadcasting days were over. KDKA’s Tom Bender returned to replace Tucker in the booth and teamed up with Jack Fleming, with Bender doing play-by-play and Fleming doing commentary.

joe-tucker-1981

Joe Tucker joined Myron Cope in the booth on 9/20/81 for the Steelers vs. Jets

For the 1968 season, Joe Tucker was removed from his television duties by CBS. He looked to join the KDKA radio broadcasts, but the station chose to stick with Bender and Fleming. After 32 years as the Steelers play-by-play man on radio and/or television, Joe Tucker was officially no longer “The Voice of the Steelers”. With Tucker out, KDKA severed their partnership with WWSW (who had been “loaning” Tucker to KDKA for the televised games). For the 1968 and 1969 season, whenever there were broadcast conflicts between the Pirates and Steelers, KDKA-AM would broadcast the Pirates live, while WJAS would broadcast the Steelers live. KDKA-AM no longer replayed taped Steeler games after the conclusion of the Pirate games.

In 1970, the Steelers moved from KDKA to WTAE. Dan Rooney had assumed greater influence within the organization in the late 1960s, and he was frustrated that the Steelers were second fiddle to the Pirates on KDKA. Rooney  made the decision to move the Steelers to a new flagship station, WTAE, for the 1970 season, which coincided with the Steelers move from Pitt Stadium to their brand new home, Three Rivers Stadium.

Fleming remained the play-by-play broadcaster, but Bender was let go. The Steelers and WTAE initially reached out to Dick Stockton to join Fleming, but Stockton declined as he wanted to continue pursuing 8-24-86 Cope Fleming Steelers Broadcast Adplay-by-play on television broadcasts. The Steelers then set their sites on local Pittsburgh sports personality Myron Cope. Cope had spent almost his entire life as a writer and sports journalist in Pittsburgh, and had been with WTAE for a couple of years doing sports commentaries. Cope accepted the job as the new color analyst for the Steelers, a position he would hold for 35 straight years until his retirement in 2005.

Fleming eventually retired at the conclusion of the 1993 season after 36 years in the broadcast booth (24 years teamed up with Myron Cope). For the 1994 season, Bill Hillgrove teamed up with Myron Cope as the new play-by-play man for the Steelers. Hillgrove had been a broadcaster for WTAE for 27 years, and was the play-by-play announcer for both Pitt football and basketball since 1974. For the 1995 season, WTAE added former Steelers running back Merrill Hoge to the broadcast team. Hoge spent two seasons in the booth providing analysis alongside Hillgrove and Cope. Prior the start of the 1997 season, Hoge permanently joined ESPN, and once again it was just the two-person broadcast team of Hillgrove and Cope.

For the 1998 season, WTAE went back to a three-person broadcast crew when it hired former Steeler offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin to provide analysis alongside Hillgrove and Cope. The 1998 season would also be the final season of Steelers broadcasts on WTAE. After 29 straight seasons on WTAE, the Steelers moved to their new flagship WDVE on the FM dial starting in the 1999 season, and the broadcast trio of Hillgrove, Cope and Ilkin was retained.

At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Myron Cope retired after 35 years as the color analyst for the Steelers. The Steelers and WDVE did not replace the legendary “Voice of the Steelers”, and moving forward returned to a two-person broadcast team of Hillgrove and Ilkin, who continue broadcasting games on WDVE to this day.

Steelers Flagship Radio Stations:

  • WWSW from 1933 through 1938
  • KDKA 1939
  • WWSW 1940 through 1954
  • KDKA 1955 through 1957
  • WWSW 1958 through 1963
  • KDKA 1964 through 1969
  • WTAE 1970 through 1998
  • WDVE 1999 through 2018

Steelers Radio Broadcasters by Season:

Steelers Radio Broadcasters 1933 through 2016:

