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JAR
01-30-2009, 01:47 PM
Remembering Myron Cope

If the seventh Super Bowl in Pittsburgh Steelers history seems just a little saner, more ordinary, a tad quieter than the previous six, it's because this is the club's first title game since the passing of one Myron Cope, the "Yoi!"-spouting radio legend and unofficial poet laureate of the 412, who died last February at the age of 79.

While he didn't welcome the end -- Cope died of respiratory failure -- he wasn't overly afraid of it either, which is why he was able to joke about his imminent demise.

"The headline over my obituary," he would grouse, "is going to be: Towel Founder Dies."

That prediction, passed on by his close friend, the long-time Steelers p.r. man Joe Gordon, turned out to be wrong, but just barely. The AP's obituary on Cope didn't mention his best-known invention in its headline, although the Terrible Towel did make an appearance midway through the first sentence.

I first heard Cope's cacophonous voice as an elementary school student in the Pittsburgh suburb of O'Hara Township. My family had just moved from Colorado. It puzzled me how anyone who sounded like that could find work in radio.

But, as Steelers fans know, the man grew on you. Right up until the end of his career, Cope seemed incapable of an unoriginal sentiment. Jerome Bettis didn't break a tackle. "He shed that guy like he was a tsetse fly!" Cornerbacks didn't blanket wideouts. Rather, their coverage was so tight, "I'm tellin' ya -- he could tell whether the receiver used Listerine or Scope!"

Sawed off though he was, the 5-foot-5 Cope was larger than life in this city, in which he spent all but seven months of his life. I got to know him a little in the mid-'90s, while covering the NFL for SI. Cope was the most accessible icon I ever met. I can still hear him carping about the no-smoking policy in the pressroom at Three Rivers Stadium. "Go dahn the hall, they got a big portrait a' da Chief" -- club founder Art Rooney Sr. -- "and he's smoking a big stogie right there in da painting!"

Here's what fascinates me about Cope to this day: The man who did so much violence to the language with his voice -- it "could cut cement," he allowed -- composed some of the most elegant sentences in the annals of American sportswriting. His profile of Howard Cosell, whose immusical speech matched Cope's own, was included in SI's 50th Anniversary Book as one of the best pieces the magazine has ever run. Before he gained renown as "The squawking talisman of Steelers football" -- to use Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier's inspired phrase -- Cope was one of the best sportswriters, ever. Much of his best work appeared in SI.

"He could talk to someone," former Pittsburgh Press sports editor Roy McHugh recalled for Collier, "and extract all the humor possible from that person."

That was precisely the strength of Cope's timeless piece with Alex Hawkins, the Baltimore Colt who made a cottage industry of being a perpetual reserve. ("How many players can you name who in ten years in the NFL played six positions," he asks readers, "and did none of them justice?") Channeling Hawkins, Cope than explains why Don Shula kept him around. "If I happened to turn up in the right saloon at the right time, I usually could talk Lou Michaels out of a fight before the cops arrived."

It is Cope's curse that the Terrible Towel has overshadowed all those great stories.

It was under some duress that he'd come up with the idea for what turned into Steeler Nation's most indispensable accessory. The year was 1975, and Cope was told by his bosses at WTAE, the Steelers's flagship radio station, to produce a gimmick before a playoff game with the Baltimore Colts.

"I'm not a gimmick guy," he replied. "Never been a gimmick guy."

The next part of the exchange, recounted by longtime Cope friend and Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette, went like this:

"You know your contract is up this year."

"I just became a gimmick guy."

The truth is, Cope wasn't above gimmickry, buffoonery or a bit of exaggeration, if thought it would make people laugh. There was his take, for instance, on one particularly violent tackle, in which a Steeler hit an opponent so hard, Cope insisted, "I swear I saw his mouthpiece fly into the third row! An old lady caught it on the fly, checked it for a fit and put it in her pocketbook!"

Even as he played to a blue-collar crowd, he couldn't disguise his grasp of culture, as evidenced in this classic exchange with longtime broadcast partner Bill Hillgrove:

Cope: "I'm telling you something -- Hines Ward looked like Nijinsky!"

Hillgrove: "Nijinsky?"

Cope: "Nijinsky! The great ballet dancer."

Hillgrove: "I thought he was a racehorse."

Cope (losing patience): "No, he ain't a racehorse! (Resigned) He's dead anyhow."

Hillgrove: "The racehorse or the ballet dancer?"

Cope: "Nijinsky!"

(They were both right: Nijinsky II, the horse, was named after Nijinsky, the Russian dancer.)

Cope's signature on-air exclamation, "Yoi!" expressed his delight in some pro-Steelers turn of events. Because a single "Yoi!" was sometimes insufficient, Cope took to multiplying them. "Double-Yoi!", in fact, is the name of his autobiography. While I have not read it, I have drunk deeply of his prose, and am here to tell you -- don't take this the wrong way, Pittsburgh -- that it goes down a hell of a lot easier than Iron City Beer.

Whatever your preferred malt beverage, raise a glass of it this Super Sunday to an absent friend, a short man with a huge gift for words both written and spoken.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/w ... index.html (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/austin_murphy/01/29/cope/index.html)

Iron Shiek
01-30-2009, 01:54 PM
Whatever your preferred malt beverage, raise a glass of it this Super Sunday to an absent friend, a short man with a huge gift for words both written and spoken.


Everyone needs to do this Sunday! Win one for Myron, Steelers!!! :tt2

Shanklin_25
01-30-2009, 09:16 PM
The subject of Myron's "Nijinsky'' comment was Lynn Swann during Super Bowl X. His radio partner at that time was Jack Fleming, not Bill Hillgrove who if I recall was the Pitt basketball play by play man during those years. Good story though-Myron was THE MAN.