Even though you've probably waved a rally towel before, it's unlikely you ever thought about who first came up with the idea. The rally towel likely has its origins at Western Kentucky University where basketball coach E. A. Diddle waved a red towel on the sideline during games. Rally towels came to professional sports in 1975 when former Pittsburgh Steelers radio broadcaster Myron Cope created the Terrible Towel to stir up the fans.
In 1982 rally towels arrived in the NHL courtesy of Vancouver Canucks coach Roger Neilson. Neilson was outraged by several unfavorable calls during a road game in the conference finals - as a protest, he draped a white towel over a hockey stick and waved it in mock surrender. Canuck fans greeted the returning team at the Vancouver airport waving white towels, then continued waving towels at the next home game; the so-called "Towel Power" propelled the Canucks to the series victory.
Since then, rally towels have spread to almost every team in every league. In fact, so many teams use them that there can be shortages if too many teams with the same color make the playoffs. But let's face it - rally towels can be boring. They are almost always one color with a logo and slogan on it. Some teams use essentially the same rally towel year after year. This approach seems to be taken for granted: "By now, teams know not to put dates or timely slogans on towels, so they can be used in another season."
I don't know if this is superstition, lack of imagination, or simple laziness but boring towels aren't likely to stir up fans. To make matters worse, when the towel matches everything else in the building, it doesn't stand out and can be missed entirely on television.
At the San Jose Sharks, we take our rally towel seriously. We design a new one for every home playoff game and we don't recycle our towels for each game, let alone each series. It's extra work and it costs a lot more but people seem to appreciate it:
For our 2018 first-round series against Anaheim we decided to go all-out and create rally towels based on the classic Nintendo video game, Duck Hunt. Suffice it to say they were instant classics with Vice Sports proclaiming "San Jose Sharks officially have the best rally towels ever." They might have even been a competitive advantage: one site declared: "If rally towels were playoff wins, San Jose is already through to the next round." Fans loved them so much they bought them on eBay for $100 and up.
These towels almost never happened. While we designed them well in advance, we hit an unexpected snag with our normal printer in Southern CA. Every day for several days they told us that our towels were almost ready. With only a couple of days left before our first home game, the rug (umm, towel) got pulled out from underneath us - based on SoCal loyalty or perhaps a blind-side hit from another team, they decided not to print our design. Like a quick line change, we scrambled to an alternative printer and the completed towels arrived the day before our first home game. We won the off-ice battle.
The towels serve as an internal rallying cry as well. The goal to push creative boundaries under tight timelines created a collaborative environment which brought out the best in everyone. While we didn't resort to waving the towels at the office, the #DuckHunt hashtag turned into a unifying theme for all groups - from sales to building operations to arena management. And #DuckHunt we did.
It may be a simple towel but it has great powers. I can't wait to unveil what we dreamed up for Round Two.