  • Ed Sprague (1 season)
  • Al Helfer (2 seasons)
  • Jack Craddock (2 seasons)
  • Joe Tucker (28 seasons)
  • Russ Hodges (1 season)
  • Woody Wolfe (1 season)
  • Bill Cullen (1 season)
  • Bob Prince (9 seasons)
  • Red Donley (7 seasons)
  • Ken Hildebrand (1 season)
  • Tom Bender (7 seasons)
  • Jack Fleming (36 seasons)
  • Myron Cope (35 seasons)
  • Bill Hillgrove (currently in his 23rd season in 2016)
  • Merrill Hoge (2 seasons)
  • Tunch Ilkin (currently in his 19th season in 2016)

Key Moments in Steelers Radio & Television Broadcast History:

  • 1933 – First Steelers radio broadcast locally in Pittsburgh on WWSW (10/15/33 – Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers – City Stadium)
  • 1933 through 1938 – Only Steelers away games broadcast on radio. All games are re-created remotely in studio; there are no live broadcasts direct from the ballpark
  • 1939 – All Steelers games now on the radio, both home and away. All games are now broadcast live from the ballpark. As backup in case of technical difficulties during the live broadcasts, a partner station re-creates the games and broadcasts simultaneously.
  • 1939 – First live Steeler radio broadcast locally in Pittsburgh on KDKA (9/14/39 – Steelers vs. Brooklyn Dodgers – Ebbets Field)
  • 1939 – First ever Steeler home game broadcast locally in Pittsburgh on KDKA (9/24/39 – Steelers vs. Chicago Cardinals – Forbes Field)
  • 1941 – Steeler games now only broadcast live from the ballpark. Re-created games are permanently phased out.
  • 1945 – First televised Steelers game (10/21/45 – Steelers vs. NY Giants – Polo Grounds)
  • 1949 – First televised Steelers home game (9/25/49 – Steelers vs. NY Giants – Forbes Field)
  • 1951 – First televised Steelers game available for viewing in the Pittsburgh market (10/21/51 –  Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns – Cleveland Stadium)
  • 1951 through 1972 – NFL black-out rule in effect. Steelers away games are televised locally in the greater Pittsburgh area. Steelers home games only available on radio, blacked-out on TV.
  • 1973 – First televised Steelers home game broadcast locally in Pittsburgh (9/16/73 Steelers vs. Detroit Lions – Three Rivers Stadium)
  • 1973 through 2014  – Revised NFL black-out rule in effect. Steeler home games can be televised as long as they are sold-out 72 hours prior to start time. All Steelers games (both home and away) televised locally in the greater Pittsburgh area
  • 2015  & 2016 – NFL suspends black-out rule. All Steelers games (both home and away) televised locally in the greater Pittsburgh area

Double Yoi!! – Myron Cope The Writer

Anyone in the greater Pittsburgh area who followed the Steelers ascension out of four decades of losing starting in 1972 to unparalleled greatness is familiar with Steelers’ color analyst Myron Cope. And like me, if you missed the Super Steelers dynasty of the 1970s and grew up on the so-so Steelers of the 1980s and the ragtag playoff teams of the 90s, you are quite familiar with Cope as well. He was the “Voice of the Steelers”, not only as the color commentator during the WTAE radio game broadcasts on 1250AM, but also on his nightly WTAE radio sportstalk program Myron Cope on Sports, and on the WTAE Channel 4 News where he did commentaries several times a week. For those who don’t remember the late, great Myron Cope or didn’t live in Western PA, words cannot begin to express Cope’s nasally, thick Pittsburgh accent and the enthusiasm that he exuded. So I’ll start by posting this great segment that NFL Films did on Myron Cope in 1997. For those familiar with Cope, this will put a smile on your face. For those uninitiated eardrums that will be hearing Cope for the first time, I suggest you turn your volume down and gradually increase it as the video proceeds.

While Myron Cope’s legacy to most Steelers fans is as a radio personality and broadcaster, he actually studied to become a writer in school and it was always his first passion. Before becoming the “Voice of the Steelers” in the broadcast booth, Cope spent nearly the first 20 years of his professional career as an accomplished newspaperman and freelance magazine writer, as well as author of several books. This post is dedicated to those two decades of Cope’s writing. Please click on the numerous links throughout the post to see original newspaper articles highlighting my research, as well as pertinent original scans of his writing that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and major magazines of that era.

