‘Towel power’ has strong Nanaimo ties
BY LEN CORBEN
You wouldn’t think a towel would end up as the iconic symbol of Vancouver Canucks’ playoff frenzy every year. Or that others (gasp, even the L.A. Kings) would copy our Towel Power.
But as much as it was a spur-of-the-moment decision by coach Roger Neilson to hoist a trainer’s towel on the end of a stick in Chicago on April 29, 1982, during Game 2 of the Western Conference final, it was actually Butts Giraud whose ingenuity and quick-thinking that made the White Towel and Towel Power the symbol of Canucks’ fan support for three decades.
The owner of the Dog’s Ear T-Shirt store in Nanaimo since 1975 (daughter Sarah Berry is the manager) and a Nanaimo resident since 1993, Giraud has done many things in his life; none of them ordinary.
Butts, whose wife Peggy is a caregiver with J. Garnons Williams Ltd. locally, played football at the University of Florida (1965) and Western Washington (1967-69) as a defensive tackle, then in the CFL with B.C. Lions (1970 preseason) before being traded to Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
When the world belly-flop and cannonball championships were held in Vancouver beginning in 1975, Butts was victorious four times (1975, 1976, 1978 and 1980). For 10 years he was a professional wrestler in North America and England.
These days, he’s an enthusiastic born-again Christian, a member of the Nanoose Bay Evangelical Free Church and plays the harmonica with abandon in churches and restaurants from Hornby Island to Hawaii.
Giraud is not an ordinary guy.
In 1974, he founded the Dog’s Ear T-Shirt and Embroidery Co. which at one time had 53 outlets stretching from B.C. to California. It now consists of franchises around B.C.
The name comes from the Mad Dog nickname he got during his Lions days and the false report that he once bit off the ear of a wrestling opponent.
These are all stories in themselves, but how Giraud turned Neilson’s towel tirade into a Canucks’ tradition is a piece of hockey lore.
When the Canucks went past the first round of the playoffs in 1982 after five futile previous efforts, Giraud and his business associates were looking for a way to get on the Canuck bandwagon. Little did they know they would be leading it.
“This moment of the towel intrigued the three of us,” Giraud explains in the draft of a book he’s slowly putting together about his various escapades. “That night, Roger Neilson gave us the foundation for this idea and we were prepared to accept the challenge of making it work.
“It’s not the great ideas that count; it’s acting on them.
“I don’t think I slept a wink that night as my mind raced back and forth… I started to see what might unfold… This could be the promotion of a lifetime… The ideas started to come fast and furious … We were on to something huge …”
Giraud remembers TOWEL POWER being written in big letters on the drawing board at the next morning’s staff meeting in Vancouver.
“But what could we put on that towel? We didn’t have time to negotiate the licensing rights to the Canucks logo, so it had to be something generic.
“Since CKNW did all the radio play-by-play broadcasts for the Canucks, it reasoned to be a natural organization to involve. If we could co-ordinate ... all corners of the day would be covered. The publicity would be electrifying!
“I had no idea where to purchase white towels. Buttons, pennants, caps, and T-shirts were no problem, but towels? Bingo! My first contact [a hotel supply company] had what I wanted – and at a price that couldn’t be beat – and best of all they had thousands of towels in stock, and at an office only 15 minutes away from mine.
“In a matter of hours, we had 5,000 towels sitting on our warehouse floor ready for printing. Mana Rawal completed the final artwork for our first run: CANUCKS TAKE NO SURVIVORS. Game 3 on May 1 and Game 4 would be on home ice at the Pacific Coliseum.
“I met with NW in the early afternoon and by the time Rick Honey went on air, we had more than 1,000 towels in our stores … By 6 p.m. we were all sold out.
“The excitement became exhilarating as the follow-up media frenzy kept my phone ringing. Every radio and TV station across the province wanted in on the story. The publicity extended from coast to coast across both Canada and the United States.
“At 5 o’clock on May 1, the sidewalk outside the arena buzzed with action. Our first van arrived on the scene with towels hot off the press and still smelling of fresh ink ... What happened next was simply unbelievable. We literally had a stampede on our hands before we had even opened the first box. As fast as people threw $5 bills our way, we retrieved the towels out of the boxes ... It was one box after another.
“Inside the Pacific Coliseum that night, the stands were a sea of white – 16,413 pumped-up fans, many of them waving white towels, screaming hysterically at the top of their lungs. It was an extraordinary sight to behold.”
The Canucks did not disappoint, beating the Blackhawks in both home games and finishing them off back in Chicago, to reach the Stanley Cup final versus New York Islanders. Though New York swept the Canucks in four games, Towel Power was here to stay.
In a two-week period, the store sold more than 50,000 towels, donated $23,000 to the NW Orphans’ Fund and created a tradition that shows no signs of dying out.
Len Corben writes the Instant Replay sports column in The North Shore Outlook in North and West Vancouver.