Bryan Wassel with his large collection of Terrible Towels, in his Irwin home.
By Debra Duncan
Many Steelers fans have a black and gold Terrible Towel near them for good luck during games. But Bryan Wassel, 32, of Irwin goes above and beyond that tradition.
On game day, while watching the game on television, he surrounds himself with the 36 Terrible Towels he has collected.
Most are officially licensed by the Steelers -- like the Super Bowl towels and a special Halloween Terrible Towel that has four angry-looking pumpkins.
But some are unofficial -- like Mr. Wassel's Polish and Italian towels.
Most are framed and hanging on his living-room walls.
"I think I have more officially-licensed ones than are down at Heinz Field," Mr. Wassel said.
"It started about five years ago when I decided I needed another one to go with one I had on this shelf," he said.
"So, I started looking into all the different ones they have, and now I can't stop. I keep adding new ones."
It has become a passion.
"Every day I look on eBay to see if there are any that I don't have, and my friends are always calling me to see if I have one they saw," he said.
"I've been looking for one of the very first ones issued, before Myron Cope's name was on it," he said. "And Heinz made about 200 red ones just for their employees one year, and I'm looking for one of those. They are hard to find."
The late Myron Cope, the longtime Steelers color commentator on radio broadcasts and a radio-TV sports broadcaster, created the tradition in 1975 of waving the 12-inch by 18-inch gold towels that he called the "terrible towels." Proceeds from their sale go to one of Cope's favorite charities, the Allegheny Valley School, based in Coraopolis, which has 125 programs and facilities in the state to help children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.
Officially-licensed towels have the words "Myron Cope's Official" above the larger bubble letter words, "The Terrible Towel."
Some of the towels have cost Mr. Wassel a lot more than the usual $10 price tag.
"I bought one on eBay for $75 that was one that my dad made in the early 1980s when he worked for Iron City Uniform [a company that made the towels then]," he said. "That's my most cherished one.
"I've seen Three Rivers Stadium ones on eBay that go for about $50, too," he said.
Mr. Wassel works for Crisp Control in Irwin, and is also a part-time butcher at Joe's Butcher Shop in Pitcairn.
But looking for more Terrible Towels is becoming a part-time job, too.
His favorite towels include the unofficial Polish and Italian ones.
"I like the Polish one since I'm Polish, and my girlfriend is Italian," he said.
The Polish Terrible Towel bears the translation "Straszny Recznik." The Italian one has the Roman Colosseum in the background.
Mr. Wassel collects unofficial novelty towels as well, such as a Build-A-Bear terrible towel, designed as an accessory for the popular stuffed teddy bear.
Most of the official Steelers towels mark highlights of their 80 seasons of play, such as their six Super Bowl wins, and the team does reissue popular ones.
But the team periodically issues novelty towels, as well, such as one with some of Cope's famous sayings and pink breast cancer awareness towels.
"The Steelers just started selling the holiday ones, like the Halloween ones, to raise more money for the school, I think," Mr. Wassel said. There's a Christmas towel with skiing snowmen and snowflakes. And an official St. Patrick's Day one with shamrocks.
Mr. Wassel has his game-day traditions, or superstitions, with the towels, too, that go beyond the normal waving of the towel in a wide circle above your head.
About a dozen are nearby during every game for luck, either beside him or hanging on the curtains.
"I have this ritual," he says laughing. "I hold one in my hand, and the rest have to be around me on my recliner. If there is a bad play, I open it, and fold it again, and put it across my head or on my lap. If we need a good defensive play, I'll refold it, and cover my eyes with it and say, 'Come on, come on.' And it usually works."
He occasionally does go to Steelers games at Heinz Field.
"I have a group of friends and we all like to go down for the opener and tailgate," he noted.
But most often he watches the games at home, where he feels he can best help his team surrounded by his growing collection of towels.