1947 Myron Cope

Myron Cope 1947 – Senior at Taylor Allderdice High School

Myron Kopelman (Myron Cope) was born in Pittsburgh on January 23, 1929 and spent his entire life in the city, with the exception of a brief seven month stint in Erie, PA at the Erie Times. He attended Taylor Allderdice High School, where he discovered his interest in sports writing and wrote a sports column for the high school newspaper entitled “Kope’s Comments.” After graduating from Taylor Allderdice in January 1947, he went on to attend University of Pittsburgh. He was a sportswriter for Pitt News as a freshman and sophomore, and during his junior year he was sports editor of the Pitt News and hosted a radio sports program on campus. Cope was also a member of the national honorary journalism fraternity, Pi Delta Epsilon. He graduated in January 1951 with a B.A. in English, and took a job as a sports writer at the Erie Times immediately upon graduating. He remained at that newspaper for only seven months, as Erie wasn’t quite the sports town that Pittsburgh was. One thing that Cope discovered during his time in Erie was that he could sell his writing to magazines. With so much downtime as a sportswriter in a non-sports town like Erie, Cope tried his hand at writing a fictional short story about a romance between a pro wrestler and a diner waitress. He sold the story to SIR! Magazine (an old stag magazine) in New York City for $50 in July 1951, and it appeared in the September 1951 issue and was his first published magazine story.

Myron Kopelman Pitt News 1950

Myron Cope 1950 – Sports Editor of Pitt News

Before the short story was even published in SIR! Magazine, Cope jumped on a job opportunity at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette as a general assignment writer. He returned to Pittsburgh in August 1951 and spent the rest of his life in the city.  His managing editor at the Post Gazette, Joe Shuman, recommended that he change his name from Myron Kopelman to Myron Cope because there were already too many Jewish-sounding names writing for the newspaper. His first article appeared on November 14, 1951 under the byline of Myron Cope, and he was reassigned to sports given his past writing experience in college and in Erie. He spent the next nine years as a sports writer at the Post Gazette. During that time he sold about a half dozen articles to various magazines to supplement his income and gain further exposure. His first story was sold to True Magazine, and was about local Pittsburgh boxer and former welterweight world champion Fritzie Zivic, who was known for being a dirty fighter.  Cope discovered Zivic in 1955 bartending at a local watering hole he frequented called Benny’s, and thought that a story about his life could spark interest from a magazine. True Magazine bought the manuscript from Cope, although it wasn’t published until June 1958. His first published story as a freelance writer appeared in the August 4, 1956 edition of The Saturday Evening Post and was a profile on Pittsburgh Pirate Bobby Friend, who was an All-Star starting pitcher who supplemented his big league income as a stock broker in the offseason. Cope also had a popular story published in the November 1959 edition of Sport Magazine about quarterback Bobby Layne who joined the Steelers from the Detroit Lions in 1958 to play out his Hall-of-Fame career.

myron-cope-1953-sports-almanac

Myron Cope 1953 – Pittsburgh Post Gazette

With his stories being picked up by various magazines with some regularity, Cope’s writing abilities were outpacing his salary at the Post Gazette. Also, after almost nine years at the newspaper, he had yet to be promoted to a beat writer. As a result, he decided to leave the newspaper and focus full time on being a freelance sports writer for the growing sports magazine industry. His last article for the Post Gazette as a salaried member of the staff appeared in the January 29, 1960 “Roamin’ Around” column, a daily column that the various sports writers at the paper took turns penning. From 1960 to 1968 Cope was a freelance sports writer for numerous magazines such as Sport Magazine, True Magazine, Saturday Evening Post and Sports Illustrated, which gave him a national audience and greater notoriety.

