Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Terrible Towel Maloiki

I posted this
at True/Slant and I left to go to lunch.

There's a great little authentic Mexican joint about a block away called Mexico City. It tastes much more like the food that I've had in Central America than anything else I've ever had. It's on the corner of Smithfield and the Boulevard of the Allies, so give it a whirl if you're downtown. You won't regret it. At any rate, everybody who works there is latino and many of them speak little english. Soccer is on the tv, around the clock, really. They serve Fanta sodas. This joint is legit.

So I finish my post and walk down the street to get some banging flautas and the first thing I see when I walk in the door is a Terrible Towel hanging behind the register. I swear I snorted. Some days, I love Pittsburgh.

Here's the full post from True/Slant on October 21, 2009:

The Terrible Towel Will Put a Curse on You

The Tennessee Titans are 0-6 and their stock is falling faster than AIG.
Last Sunday they were beaten 59-0, a smack-down of biblical proportions, and as much as I was tempted to say that Patriots piled on (because we know that Bill Belichick likes to pour it on), that one was on the Titans. It looked to me like many of them quit. The defensive backs looked less interested in covering New England wide outs than I am in having botox treatments. It was embarrassing.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Ice and cold and snow. But both teams played in cold and snow and ice. This kind of performance from a team that played 10 games last year before dropping even one is beyond shocking. Nobody can figure it out.

So what in the Sam Hill is going on around here? What turned these world beaters into egg beaters?

Sure, Jim Schwartz left Tennessee to go coach the Lions, and Albert Haynesworth was lured by the deep pockets of Danny Snyder. But they’ve dropped their last eight games.

I think it’s something else, something supernatural, perhaps metaphysical and well beyond the power of ordinary human comprehension (or at least that of most NFL analysts) which has done in this Jeff Fisher lead team.

It all turned in one moment of the otherwise hugely successful 2008 season, for on a warm December Sunday afternoon in Nashville, the Titans defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers. And disrespected the Terrible Towel, unleashing a great scourge on the franchise.

They haven’t won a game since.

They lost the season closer to Indy, then were slapped around by the Ravens in the playoffs. This year, it’s been more of the same and getting worse daily. Behold the power of the Towel.

For those people from any one of the other 31 NFL cities, I’m sorry. I realize that a few thousand loud, obnoxious, yellow towel-waiving Pittsburgh fans descending on your fair hamlet like so many unwashed Visigoths is probably nauseating. I get it. But the Towel itself must be respected, for it is more than just a revered symbol for Steelers fans: it has black magic and mojo. It is a Pandora’s box of voodoo pain waiting for some unsuspecting footballer to open it.

In December, 2005, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, then of the Cincinnati Bengals, wiped his shoes with one. A few weeks later, the Bengals lost in the playoffs to the Steelers and missed the playoffs every year after. That Cincinnati now sits atop the AFC North – after Houshmandzadeh’s departure for Seattle – is only more evidence of the power of the Terrible Towel.

Don’t believe T.J.? Ask the Titans how things are working out since LenDale White stomped on it, Jevon Kearse wiped his shoes on it and I think I saw one of the Titans blowing his nose in it. All that got them was a dirty towel and a world of hurt.

A moment, if you will, about the Towel itself. In 1975, Myron Cope, writer, raconteur, radio voice of the Steelers, and Pittsburgh legend came up with the notion of the Terrible Towel. The radio station he worked for was looking for a gimmick and Cope thought it should be something small, light-weight, and portable, and also something that people had at hand or could purchase cheaply. He went on the airwaves in the lead up the 1975 playoff game against the Colts exhorting fans to bring yellow or gold towels with them to the game. In his memoirs, Double Yoi, Cope remembered those first days after the conception of the Towel:

“Mind you, I did not see the Terrible Towel as witchcraft to hex the enemy. It would be a positive force, driving the Steelers to superhuman performance, but if it experienced a yen for mischief and created fatal mistakes by opponents, I would tolerate that. Not entirely sane by now, I daily intoned on the air, ‘The Terrible Towel is poised to strike!’”

You must realize that this was Myron Cope, who stood all of about 5′ 5″ and answered calls to his radio show by saying things like, “You got Cope, what’s on your noodle?” in his inimitable style with a voice that, well, to say that his voice was like chewing aspirin while working a jackhammer just begins to describe it. His voice was a hefty, hoarse Midwestern cheerleader chewing concrete mix, a Yorkshire Terrier choking on a Milkbone, a small, feral woodland creature being run over on a bike trail. It was gravely and squeaky, flat and excitable; he sputtered and stuttered and stammered. Sometimes he lost the ability to form words at all and shouted out things like “Hmmm Hah!” or “Yoi!” He seemed to be tipsy during game broadcasts from time to time.

In short, he was an unlikely radio celebrity, but Pittsburghers loved him and he us. So in 1975, when Myron Cope told fans to bring yellow towels to the playoff game, they did. And the flag of a nation, the talisman of a nomadic tribe of fans was born.

Before you knew it, officially licensed Terrible Towels were for sale, the proceeds from which Cope signed over to the Allegheny Valley School which provides care for more than 900 people with mental retardation and physical disabilities, including Cope’s autistic son.

Steelers fans can tell ourselves that it’s for a good cause, but if we’re being honest here, it’s also a compulsion. People carry them to games and bars and drape them over their television sets at home. (Heck, I took mine with me hiking all over mountains and glaciers in Patagonia because, you know, indigenous people love when we do that kind of stuff.) Steelers fans are buried with their Terrible Towels, and new parents wrap their infants in them. It’s silly and stupid; it’s possibly obnoxious and it is most certainly ridiculous. But it’s bigger than all of us. When Myron died, locals spontaneously hung Terrible Towels from their windows and on their front doors. It just happened.

Cope told us that the Terrible Towel was poised to strike, but it’s more than that: the Towel happens.

So, sacrifice small animals on the altar of your team, pray that they kick all holy hell out of the Steelers, burn Ben Roethisberger voodoo dolls at the 50 yard line and post incendiary comments on Steelers message boards.

Just don’t disrespect the Terrible Towel. Lest ye conjure a great evil.