Let Sleeping Towels Lie! aka Brant’s Terrible Towel!, somewhere near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant’s Grandfather J. All rights reserved.
In a few hours, Super Bowl XLIII begins at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida where an estimated 72,500 people will attend the 6:30 EST kickoff of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. The National Football League champions of the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) will battle it out for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Can you guess who my family in Pennsylvania will be cheering for?
Liz saw an NFL poll yesterday that showed 55% voting for the Cardinals to win. But I don’t know. I lived my teenage years in Pennsylvania and I know what a powerhouse the Steelers can be! Steelers fans are hardcore.
The Terrible Towel in the photographs is vintage 1976. That cute little guy is my grand nephew, Brant (or is it great nephew?), taking a little rest after one of the play-off games. He’s covered by the Terrible Towel belonging to his Grandmother D. (known to us on red Ravine as alittlediddy).
D.’s Terrible Towel is a never-been-washed original. It was a Super Bowl gift from her brother in 1976 when she went home to watch Super Bowl X with her family. The game was between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys — Steelers won 21 to 17. Her dress attire consisted of black jeans, yellow turtleneck with black sweater, and, of course, yellow earmuffs and black gloves, all the while, waving her Terrible Towel.
We went back and forth about the Towel on a New Year’s Day post on Sunshine Shrimp (which, by the way, would make a great Super Bowl appetizer!). I’m a fair-weather play-off fan; she’s die-hard Steelers. The story of the creation of Myron Cope’s Terrible Towel jumped out at me. When Liz saw a piece about it in The New York Times this week, that was all it took — the Tales Of The Terrible Towel post was born!
Myron Cope, the Pittsburgh broadcaster credited with creating the Terrible Towel in 1975, (and inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2005), died last February at age 79. His daughter Elizabeth Cope watched last year’s Super Bowl with him in his hospital room; she draped his coffin with a quilt that a fan had made out of Terrible Towels.
But what’s remarkable about Myron Cope’s story, is the way he has left a legacy of paying it forward. Most of the proceeds from the sale of the Terrible Towel go to Allegheny Valley School (AVS) where his 41-year-old son, Danny Cope, diagnosed with severe mental retardation when he was 2, and later with autism, has been a resident since 1982.
Danny Cope now lives in a supervised group home with four others in a Pittsburgh suburb, shops and goes to sports events, and has a paying job packaging pretzels and snacks on an assembly line. About 80 employees with severe disabilities help fold, tag, and box shipments of Terrible Towels at a workshop in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, similar to the one where Danny Cope works.
You have to applaud the generosity of spirit of Elizabeth Cope, Danny’s sister, who receives none of the proceeds from the Terrible Towel. Her father transferred the trademark in 1996 out of gratitude to AVS, a network of campuses and group homes across Pennsylvania for people with severe developmental disablities. According to the Allegheny Valley School website and the recent NY Times article, President and Chief Executive Officer Regis Champ tells it this way:
Myron Cope was a true friend to Allegheny Valley School and his gift of The Terrible Towel® trademark has created a living legacy to his incredible life. He came into my office, and he had a pile of papers. He threw them down on my desk and said, ‘Regis, I’m giving you the Terrible Towel.’ I said, ‘Myron, I have about 10 of them. I’ll take another one, but …He said, ‘No, I’m giving you the rights, and you’ll be able to get all the proceeds from the Terrible Towels.’ I was speechless.
Before this season, Allegheny Valley School had received more than $2.5 million from the towels since 1996. With the final tab for last year’s Super Bowl at $2.5 billion, isn’t it comforting to know that the proceeds from this year’s Terrible Towel will go to a worthy cause?
My grand-nephew Brant is 7 years old. Born at the end of June, he’s a Gemini just like his Grandmother D. Brant will inherit his grandmother’s Terrible Towel as part of the family legacy. Along with that inheritance, comes the vision of Myron Cope, the notion that anyone can take a simple idea like a terrycloth towel, and do something good for the world.
If you buy a towel for the Super Bowl, make sure it’s authentic. McArthur Towel & Sports of Baraboo, Wisconsin produced 450,000 Terrible Towels last week, after the Steelers won the A.F.C. championship. And a Steelers Super Bowl victory may lead to orders of at least 500,000 more (one set with the score against the Cardinals, another declaring the Steelers six-time Super Bowl champs). I admit, I usually go for the underdog. But with the stakes so high for Allegheny Valley School, I’m waving for the Steelers.
RESOURCES & READINGS
To read more about the Super Bowl, the history of the Terrible Towel, and Myron Cope, below are links to the resources used in this essay:
- Super Bowl Is World’s ‘Billion Dollar Game’ on NPR’s Talk of the Nation – January 29, 2009 — Allen St. John, author of The Billion Dollar Game, writes about an “economic engine that’s bigger than the GDP of many nations” and “the world’s biggest party.”
- For Terrible Towels, a Wonderful Legacy by John Branch of The New York Times – January 29th, 2009 — Great article on Myron Cope, his son, Danny, and daughter, Elizabeth, including photographs of the three.
- Allegheny Valley School – official website of Allegheny Valley School in Pennsylvania
- Myron Cope and the Terrible Towel at Allegheny Valley School – story of Myron Cope on the Allegheny Valley School website. Click this link and scroll down to the bottom of the page for info on how to order Myron Cope’s Official The Terrible Towel® or purchase a wide variety of Steelers Terrible Stuff Products online.
- Hear Myron Cope’s voice at The Museum of Broadcast Communications — Cope retired from the broadcasting in 2005, after a 35-year run with the Steelers. That summer, he received the Pete Rozelle Award for long time exceptional contributions to pro football in television and radio. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2005.
- Official Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club – Fan club site of the Pittsburgh Steelers
- Arizona Cardinals Official Website – site of the Arizona Cardinals
- NFL Super Bowl History – History and stats of all the Super Bowls
— all photographs used with permisson of the family, parents and grandparents of my grand nephew, Brant. Brant’s camera equipment is Fisher-Price. No animals were harmed in the making of these photographs!
-posted on red Ravine, the 43rd Super Bowl Sunday, February 1st, 2009