Myron Cope 1963 34 years old

Myron Cope 1963

Cope’s first story as a freelancer was about Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Dick Stuart, which he sold to The Saturday Evening Post in April 1960, although it wasn’t published until two years later in the April 28, 1962 issue. Cope’s biggest breakthrough as a writer came in 1962 when he wrote a story on Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali). “Look Out, World! Here Comes Cassius” appeared in the July 1962 issue of True Magazine. The following year that story brought national acclaim to Cope in the form of the 1963 E.P. Dutton Prize for best magazine sportswriting in the nation. Cope wrote another story on Muhammad Ali titled “Muslim Champ” that appeared in the November 14, 1964 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, a publication that Cope wrote for regularly as a freelancer. In the summer of 1964, The Saturday Evening Post signed Cope to a contract and listed him as Contributing Editor in its masthead. This gave Cope some financial stability as well as increased credibility as a featured writer. However, Cope wasn’t happy writing only about star athletes, which Saturday Evening Post wanted him to focus on since they had mass appeal. He found that boring and would rather write about “goofball” athletes, so he resigned from The Saturday Evening Post, with his final article about Syracuse All-American running back Floyd Little appearing in the November 19, 1966 edition.

myron cope 1970

Myron Cope 1970

Immediately upon departing The Saturday Evening Post, Cope joined Sports Illustrated and was only one of two professional writers in the country at that time that were put under contract as contributing writers to the magazine. Cope spent six years under contract with SI, and churned out many stories on zany sports characters, like his 1968 profile on then-unknown golfer Lee Trevino who just happened to win the US Open a day before the article was published. But he also wrote great stories on superstar athletes like Roberto Clemente in 1966. His profile on Howard Cosell, which was published in the March 13, 1967 issue, was named one of the top Sports Illustrated article of all time by the magazine on its 50th Anniversary in 2004. Even after leaving his contract at Sports Illustrated for the world of color commentary in 1970, Cope still contributed various stories to Sports Illustrated, including an August 20, 1973 story about the Steelers transcendence from a forty-year laughing stock to their AFC Central crown and divisional playoff win over the Raiders on Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception.

In addition to becoming a featured professional writer in various national magazines, Cope also churned out several books during this time. For his first book, Cope teamed up with legendary Browns running back Jim Brown to help write his memoir, Off My Chest, which was published in 1964. Cope followed that up with Broken Cigars in 1968, which was a collection of 18 of his magazine articles from the previous seven years. In 1970, Cope’s book The Game That Was; The Early Days of Pro Football was published.

While Cope established himself as a respected professional sports journalist and author during the 1960s, his greatest accomplishment during this decade was in his personal life. On December 28, 1964 Cope married his wife of 30 years, Mildred. Four years later in 1968 they had a son Danny, who factored into the major career decisions Cope made moving forward that ultimately forged his lasting legacy as a a radio personality and “Voice of the Steelers.”

Yoi! – Myron Cope The Yinzer

Job seekers lined up down Forbes Ave. and wrapped around the Pittsburgh City-County Building 1983

Before I go into detail on the late, great Myron Cope, it’s important to illustrate the dichotomy of the backdrop that exists between the renaissance Pittsburgh is experiencing today, and the depression era Pittsburgh of the 1970s and 1980s. The Steelers ascension from a 40-year perennial loser to the most successful franchise since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, came at the exact time that the city of Pittsburgh was beginning to enter the early stages of a severe economic downturn. When Franco Harris made the Immaculate Reception on December 23, 1972 unemployment in the region was 4.3 percent and there were 303,600 manufacturing jobs. A decade later in 1983, unemployment in the region peaked at 14.7% (with areas like Beaver County experiencing a staggering unemployment rate of 28%) and manufacturing jobs plummeted to 196,800.

jl-steel-now-and-then

Abandoned J&L Steel site late 1980s (left) versus 2014 (right)

