A rally towel is a sports paraphernalia item and a type of towel often used as a fan symbol used in American sports events. The prototype of the modern rally NFL towel, created in 1975 by former Pittsburgh Steelers radio broadcaster Myron Cope, was known as the Terrible Towel, although in 1971, Western Kentucky started using a red towel for which they are still famous. Since the Terrible Towel's debut, teams have used similar gimmicks, mainly using white towels (or towels with the team's colors) and giving them out to fans. The main time teams give rally towels is during league postseasons. Towels have gained much popularity as distractions to visiting players. Teams that use rally towels include the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets, the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars, the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, and the MLB's San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
On December 27, 1975, the Pittsburgh Steelers entered the NFL playoffs against the Baltimore Colts. Two weeks prior to the game, the team's flagship radio station, WTAE, decided to create a gimmick to attract sponsors, with the help of Myron Cope, the Steelers radio broadcaster. They soon hit upon the idea of the Terrible Towel – a gold or yellow towel with the words "The Terrible Towel" printed on the front – which would be marketed to Steelers fans. The idea was criticized by the Steelers and the local press, but on the day of the game, as Cope later recalled: "...the Steelers gathered in the tunnel for introductions, whereupon the crowd exploded—and suddenly, by my estimation, 30,000 Terrible Towels twirled from the fists of fans around the stadium!" The Steelers not only won the game, but went on to win the Super Bowl for the second year running.
The first rally towels in baseball came from the Minnesota Twins. The Homer Hanky is a handkerchief printed in Twins logos given out to fans. The Homer Hanky first appeared during the Twins playoff run in 1987, when they won the World Series. Since, the Twins have given out Homer Hankys to fans in every playoff run since 1987, in both the Metrodome and Target Field. Homer Hankys were given out also when the Twins won the 1991 World Series.
The first rally towel to be used in Major League Baseball (MLB) was the Homer Hanky of the Minnesota Twins. It gained popularity throughout the 1987 pennant race as a promotional item created by the Minneapolis-Star Tribune. The Twins would later go on to win the 1987 World Series, and the Homer Hanky was again present during the Twins victory in the 1991 World Series.
During the 2010 MLB postseason, five of the eight teams in the playoffs had rally towels. Only the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Atlanta Braves did not have rally towels during the playoffs. The two teams in the 2010 World Series, the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers, both had rally towels. The Giants had orange "rally rags", but only for Game 2, while the Rangers used red, white, and blue rally towels for Games 3, 4, and 5, all of the home games in Arlington. This was the first World Series that both teams had rally towels since the 2006 World Series.
In baseball, the teams that use rally towels that are common to hand out besides the Twins are usually the Phillies, the Cardinals, the Tigers, and the Rockies. The Blue Jays hand out rally towels as part of their "Fan Fridays" promotion, inaugurated in 2010. The Reds, the Giants, and the Rangers started in 2010.
In the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks use rally towels as part of their 12th man saga. In 2010, 12th man rally towels were given out. The Giants, Eagles, Vikings, Cowboys, and Bears also hand out rally towels in the playoffs.
Few NBA teams have rally towels. The most significant team with towels is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Fans used them in the playoffs, including when LeBron James returned to Quicken Loans Arena as a member of the Miami Heat. For the Heat, rally towels are given during their playoff runs with the phrase "White Hot". Other teams include the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Boston Celtics. The 2011 NBA Champions Dallas Mavericks gave out towels during their first-round series against the Blazers, and in their Western Conference Finals series against the Thunder during their championship run in 2011. The Grizzlies, Pacers, and 76ers also came into use in 2011.
The NHL has many teams that use rally towels. The Penguins use them during "white-out" games in the playoffs. The Blackhawks used red towels for the majority of their 2009 playoff run and the 2010 playoffs that ended when they won the Cup. The Stars use them in the playoffs, especially when they won the Stanley Cup in 1999. As the Mighty Ducks, the Ducks referred to their towels as "Fowl Towels". The Ducks' towels are currently orange. The Devils and Sharks also have rally towels. The first team that used rally towels in hockey was in 1982 by the Vancouver Canucks. Canucks fans use the term Towel Power to describe the waving of rally towels by their fans.
In other sports, rally towels are rarely used. In the Major League Soccer (MLS), rally towels were never used because of the popularity of scarves. The rally towel made a rare appearance in the 2010 MLS Playoffs, when Real Salt Lake gave rally towels to fans during a semi-final match against FC Dallas. The towels did not help the team, as FC Dallas won in the aggregate and went all the way to the MLS Cup Final. They are used in minor leagues as well. College teams also occasionally use rally towels. Texas A&M began using "12th Man" Towels in 1985 with the 12th Man kickoff team to help boost student support at Kyle Field. TCU gave rally towels to fans of the Horned Frogs in Pasadena, when TCU defeated the BCS and won the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin on January 1, 2011.
- "Steelers' former radio announcer Myron Cope dies at 79". USA Today. February 28, 2008.
- Amen, Rob (October 26, 2007). "Terrible Towel copycats". Trib Live.