The Terrible Towel curse has been busy at the end of the 2023 season. After the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns were both eliminated, following their players’ mis-treatment of the towel during the 2023 regular season, it was a member of the Buffalo Bills fanbase that brought “The Curse of Cope” down on his franchise in the playoffs.
A video surfaced of a Bills fan celebrating by mocking using a Terrible Towel as a tissue in the waning moments of Buffalo’s 31-17 Wild Card round win ofd the Steelers on Monday.
— stillergang (@stillergang1) January 20, 2024
One week later, the Bills were eliminated with a home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills were 2.5-point favorites and had hopes of finally winning a Super Bowl as the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard stole a towel to celebrate an interception against the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium in October, only to lose to the Tennessee Titans on the last week of the regular season, letting the Steelers into the playoffs.
Cleveland Browns cornerback Mike Ford wiped his backside with a towel after beating the Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium in November. The Browns lost on the first weekend of the playoffs, getting drubbed 45-14 by the upstart Houston Texans, despite being two-point favorites.
Myron Cope, the Steelers’ color broadcaster that invented the Towel in the 1970s, always ascribed mystical powers to the towel, starting from its first game in 1975.
“I did not see the Terrible Towel as witchcraft to hex the enemy,” Cope wrote in his autobiography. “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.”
It wasn’t until more recently that the trend of opposing players taking their fate into their hands by disrespecting the Towel became noteworthy.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh wiped his feet with the towel after the Bengals beat the Steelers in 2005. The Steelers went on to eliminate the Bengals from the playoffs on their way to their fifth Super Bowl victory that season.
The Towel’s status as a tradition not to be messed with was established, and another broadcaster, WDVE-FM morning host Randy Bauman, cemented its new legacy into song.
“Don’t disrespect the Terrible Towel,” Bauman sang as the Steelers were seeking yet another Super Bowl in the 2000s. “The Curse of Cope will haunt you somehow.”
The powers of the towel are well known beyond Pittsburgh, so it’s not as if those from other cities don’t what they’re getting into. Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer said in the week leading up to the playoff game between the teams that he was warned by his father, who grew up a Steelers fan, to stay away from the Towel.
“That’s one thing he told me, ‘Don’t ever pick up one of those Steelers flags and twirl it, son,’” Poyer said on The Pat McAfee Show last week. “‘It’s a curse, don’t ever do it.’”
"My Dad grew up a Steelers fan and he told me to never grab a terrible towel"
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) January 12, 2024
Apparently, not all of Bills Mafia got the memo. Is the Terrible Towel the reason that Buffalo lost? No one knows for sure, but fans of a franchise most closely associated with close playoffs losses probably shouldn’t have taken any chances.