The collapse of the steel industry was already in motion during the 1960s, but began to accelerate throughout the 1970s, with the final death blow coming after the 1981-1982 recession. Local newspapers were littered on a weekly basis with article, after article, after article regarding layoffs and plant closings during 1982 and 1983. The steel mill closings had a ripple effect all over the region as raw material suppliers, transporters of those materials, and other factories involved in the supply chain were shuttered. Between 1979 and the end of 1985, the greater Pittsburgh area lost 113,000 manufacturing jobs, with almost 59,000 of those losses in basic steel (and 23,000 of those losses in basic steel took place in a two year period from 1983 to 1985). When the hemorrhaging stopped in 1986, there was a permanent loss of 120,000 manufacturing jobs. Today there are no steel mills within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s last piece of the steel industry, LTV Steel, closed its Hazelwood coke plant in 1997 and was demolished in 1999. Today shopping centers, office complexes, technology centers and residences occupy the former sites of steel giants like US Steel and J&L.

us-steel-homestead-works-before-and-after

Abandoned US Steel Homestead facilities 1989 (left) versus 2014 (right)

As jobs vanished, so did Pittsburgh’s population. Metropolitan Pittsburgh dropped a higher percentage of population in the 1980s than Detroit and Cleveland combined, and 1984-1985 was the worst period for out-migration. Net loss of population due to migration exceeded 50,000 people a year across the Pittsburgh region in the early 1980s. As higher paying union jobs dried up, people either took lower paying jobs or left the area. Allegheny County lost over 113,000 people during the 1980s. The majority of those that left the region were between 20 and 35 years old, as they were impacted greatly by layoffs in manufacturing due to the seniority system in place. This migration of younger workers out of Pittsburgh in the 1980s is why Steeler Nation is so strong across the country. As Pittsburgh’s population decreased drastically, so did its tax base. Making matters even worse, major corporations based in Pittsburgh (like Gulf Oil, Westinghouse and Rockwell International) were bought out and their headquarters relocated. As a result, high paying white collar jobs went elsewhere, and the area suffered brain drain on top of having its manufacturing gutted and tax base decimated. Pittsburgh’s current renaissance is truly amazing and a testament to the city’s tenacity.

The Ultimate Steelers Fan Bud Recktenwald

“The Ultimate Steelers Fan” Bud Recktenwald heading to his tailgate spot in the predawn hours before a 1pm Steelers vs. Pats game in 1998. His car is now enshrined at the Heinz History Museum.

The Steelers ascension to a dynasty in the 1970s gave the city something to cheer about and coalesce around. Sundays became a temporary escape from reality for fans. A certain camaraderie was built amongst Steelers fans outside of Three Rivers Stadium on Sundays prior to kickoff…something that I feel has declined since the North Shore as been redeveloped.  Today the area surrounding Heinz Field is full of bars, restaurants, hotels, a concert venue and even a casino…tailgating keeps getting pushed out. Back then it was just Three Rivers Stadium surrounded by a concrete desert of parking stalls, which on Sundays tailgaters filled to capacity hours before game time. By the time the gates opened and the party carried from the parking lot inside, the fans were primed and ready to go. It was a different vibe back then. The city was more blue collar so the fans were rowdier and more vocal. The stadium was the traditional enclosed cookie cutter layout of that era, and the crowd noise was amplified as a result. The modern amenities that can be found at Heinz Field were non-existent…luxury boxes were minimal and fans couldn’t escape the elements by huddling inside heated, luxurious club level concourses. Fans could bring small coolers of food and non-alcoholic beverages into the stadium. As a result you had a more affordable ticket/experience and as a result a more ardent fanbase. This culminated in a stadium that literally shook when fans were stomping to “Here We Go Steelers!”

Pittsburgh North Shore 1980 and 2014

Pittsburgh’s North Shore 1980 (left) versus 2014 (right)

While slamming Iron City beers in the parking lot definitely helped to lubricate the fanbase, it was that distinct voice with the nasally, thick Pittsburgh accent blaring out of every car speaker in the lot that really got fans into game mode. Against the drab backdrop of 1970s and 1980s Pittsburgh was this complete contrast – “The Voice of The Pittsburgh Steelers” Myron Cope. He was the most unique color analyst that the sports world has known, and I’m glad that he was ours. Every radio was tuned into WTAE 1250 AM to listen to Myron Cope and Jack Fleming (and later Bill Hargrove) on the Steelers pregame show. And once the game started, you would see lots of fans in the stands (especially in peanut heaven) with their walkman radios and earphones listening to the play-by-play broadcast of the game by Fleming and Cope.

