Remember when life was much simpler.
We heard the term “terrible towels” and thought of the great Pittsburgh Steelers football teams that dominated the 1970s, with names like Terry Bradshaw, Chuck Noll and Franco Harris resonating from school kids to grandads.
Oh, that Immaculate Reception lives in infamy. What Steelers fan can’t still see the ball bouncing into Franco’s hands as if some angels plucked it out of the sky and put it into his arms.
But times are not the same.
Today when we hear terrible towels we see terrible as in bad – or as in embarrassment.
We think of #BoycottBradenton.
So who was that person with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau who got the organization to sponsor a Pittsburgh Penguins rally towel for their National Hockey League Eastern Conference final series against the Tampa Bay Lightning? Elliot Falcione said Monday the blame was all his, that he didn’t fully think through the possible ramifications.
To Lightning fans in the Tampa Bay area, which includes Bradenton, this is sacrilegious. That “Let’s Go Pens” superimposed on the towel is pure blasphemy.
The CVB issued an apology, but Lightning fans have refused to accept.
They don’t buy the excuse that the CVB was trying to promote tourism in the area.
“You don’t root against the home team,” the rebels shouted across the rooftops from Tampa to Bradenton.
Unfortunately, the CVB had no Paul Revere to warn them what was coming, and Bolts fans were shouting for another Boston Tea Party.
The damage may take a while to assess and longer to heal.
One disgruntled Bolts fan officially de-annexed Bradenton from the Tampa Bay area, and jokes are piling up so fast Jay Leno might come out of retirement.
This is more than just the Bolts vs. the Penguins.
Whoever made the decision to issue these terrible towels doesn’t understand how fans of professional sports teams in the Tampa Bay area feel.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Rays have been in an identity crisis since those franchises were born: Bucs in 1976 and Rays in 1998.
They were both woeful in the beginning but worse was how they had to listen to the loud cheering from opposing fans who took over Tropicana Field and Raymond James Stadium.
Thing are getting better, but Raymond James still often sounds like the home field for Green Bay or Chicago when they come to town and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at times draw more cheers than the Rays.
So getting back to this terrible towel incident with the Penguins.
Imagine if the Bucs were playing the Steelers in the Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium and the CVB was handing out “terrible towels” with the Steelers logo.
Imagine if the Rays were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series and the local tourist bureau was supplying towels to cheer for the Pirates.
Heck, when the Rays played Philadelphia in the 2008 World Series, nobody in Clearwater, where the Phillies conduct spring training, was trying to make their city a rally point for the Phillies
Rays fans have been called lazy and indifferent. Bucs fans don’t show up when the team is bad, which is usually every year.
But the Bolts? Their fans are passionate and have come out in droves to support the Bay area’s only successful pro team of late.
They feel the ultimate betrayal.
It is fixable. If the Lightning win the Stanley Cup and Bradenton holds a special parade, those bad feelings might evaporate.
But if the Penguins eliminate the Lightning, those Bolt fans are likely build a statute of Benedict Arnold and put it at the gateway to Bradenton.