Wednesday, February 27, 2008

myron cope, r.i.p.

Myron Cope was Pittsburgh, simple as that. He was a little man with a big, screechy voice, and while he's viewed as something of a clown because of many of his antics in his later years, he was in fact anything but. A graduate of Allderdice High School and Pitt, he worked for a while at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where on his first day an editor shortened his last name from "Kopelman" to "Cope" because, he was told, the paper already had too many Jewish reporters. He eventually set out on his own as a freelancer, working for such luminous publications as Sports Illustrated and the Saturday Evening Post, for whom he penned colorful, well-written profiles. He later returned to Pittsburgh and began a broadcasting career, and before long he was doing color commentary for Steelers games, a job he held for 35 seasons until his retirement in 2005, a time in which his fame exceeded that of many of the players', even as the team won four Super Bowls in six seasons in the 1970s. In '75, at the urging of a team sales executive, he developed an idea he called the Terrible Towel, still to this day an internationally known symbol of the Steelers, a talisman of yellow cloth that can be seen waving wherever there's a Steelers fan. Cope hosted a sports-talk radio show in the days before everyone else did, and the program's popularity was as much a credit to his hard work and feisty opinions as it was to his schtick. His 2002 memoir, Double Yoi!, is filled with wonderful anecdotes about what was really a very full life, told with modesty, humor and (best of all) regular-guy charm. He eventually received offers to broadcast for teams in bigger cities, but he just couldn't leave Pittsburgh, just couldn't watch a team other than the Steelers. His son, Danny, was born autistic, and Cope saw that all proceeds -- every penny -- from Terrible Towel sales went to the Allegheny Valley School, a group home for mentally retarded children in the Pittsburgh area. A devoted journalist and a bigger-than-life character from the chain-smoking and hard-drinking old school, Myron Cope died this morning at age 79. Pittsburgh and its extended Steeler Nation mourns. R.I.P.

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