Three Rivers Stadium parking lot circa 1982

Three Rivers Stadium parking lot for a special tailgate party during the 1982 NFL lockout. The Terrible Trailer can be seen in the background.

When I started attending games in the late 80s as a young kid, we would sit in the 6th Street Parking garage in my grandfather’s old burgundy Cadillac listening to Cope on the pregame show while eating chipped ham sandwiches. That’s what I remember the most…I could barely tell you anything that actually happened during the games because the Steelers in the late 80s were quite forgettable. But it was Cope’s voice and his passion that jumped through those speakers and got you excited and energized, even if you had no reason to be. Cope wasn’t a “homer” when it came to commentary, and that was why he resonated. If the team was lousy, he let it be known. He articulated the emotions that fans were feeling at any given time, and in a way that no one else could. Cope was the exact person needed for the job at the exact right time. He carried the Steelers through the dull days of the 1980s when they had few wins and even fewer stars. He was a bonafide yinzer who was the embodiment of a fervent fan base who lived for Sundays.

I know the loud atmosphere at games has mainly been affected by the open design of Heinz Field which dilutes the crowd noise. And I know higher ticket prices combined with a city in transition from dominantly blue collar to increasing white collar brings a different temperament of fan to the games. But I believe the energy at the games took a hit after Cope’s health started declining, leading to his retirement in 2005 and passing in 2008. But Cope’s legacy lives on and his energy is resurrected at every home game as 60,000 fans twirl their Terrible Towels in unison.

The Terrible Wall Is Indeed Terrible…

“The Terrible Towel Wall is a great way to display and preserve the many versions of The Terrible Towel,” said team president Art Rooney II. “It makes a great addition to the Great Hall at Heinz Field, and I’m sure that our fans will enjoy recalling at the history of The Terrible Towel.”

The Terrible Wall @ Heinz Field

In late April 2012 I remember reading this press release by the Steelers regarding the newest addition to the Great Hall at Heinz Field…The Terrible Wall. I was excited to see it in person since it supposedly showcased the evolution of the Terrible Towel in it’s different variations over the past four decades. After seeing it, all I could say was that The Terrible Wall was indeed terrible. And every year when I attend my obligatory Steelers home game around Christmas, I check out the wall, and it remains terrible.

 

1993 Terrible Towel wrongly labeled as a 1975 towel

The encasement displays that contain the towels are nice and it is a focal point that doesn’t get totally lost amongst all of the other displays in The Great Hall. But
it could be so much better in terms of content. Whomever was in charge of curating this experience
appears to have just gone to a Steelers Sideline store and purchased all the different variations of Terrible Towels that were currently in stock at the time. The towels presented on the wall are almost all from 2003 – 2012 and really don’t have any history behind them. The only collectible towel on the wall is the Three Rivers Stadium commemorative towel from 2000. There are no licensed Gimbel’s towels from the late 70s (or even any unlicensed towels from that era). There isn’t even a Heinz Field Inaugural Game Towel. And the most egregious oversight to me is that the only towel from the 1990s (when the towel made it’s comeback and officially transitioned from gimmick to icon) is mislabeled as an original towel from 1975 instead of 1993.

Lynn Swann & John Stallworth posing with original design Terrible Towels from Gimbel's following their win in the AFC Championship game against the Houston Oilers on 1/7/79.

Lynn Swann & John Stallworth posing with original design Terrible Towels from Gimbels following their win in the AFC Championship game against the Houston Oilers on 1/7/79.

