Starkey: Cope-ing with Myron's legacy
Myron Cope's gravestone is well-protected: As his daughter, Elizabeth, recently posed for a photograph there, a man came by and promised he would never allow a Cleveland Browns fan near it.
Such is the reverence, still, for Cope. So small in stature, so large in the public eye — larger, for sure, than most of the famous Steelers players whose games he called in his inimitable style.
“He was like a whirlwind, a tornado,” Elizabeth says. “And I'm like the dust in his wake.”
The dust has settled somewhat. The two shared an amazing journey late in Myron's life. But they had a largely tumultuous relationship — screaming matches, feuds that dragged on for weeks.
Elizabeth figures her father “was much kinder to me than I was receptive.” It's still hard to pinpoint why it went sour for so long.
Maybe part of it was their shared brand of top-shelf stubbornness.
Maybe part of it was Myron's pain over his lone son, Danny, being mentally disabled and unable to carry on the family name.
Definitely part of it was Elizabeth's resentment over her father's fame. She remembers thinking to herself, after another awkward night out, “Can't we ever just go somewhere and blend in?”
No, they couldn't. Not with her brother periodically bursting into fits. Not with her father attracting more stares than a UFO.
“I always hated it, really,” Elizabeth says of growing up in the public eye.
As the Steelers near the halfway point of their 80th anniversary season, it's hard not to think of Myron Cope, who died at age 79 nearly five years ago.
His legacy lives in his beloved Terrible Towel, of course. He handed over the trademark to Allegheny Valley School, a network of group homes across the state that serve people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. Danny, 45, is one of them.
Myron's spirit also inhabits the broadcast booth.
“I think of him every game,” says Steelers play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove.
Mostly, Myron Cope lives on in his children. His wife, Mildred, preceded him in death by 14 years. That leaves Elizabeth, 41, and Danny as the last branches of the Cope family tree.
“It's like a movie — The Last Descendant,” Elizabeth says. “It's weird to be the last one in a family line. But somebody has to be.”
Elizabeth is single and lives in the South Hills. She spends her time traveling, painting, reading, tending to various events in her father's name and looking in on her brother.
She says Danny, who has never spoken, often has emotions seemingly unrelated to events around him.
“We'll go to a Steelers game — nothing,” Elizabeth says. “But if we go to Wal-Mart, he is overjoyed to carry that Wal-Mart basket.”
Elizabeth has a Myron-like twinkle in her eyes, a similarly sharp wit and, like her dad, a fascination with people.
Like her mother, she doesn't mince words.
Will she ever marry?
Maybe, she says, “but it's not like I'm waiting around for Prince Charming to swoop in.”
Myron doted on his “little lady” when she was young. Soon enough, though, the battles began.
“Everything, and nothing,” Elizabeth says. “As I grew older, it got really bad.”
It sometimes got to the point where the two, though living under the same roof, would exchange messages through Mildred. Her death in 1994, after a long illness, was a crushing blow. Elizabeth was a student at West Virginia at the time, distraught. It took Marianne Noll, wife of ex-Steelers coach Chuck Noll, to come to Morgantown to pick her up.
Mildred's death forced her husband and daughter to bury the hatchet. They needed each other now. When Myron's health problems emerged, Elizabeth was determined to be there for him, even if she'd often felt he wished she were a boy.
A variety of issues forced Myron to enter the hospital around Thanksgiving of 2007. Elizabeth sat faithfully by his side for much of his final three months. His face in the final days, she recalls, reflected peace and radiance.
In one of her early visits to his room, however, Elizabeth encountered a man raging the way people in that stage of life sometimes do.
“Get out of here!” he yelled repeatedly.
Elizabeth, knowing her father so well, sensed a deep desire buried under his agony: “He needed to yell at somebody who wouldn't abandon him.”
Finally, Myron stopped ranting and fell asleep. When he woke up more than a day later, he was surprised to see his daughter.
“He said, ‘You're still here?'” Elizabeth recalls. “I said, ‘Yes.'”
Myron Cope paused. Two words rose from his heart. He spoke them softly:
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at email@example.com.