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Joe Ferrante wasn't born when the Terrible Towel made its debut. But in the parking lot before last night's game, he proudly wore a gold jersey made of six towels that were hand-stitched together by his grandmother, Jane.
"A lot of teams have copied them, but this towel is the only towel in sports," said Ferrante, 21, of Oakmont. "I'm going to wear this at every game from here on out."
If last night's game served as a tribute and official farewell to longtime Steelers color analyst Myron Cope, it also was symbolic of how the towel has been passed on from generation to generation and will live on in the hands and hearts of fans. Jane Ferrante, a retired seamstress at 74, made sure of that with a seamless creation that her grandson will treasure.
"I've listened to Myron my whole life. To me, he's the only guy in the business," Joe Ferrante said. "I used a towel to wipe away tears in the playoffs, and I'm going to wave it triumph someday, just like grandma did."
Towels were twirled en masse at Heinz Field and by far-flung fans from Nome to the North Shore, from Baghdad to Brentwood, to honor its creator -- a raspy-voiced mischief-maker who introduced the towel 30 years ago before a playoff game against the Baltimore Colts and provided the Steeler Nation with its unifying flag.
The Colts subsequently moved to Indianapolis and Art Modell relocated his Cleveland franchise to Baltimore to be reborn as the Ravens. But the towel has remained a Steelers fixture, and last night's gilt-edged moment was only enhanced by the fact that the ceremony last night honoring Cope's 35 years behind the microphone came against the Ravens on a Monday night on Halloween.
"I never dreamed it would come to this. Who could?" said Cope, looking and sounding markedly healthier than he did at his retirement news conference before the start of training camp. "Since its beginnings, it's been waved by fans and players. And in more recent days, it's been waved by Air Force pilots, soldiers in the desert and Marines who were in Fallujah. Incredible."Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press
Retired radio broadcaster Myron Cope listens to the cheers.
Click photo for larger image. John Heller, Post-Gazette
Judy Dougherty wore her black and gold boa and Brian Cassidy his Steelers hard hat as they swirled their towels for Myron Cope last night.
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An honorary co-captain, Cope looked like a gnome in a trench coat while participating in the pregame coin toss with Hines Ward, Joey Porter, James Farrior, Allen Faneca, Chidi Iwuoma and Sean Morey. Lest anyone doubt the power of the towel, the Steelers won the toss and marched 79 yards for the game's first touchdown.
But before leaving the sideline, Cope seized the opportunity to whip the crowd into a fabric-waving frenzy and accepted a congratulatory hug from Tommy Maddox.
At halftime, Dan and Art Rooney gave Cope a jersey with the No. 35, representing his years of service in the radio booth. He was flanked by towel-waving giants from the Super Bowl years -- John Banaszak, Robin Cole, Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Jon Kolb, Gerry Mullins, J.T. Thomas, Mike Wagner, Dwight White, Dwayne Woodruff and Ernie Holmes.
Video tributes were shown on the big-screen scoreboard throughout the game. Cope's final words to the organization and the fans were a resounding, "Thank you very much," followed by a fireworks display.
The towel is exhibited in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And Cope will be part of an enshrinement Saturday by the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago, with Franco Harris presenting him to master of ceremonies Regis Philbin. Among those already enshrined are Bob Hope, Orson Welles and Edward R. Murrow, with Cope being the first football announcer to join that hallowed company.
"It's the highest recognition I've ever gotten," said Cope.
The Steelers honored Cope with a private dinner Sunday night. Legions of admirers paid tribute in smaller but equally passionate ways.
At one tailgate party, Connie Lee Walsh of Lawrenceville, a season-ticket holder for 26 years, handed out a homemade craft. It was a grinning ghost wearing a Terrible Towel and bedecked in black and gold ribbons.
"Everyone else has tried to copy Myron's creation, but there is only one," she said. "There's a towel that fans bring to every game, and a playoff towel that they drape over the TV if they can't get to the games."
And as if to prove that the towel has impressive staying power, Linda Maus of Forest Hills bought one for her friend, Cortney DiVito of Trafford, just last night.
"I brought it for her to help honor Myron," Maus said.
"It's a legacy. It will live on forever," said DiVito, dressed in witch's garb embroidered with the words "Curse the Ravens."
Evermore.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
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Bob Dvorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1959.