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.

 

2 thoughts on “The Terrible Wall Is Indeed Terrible…

  • January 23, 2017 at 1:33 pm
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    What came first the black terrible towel or the yellow terrible towel ?

    Reply
    • January 23, 2017 at 4:33 pm
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      I’ll be writing a blog post shortly about the first Terrible Towels produced and marketed by Gimbels. But the black version and gold version both were released at the same time on Thursday December 21, 1978. They sold out very quickly at Gimbles stores across the greater Pittsburgh area. The following Thursday December 28, 1978 a new print run of towels was available, but this time in Yellow only. So there are three versions of the first issue towels from December 1978: Black, Gold and Yellow.

      Reply

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