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Starkey: Beano Cook still cookin'

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

A truly unique sports character, maybe one of the last, is early for our meeting at a downtown Subway. He is wearing a centuries-old, brown tweed sport coat over a Seattle Seahawks golf shirt. Are those Seahawks sweatpants, too• His cane rests on the table.

He`s much thinner than I remember. Much scruffier. Patches of snow-white hair fray in multiple directions atop a head crammed with more college-football knowledge than perhaps any head in history.

Greatest team ever?

'Notre Dame of `47,' he snaps. 'They had 41 players who played pro football. The fourth-team center never got a monogram — they don`t call `em letters, they call `em monograms — but he was the starting
center for the L.A. Rams when they played Cleveland in 1950 for the championship. The `46 and `47 Notre Dame teams were never behind once. To me, it`s the greatest stat in the history of college football.'

So the brain, obviously, is working. The body not so much. He is hobbled by type-2 diabetes and humbled by a recent near-death experience.

OK, he`s not humbled. He`s Beano Cook. And he isn`t interested in dying anytime soon, what with his 80th birthday scheduled for Sept. 1.

Not that the mission of avoiding death consumes him.

'People my age don`t worry about dying,' he says. 'They worry about the stuff before it — the hospitals, the pain. What they`re scared of is the exhibition season.'

Back on Christmas night, a block from here, Beano couldn`t breathe as he emerged from an elevator in his apartment building. He passed out. A bystander called 9-1-1. Beano spent 12 days at Shadyside Hospital as doctors addressed various issues, including a kidney problem.

A veteran of triple-bypass surgery in 1999 and a small-toe amputation on account of the diabetes, he dreads his next hospital visit. He`ll joke about it, of course. He jokes about everything. But his guard
slips, however briefly, when the topic turns to his legacy.

An only child, Beano never married. He has no family.

'I never really took life seriously,' he says. 'But I never had kids. And I found out early that love was a word MGM invented.'

Does he care how he`ll be remembered?

'Sure. The only thing you take to your grave is your reputation. I hope I leave with a good reputation. I know there are people who don`t like me, but …'

But enough of that. The conversation veers abruptly to Beano`s gripes with downtown parking rates (he doesn`t own a car), his work with ESPN and his blog ( Next month will mark 55 years since he landed at Pitt, where, as long-time sports information director, he`d spice up his game notes with stock tips and travel advice. It has been nearly 25 years since he joined ESPN and became a prominent national voice on college football.

He`s still bursting with opinions, booming them out in that un-buh-LEEVE-able Beano baritone. But before I solicit more, I need to know: Why the Seahawks outfit?

Turns out in the wake of Super Bowl XL, Beano publicly proclaimed that Seattle got ripped off — although he was rooting for the Steelers (and owns four seat licenses at Heinz Field). A Seattle radio station was so impressed it sent him the clothing. He wears it all the time because, well, it`s comfortable.

Finally, we move to a game of free association, part of my plan all along. Could there be a better person, ever, for this• I`ll throw out a word or question. Beano will say whatever comes to mind …

Ohio State: 'College football`s version of Watergate. The cover-up did in Tressel.'

Marriage: 'Well … don`t do it. That`s my advice.'

West Virginia`s plan to sell beer at games: 'A disgrace. What`s next, brothels?'

Greatest college football coach: 'Most people would say (Knute) Rockne, but Rockne didn`t have to chase any ghosts. I would say Frank Leahy. The great line is, they asked (1949 Heisman winner) Leon Hart, ‘What was Leahy like after you lost?` He said, ‘I don`t know. We never lost.` '

Clearly, we need to do this more often. I tell Beano I`ll call him.

'Great,' he says. 'If I don`t answer, I`m either not home or dead.'

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