I never met Beano Cook. I'm not a long-time Pittsburgh sports media figure. I'm not a member of the Pitt athletic department. I'm just a guy with an opinion of my own opinions so oversized I electronically scribble things on the internet and hope someone reads it. But anyone who follows college football knows Beano Cook. Sure, not on the level EJ Borghetti certainly does, but Cook had a personality that just jumped through the television set into your living room, as cliche as that may sound.
With his death last week, there were a lot of pieces written on Beano - some touching, some hilarious. Here are the best that I found across the interwebs....
A lot of local sports personalities had fond memories of Cook, and more than a few good stories. From Alby Oxenreiter:
I was determined to get a job in television, and working as an volunteer intern at Pittsburgh’s ABC affiliate. It was a cold December night in 1982, and as I hurried through the lobby of WTAE-TV, I almost knocked over a middle-aged man who I immediately recognized as a local sports celebrity and a national media legend. It was the one-and-only Beano Cook, and with a bold rhetorical question, he acknowledged my rush to get to the parking lot, “What’s your hurry?” He had just finished taping a radio segment, and was waiting rather impatiently for a cab. Beano already knew what I would soon find out–that I was his cab. In essence, Beano ordered me to give him a lift to his downtown apartment. I never thought twice about it, and was happy to oblige. Beano told me he didn’t have a car, and within moments, he explained something else–that he didn’t own “the world’s three most expensive things, in reverse order: car…wife…ex-wife.” It’s safe to say that we hit it off instantly.
On a more serious note, one of the best tributes comes from our very own the Penn State blog Black Shoe Diares. Tim Hyland writes about Beano from the perspective of a Nittany Lion and a fan of the game:
If you are not all that familiar with Beano's work-—which is quite possible, especially if you're young, which I no longer am—you should just know this much: More than any other commentator in the sport, Beano understood what the game of college football was, and what it was supposed to be.
He understood the game's history. He understood why its traditions mattered. He understood, too, that as the years went on, the game was slowly but surely losing its soul—and, in the end, his greatest contribution to the game he loved may have simply been his willingness to say precisely that.
He was never a phony, and he had no agenda, outside of this: He wanted what was best for the game. College football has never had a commissioner, but it could have done a lot worse than Beano Cook.
He would conceal his pain in comedy, of course. He would yuk it up with Ivan on the podcast, lamenting the latest ridiculous turn in the ever-wayward game that had formed the center of his life. He would attempt to bring some sense of history to the history-starved ESPN audience. He would defend the way things used to be done, and he would do so convincingly. He would call out the phonies. He was fighting the good fight and putting on a brave face as he did so.
I jumped around in that quote a lot, and with good reason: it's all good. You should go read the whole thing. One point that really stood out was the irony of Beano Cook - the most old-school non-recluse there may have ever been - was now mostly relegated to a podcast. Sort of like a generation of children that know John Madden from a video game instead of a hall of fame coach, the man who spoke of when Fordham was a national power was completely digital.
He and his partner-in-crime on the podcast, Ivan Maisel, had a fantastic chemistry and were part of my weekly "prep" for the upcoming college football Saturday. On more than one occasion I earned some strange looks from coworkers as I laughed at my desk with headphones on. Maisel does a great job capturing the personality of his cohort, even at the end of his days:
More and more often, Beano said to me on those preparatory calls, "So you'll call tomorrow and if I'm alive, I'll answer and we'll do the show."
"If I'm alive," I chimed in one day in June, "I will call you."
Beano didn't miss a beat.
"If you have to bet," he said, referring to one of us not being alive, "bet on me."
He wasn't being maudlin. As a man in his early 80s fighting diabetes and its related offshoots, he was just being matter-of-fact. My trying to dismiss his concern had more to say about me. I didn't want to think about losing him.
The last time we spoke, he unnerved me. He said the doctor told him his recovery would be long and laborious.
"I'm struggling," he said. "It's like trying to score on Alabama on fourth down from the four-yard-line."
There are just so many fantastic Cook stories out there, but this one from the Post-Gazette deserves special merit:
One of his best ideas never made it into print. He brainstormed getting Pitt basketball All-American Don Hennon and Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, together for a picture in 1958. The headline of the picture would have been: "The World's Two Greatest Shot Makers."
But Dr. Salk would not agree to pose for the picture, much to Mr. Cook's chagrin.
"The picture would not have made every paper in the country, it would have made every paper in the world," Mr. Cook told the Post-Gazette in 2006.
I suppose polio was a much more serious subject in the 1950s than in 2012, but still. That would have been maybe the greatest Pitt poster of all time.
[When Cook] was the Pitt sports information director, he got a call one day from a woman asking for a copy of the Panthers' football roster. "But lady," Beano replied, "there are 120 guys out for the team right now. You really oughtta wait three weeks, till we make the cuts and are down to 75 or 80 kids. Otherwise, it's really a waste of your time."
The woman, however, was adamant. She needed the roster. Pronto. "But why?" Beano asked, dreading the hours it would take to round up the name of every tackling dummy cluttering up the practice field. "Because," she said, matter of factly, "I want to sleep with everybody on the Pitt football team."
Beano gasped. "Well," he said, clearing his throat, "in alphabetical order, starting at guard...Cook, Beano."
Rest in peace.
Hail to Pitt.