So if the point of the wall is to help fans recall the history of The Terrible Towel, it fails miserably. There were hundreds of thousands of the 1993 Terrible Towel produced for the three years of its design cycle, which coincided with the Steelers return to the Super Bowl against the Cowboys at the conclusion of the 1995 season. So any fan who has a common mid-90s towel and sees the Terrible Wall, thinks that they have an original 1975 towel, when in fact there were no printed/licensed towels in 1975…they were all homemade or just blank towels people bought at department stores. Basic research by the person who curated the wall would reveal that there were no officially licensed printed towels in 1975 and certainly no trademarked towels. The first licensed, printed towels with the iconic typeface/font didn’t appear until Myron Cope struck an exclusive merchandising deal with Gimbel’s in 1978, and Cope didn’t get the trademark until prior to the 1979 season. But even those late 1970s Gimbel’s towels can be seen in various iconic photos, and it’s obvious that they aren’t the same as the 1993 version since the original versions never included the header “Myron Cope’s Official.” If you are creating an experience that is supposed to illustrate the history of the Terrible Towel, at the very least you should get the inception of the towel correct and have an original Gimbel’s towel included in the display.

This website/blog is my version of The Terrible Wall in digital form. After a decade of collecting Terrible Towels and doing research to understand what I was collecting, I figured it was time to finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keypad) and provide a comprehensive, accurate history of The Terrible Towel. It’s a history that closely follows the ups-and-downs of the Steelers. The overall success of The Terrible Towel was ultimately dependent on the success of the Steelers, and on the persistent promotion by its creator Myron Cope.

 

The Terrible Blogger

Like anyone born in Western Pennsylvania during the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s, I was born with the innate hereditary trait of loving anything that was black & gold….especially the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, I was born in 1980, exactly one month after the Steelers 4th Super Bowl title on January 20, 1980 against the Los Angeles Rams. The Steelers would enter a period of mediocrity for the next Christmas 1981decade as veterans from the Super Bowl teams began to deteriorate and retire, and the Steelers entered a rebuilding period. My first Steeler game was October 16, 1988 at Three Rivers, where Bubby Brister’s Steelers got blown out by Warren Moon’s Houston Oilers 34-14. The Steelers would finish that season 5-11, which was their worst record since 1969 when they finished 1-13 during Chuck Noll’s first season as head coach.

I went to most home games the following year in 1989 when the Steelers opened the season with back-to-back blowout losses to the Browns and Bengals. The 51-0 loss to the Browns on opening day of the 1989 season is still the worst loss in franchise history, and that was followed up by a 41-10 drubbing by the Bengals. As a young fan there weren’t many players to root for. Louis Lipps was the only bonafide “star” on the team. Rod Woodson and Greg Lloyd were just starting to bud into emerging stars, and future Hall-of-Fame center Dermontti Dawson had just taken over for Mike Webster (also a soon-to-be Hall of Famer and the last player left from the 1970s Super Bowl dynasty). That left quarterback Bubby Brister and running back Merril Hoge as the only players to root for by default. The Steelers would eventually right the ship that season and squeak into the playoffs for the first time since the 1984 season.

While there were lots of frustrated faces and boos throughout Three Rivers Stadium during these lackluster rebuilding years, one thing I never remember seeing were Terrible Towels. At this point, Terrible Towels were no longer being officially produced or merchandised. So they weren’t for sale at souvenir booths inside the stadium. It’s possible some parking lot vendors had some unlicensed towels for sale or some deadstock towels from Gimbel’s department store (which had closed it’s doors in 1986). Any of the local sports stores in the area that advertised in the GameDay programs, Steelers yearbooks, or local newspapers never advertised Terrible Towels. Just like the Steelers’ Super Bowl hopes had died during the 1980s, so to had the Terrible Towel.

It’s important to remember that during the Super Bowl runs in the late 1970s, the Terrible Towel had been reserved for home playoff games only for good luck, and wasn’t waved during regular season games. For all intents and purposes, the Terrible Towel was a gimmick, and like all gimmicks, its lifespan was initially short-lived. Once the Steelers missed the playoffs in 1980 & 1981 and then concluded the strike-shortened season of 1982 by getting eliminated from the playoffs by the Chargers, the marketing behind the Terrible Towel stopped as well as the merchandising and production. A lot of fans either threw away their towels, or packed them away.

