Not long ago, Dan
Rooney, the president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, handed me a copy of Sports
Business—The Management Newsletter for Sports Money Makers. He pointed to an
item he knew would interest me. Under the advisory "Watch for Fans,"
Sports Business confided to the moguls who subscribe to it: "Special,
almost unclassifiable gimmicks like the Steelers' 'Terrible Towel' are a fan
turn-on. The keys to the most successful of these devices seem to be 1) Color
and 2) Motion. Crowds dressed in the same color clothing can make an impact,
but it is passive. Color plus motion in the stands creates a kind of framework
for the contest itself, making the entire experience more memorable for the
spectator. We suggest a look at the Japanese and British sports crowds for
examples of dynamic display of color and motion."
I, as the creator
of the Terrible Towel, an instrument with which Steeler fans had flogged their
team to victories in Super Bowls X and XIII (the Steelers somehow won Super
Bowl IX without it), could not decide which impressed me more—Sports Business'
expertise in determining that color plus motion had made the towel a success,
or my audacity in creating the towel while ignorant of the fact that I was
mixing a precise formula that would produce a "special, almost
During the NBC
telecast of Super Bowl XIII, Curt Gowdy had referred to the towel as the
"dirty towel," an allusion that did not especially annoy me inasmuch as
Gowdy had botched the names of legions of professional football players. Let
him know that Sports Business, which gets $60 for 24 issues from sports
moneymakers, perceives the impact of the Terrible Towel, which, dirty or
laundered, is held to be good reason for the moneymakers to take a close look
at Japanese and British crowds. Lord, that I had known all that at the
was pure genius," said Rooney. "But you were too stupid to know what
you were doing."
Here I should
explain that I am a Pittsburgh radio/television sports commentator and an
analyst of Steeler games on radio. Late in November of 1975, I received a call
from the secretary to the vice-president and general manager of WTAE-Radio, who
said, "Can you step over to Ted's office?" Crossing the hall, I found
the burly figure of Ted J. Atkins. He was huddled with the vice-president for
sales, Larry Garrett. Atkins said, "The Steelers are going into the
playoffs. As you know, the first game will be here in Pittsburgh. As the
Steelers' flagship radio station, we think we should come up with some sort of
gimmick that will involve the people."
barked, "Come up with a gimmick!"
"I am not a
gimmick guy," I replied. "Never have been a gimmick guy."
understand," said Garrett. He explained that were I to promote some kind of
object that the fans would wave or wear at the playoffs, advertisers would be
so impressed by my hold on the public that they would clamor to sponsor my
"Besides," said Garrett, "your contract with us expires in three
gimmick guy," I shrugged.