Former Pitt official, ESPN analyst Beano Cook dies
During his life in sports, Beano Cook left a long trail of friends. He also showered the landscape with an array of quotations, observations and anecdotes, many true and most printable.
Nationally, he was known as a quirky, colorful TV commentator. In Pittsburgh, his hometown since age 7, he was known simply as an institution.
Cook died Thursday at age 81. His death was announced by the University of Pittsburgh, his alma mater and one of many past employers.
Ivan Maisel, a colleague at ESPN with whom Cook was associated since 1985, said Cook died in his sleep.
Known as the “Cardinal” or “Pope” of college football, Cook lamented in an Oct. 1 blog that “health issues hit me at the worst time — start of college football season.” In a quip several years ago that proved to be prophetic, Cook said: “I don't want to die in the middle of the football season. I have to know who's No. 1 in the last polls.”
Twenty years ago Cook said: “You'll never have a 16-team playoff in college football. The most that could happen would be four teams in the next century. But after that, I'm dead, so who cares?”
Last July, university presidents approved a four-team playoff system for FBS starting in 2014.
Irascible, irreverent and wholly unblessed with the kind of looks favored by the camera, Cook nevertheless built a legion of fans with his cranky humor and blunt critiques and commentary. He was a curmudgeon and a true character, one that perhaps could not have been invented.
“He was one of a kind,” ESPN executive chairman George Bodenheimer said in a statement, reflecting a widely held sentiment. “There was and never will be another Beano. His combination of humor, passion, love of college football and his engaging personality left an indelible mark on the sport and touched anyone who knew him.”
ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico tweeted, “Unique, extraordinary, humorous and loved the game like few others.”
Whether speaking privately with friends or on radio and TV, Cook said things people remembered. Perhaps his best-known line was uttered on CBS in 1981 after Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn offered lifetime passes to the just-released Iranian hostages. Responded Cook, “Haven't they suffered enough?”
It was typical Beano.
So was this: “You only have to bat a thousand in two things: Flying and heart transplants. Everything else you can go 4 for 5.”
And this: “ESPN is like your family. It's always there. The networks are like your mother-in-law. They are there on the weekends.”
Steeped in college football knowledge and history — with “an encyclopedic memory to prove it,” Maisel said — Cook was not shy about predictions. Some panned out. Some did not. One that did not was his assertion that Ron Powlus, a highly recruited quarterback from Berwick, would win two Heisman Trophies at Notre Dame. Powlus had a solid career but never came close to one.
Cook's favorite word, often uttered in exasperation, was “unbelievable.”
“He was original,” said WTAE-TV sports anchor and TribLive Radio host Guy Junker, who knew Cook since the early 1980s. “The kinds of things he did and said would not fly with most television executives. If you saw a tape of Beano Cook, you probably wouldn't want this guy on the air. But everybody loved him.”
Born Carroll Hoff Cook on Sept. 1, 1931, in Boston, Cook moved to the Chatham Village neighborhood of Duquesne Heights. It was there that he quickly acquired his nickname after his birthplace became known.
Cook never married and had no known family. A man of some eccentricities, he also refused to drive and never owned a home. He often bragged that he did not have to deal with things that men, he believed, find problematic — “a wife, a home and a car.”
Cook graduated from Pitt in 1954, and after two years in the Army, he worked 10 years heading the university's sports information department. In 2002, the Beano Cook Media Room at the Petersen Events Center was dedicated.
Before joining ESPN, he worked as a sportswriter and held public-relations or on-air positions for CBS, ABC, the Miami Dolphins and Mutual Radio. He was a vice president of the Civic Arena during the ownership of Ed DeBartolo Jr. and always a presence on local radio and TV.
He also volunteered for VISTA, the domestic version of the Peace Corps.
“Beano,” said Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson, “left a legacy never to be matched.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7810.