The first Terrible Towel I remember seeing wasn’t until the 1992 season. The Steelers finished 11-5 that season under rookie head coach Bill Cowher, and they faced the Bills in the second round of the playoffs at Three Rivers Stadium on January 9, 1993 (it was the Steelers first home playoff game since the 1982 season). Myron Cope called for a revival of The Terrible Towel, and even made one of his notorious song parodies about towel (Achy Breaky Heart). While no Terrible Towels were being produced for retail, lots of fans were able to either dig their vintage Terrible Towels out of storage or brought plain gold/yellow towels to the game. The Steelers would ultimately lose, but this was the beginning of the towel’s resurrection as the stands were full of twirling towels.

In 1993, Terrible Towels were being printed and sold again at Three Rivers Stadium  and surrounding Steeler souvenir shops, although demand was lackluster. The towel was prevalent in the stands during the November 15, 1993 Monday Night Football game against the Bills. Cope had called for the towel to work its magic as the Steelers looked to end a five game skid against the Bills and more importantly avenge their playoff loss from the previous season. The Steelers shutout the bills 23-0 that night, but finished the season 9-7 and lost their Wild Card game on the road in Kansas City against the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Bills advanced to their fourth straight Super Bowl.

In 1994 the Terrible Towel was back for good as the Steelers went 12-4, and were considered a lock for the Super Bowl. The stadium was full of towels during the Steelers Week 16 showdown with bitter division rival the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers and Browns were fighting it out for the AFC Central title, and the Steelers needed to beat the Browns to clinch the division and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Steelers and The Terrible Towel prevaled, and the two teams met again a few weeks later during the Divisional Playoff at Three Rivers Stadium. with the same result. Although the Steelers would shockingly lose to the Chargers in the AFC Championship and miss a shot at a 5th Super Bowl ring, the Terrible Towel had undergone a resurgence and officially made the crossover from a gimmick to an iconic symbol that united Steelers fans across the world. It had become a staple at not only home playoff games, but regular season games both at home and on the road.

In 2006, I had the privilege of attending the Super Bowl in Detroit where the Steelers beat the Seahawks. It was at this point in my life that I began collecting Terrible Towels. Not only did I purchase all the commemorative towels from that Super Bowl, but I sat next to a gentleman that had a 1979 Super Bowl edition Terrible Towel. I had never seen one before. I always thought the mid-90s version of the Terrible Towel was the same design that was used during the late 70s. Thus began my interest in vintage Terrible Towels.

As a collector, it was important to me to know exactly what I was collecting, rather than just accumulating Terrible Towels for the sake of amassing the largest collection. I wanted to know the story behind each towel design. I wanted to know which towels were rare and which were common. I wanted to know that the towels I was buying were authentic and not counterfeit or homemade. So I did lots of research over the past decade to guide my collecting. During this time I found that there was no complete, accurate story about the Terrible Towel, and no website solely dedicated to the entire history of the towel. Prior to the 2012 season, The Terrible Wall was unveiled in the Great Hall at Heinz Field. I thought finally this would give an accurate visual history of the towel and its evolution. When I saw it in person I was completely disappointed, and it was at this time that I decided to create a website/blog that would give a comprehensive history of The Terrible Towel, complete with photos of all towels, tons of news articles and advertisements. It’s taken me a bit to curate all of the content, but with last season being the 40th anniversary of the creation of The Terrible Towel, I wanted to get this site launched.

This site is for Terrible Towel collectors and Steelers fans in general. It’s for research purposes only, and I am not selling any towels. All towels pictured on this site are from my personal collection. This is the most accurate history and evolution of The Terrible Towel that I could come up with based on my research, but I’m always looking for new insights and want this to be an open forum. I’ll start with blog posts, but as content increases I’ll be creating independent galleries and subsections that will be easier to navigate. I hope yinz enjoy!