For most of last season, the Tennessee Titans romped through their schedule, making mincemeat of their opposition with a stifling defense, punishing ground game and solid quarterback and special teams play. The Titans' dominance of the AFC never seemed clearer than after their Dec. 31 31-14 throttling of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In their celebration, LenDale White and Keith Bullock showed their disdain for the Steelers by stomping on the Terrible Towel, that ubiquitous symbol of the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh. White and Bullock had reason to celebrate, as the Titans had vanquished one of the teams seen as a primary threat in the AFC.
Pittsburgh's players and fans were irate, however. The incident garnered far more media attention than White and Bullock ever imagined it would.
The two teams exchanged threats and counter-threats. The Titans' players and fans seemed to relish the possibility of hosting the Steelers in a playoff game. They wanted to provide further demonstration of their team's superiority and prove the Steelers' Terrible Towel was nothing more than a worthless scrap of cloth.
Coach Jeff Fisher downplayed the incident. "Why would it be a big deal?" he asked, "That if we play them again they'll play harder? I don't think so."
Fisher continued: "I mean, I know we weren't happy to have 10,000 people in our stadium waving those yellow towels. It's a tremendous commentary on the great fan base the Steelers have, but I'm sure our guys didn't like it. They're a good football team. They have our respect, and I'm sure we have their respect. But it isn't a big deal to me."
What Fisher didn't seem to take into account was the curse. The Curse of the Terrible Towel. Over the years, there have been numerous examples linking opponents' disrespect of the towel with subsequent unfortunate futures.
The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the most recent teams to fall victim to the curse. Cincinnati had defeated the Steelers 38-31 in Week 13 and sat comfortably atop their division with a 9-3 record when Bengals' receiver T. J. Houshmandzadeh celebrated the victory by wiping his cleats on a Terrible Towel. Sound familiar?
The Bengals slipped to 2-2 for the rest of the season, then suffered a 31-17 home playoff loss to those same Pittsburgh Steelers. That same game saw the Bengals lose star quarterback Carson Palmer to a knee injury, from which he has never appeared to fully recover. The Steelers, meanwhile, went on to defeat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL that season.
Since those heady days of an 11-5 season in 2005, the Curse of the Towel wrought its damage in Cincinnati. The Bengals slipped to 8-8 in 2006, 7-9 in 2007, and 4-11-1 last year.
The Arizona Cardinals befell the Curse last year when Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon blew his nose in a Terrible Towel the week before the Super Bowl. He may have blown the Cardinals' chances as well, as the Curse helped lift the Steelers to the title.
A similar fate seems to have befallen the once-mighty Titans. A dominant team with a 13-2 record at the time of the towel incident, Tennessee fell without a whimper to the Colts in a 23-0 shutout to close the season. The Titans then wasted their playoff home field advantage by falling 13-10 to the Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, romped through the rest of the season undefeated and hoisted their sixth Lombardi trophy.
The Titans have struggled out of the gate at the start of the 2009 season with a record of 0-2. Their cumulative 0-4 record since the towel stomping suggests that the Curse of the Towel lives on. Most football analysts would tell you that the Titans have too much talent to lose four consecutive games.
With a tough away game at Giants Stadium this Sunday, the Titans face the very real possibility of an 0-3 start, and almost vanished hopes for a playoff spot.
Titans fans are left to wonder whether the curse is real. If so, what can be done to get rid of it? The saying goes that "time heals all wounds" and it's reasonable to expect the curse will be lifted after a few seasons.
If that is not soon enough for Titans' fans, however, there may be an alternative. You see, the Terrible Towel is not just a Steelers' gimmick. Funds raised by the sale of these towels support the Allegheny Valley School, a charity that provides help to people with intellectual and developmental difficulties. To date, almost $3 million has been raised for the school through these towel sales.
Perhaps a donation to that worthy charity might help lift the Curse of the Terrible Towel? This can be done online at http://www.avs.net/contributing.cfm. So, whether you believe in the Curse or not you can help out the less fortunate (and perhaps the Titans as well).
Myron Cope, the inventor of the Terrible Towel, did not intend for it to be a curse on the opposition, but rather a motivating force for the Steelers: "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."
If the Titans hope to make a run at this year's playoffs, they need to find a way to undo that "yen for mischief."