The Quintessential Sports Journalist|
Tuesday, June 21, 2005, Steelers.com
By Bob Labriola
He cringes visibly when someone refers to him as legendary, or as an icon, but
for a generation of sports fans in Western Pennsylvania, Myron Cope was an
institution. He wrote for them, he talked to them, he entertained them. When it
came to all of the sports they loved, he was a part of their lives.
Myron Cope announced his retirement on Tuesday after 35 years as the color
analyst for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while that job is the one for which
he's most famous, he was so much more than that. In the field of sports
journalism, Cope was a triple threat.
As a writer, Cope's talent put him in the company of the best people Sports
Illustrated ever had under contract, and in Cope's heyday one of those
people was George Plimpton. As evidence, Cope's profile of Howard Cosell was
selected by Sports Illustrated during its 50th Anniversary as one of the 50
best pieces ever published in the magazine.
As a talk-show host, Cope literally was without peer in Pittsburgh, because
he was doing it well when nobody else even was attempting it. Cope's talk
show aired from 6-8 p.m., five nights a week, on WTAE-AM, and it gained a
reputation on the dial as a place to go for good, solid information.
As a color commentator on the Steelers' broadcasts, well, it's impossible to
believe anyone could've been more colorful.
And he was good at all of it, because he worked hard at all of it.
Nobody read more than Myron Cope, and everybody returned his telephone
calls. Even though he most often is associated with football, Cope didn't
give short shrift to the other sports. It was common to see Cope racing over
to Three Rivers Stadium on a weeknight after his talk show to catch the rest
of a Pirates game and then interview the manager and some players in the
clubhouse. The same thing happened in the winter, only then Cope's
after-show destination was the Civic Arena for a Penguins hockey game, or
maybe the Fitzgerald Field House for a Pitt basketball game.
Cope will go down in NFL history as the creator of the Terrible Towel, and
over the course of its 30-year existence that magical piece of terrycloth
has generated millions of dollars for the Allegheny Valley School, an
institution for the profoundly mentally and physically disabled. But even
though Cope always was someone who had a shtick, there also was plenty of
steak to go along with the sizzle.
Myron Cope was so good at his craft because nobody out-worked him. He was
thorough. He was diligent. And because he was both of those, he also was
often right. Cope was so respected that in 1983 he became the first member
of the broadcast media to be appointed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to
its Board of Selectors.
But Myron Cope also was one of the guys. He never big-timed the other
working stiffs - whether they were newspaper guys or whether they worked in
radio or television - even though they essentially were his competitors. He
was always ready to buy the next round, or entertain the boys with a story
in which he himself often was the foil.
Here's an example: Cope often told the story of the time when someone
approached him at some function and mentioned that years ago he had gotten
Cope's autograph. Then without missing a beat, the guy told Cope, "And you
know, it might be worth something if you were dead."
During the news conference at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex announcing
his retirement, Cope said he felt somewhat strange sitting in front of the
media answering questions instead of being alongside them asking questions.
But there was a microphone there, and Myron Cope always came across as
comfortable when he was sitting behind a microphone.
On what he would say to the fans: "It seems like almost every time I leave
the house to go somewhere people stop me, strangers you see, and they say
very sincerely, it's evident; how are you Myron, how is your health, or
similar words, and I say, OK, coming along. Feeling better everyday. And
then they say are you going to be back this year, and I have been saying,
you betcha. So in that respect if I'm disappointing people, I'm sure that
they understand, but the obvious affection has been just indescribable to
me. The fans have been just wonderful."
On what he believes he has accomplished: "You have to keep perspective. To
me, I thought just this morning that I'm most proud of my credibility. I
have always guarded it. I want people to believe that if I say something, I
know what I'm talking about, at least partially, and that is what I believe.
I never played devil's advocate on my talk show in the almost 22 years that
I had it. I never did because I didn't want to say something and not believe
it, so I think people bought me � I was on the alert all the time -- are you
being credible, Cope?"
On how he would like to be remembered: "I've often thought that, when I kick
the bucket, there'd be a story with the headline, 'Creator of towel, dead.'
Truthfully, I was gifted and educated to be a writer. I made it as a writer.
People think I went into broadcasting for the money. That's not so. (Being a
writer is) what I was trained to be, and that's what I wanted to be. That's
what I thought I had a gift for. I would like to be remembered as a pretty
He also has earned the right to be remembered as a pretty decent guy.