Pitt legend 'Beano' Cook dies

Carroll H. "Beano" Cook, the college football historian who entertained television and radio audiences with his quick wit and unique view of the world of sports, died Thursday. He was 81.

Mr, Cook was best known for his work as a college football analyst and historian with ABC Sports and ESPN. He also enjoyed a long and successful career as a sports publicist, including his first job as the sports information director at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Cook, who was born Sept. 1, 1931, died in ManorCare Health Services Green Tree where he had been in rehabilitation following back surgery about three weeks ago, said Jim Dunn. his lawyer and a longtime friend.

Mr. Dunn said Mr. Cook's health had deteriorated during the past six months and the likely cause of death was complications from diabetes.

Born in Boston in 1931, Mr. Cook's family moved to Pittsburgh when he was 7. It was in Pittsburgh where his love of sports was nurtured, and it's where he received his nickname. The name "Beano" came from a childhood neighbor in Pittsburgh shortly after Mr. Cook's family had moved from Boston -- "Beantown."

A graduate of Kiski Prep in Saltsburg, Mr. Cook attended Brown University for one year before transferring to Pitt. Upon graduating from Pitt in 1954 and after a stint in the Army, he became Pitt's sports information director in 1956, a job Mr. Cook did so well that he became known as one of the leaders in the profession.

As Pitt's sports information director from 1956-66, Mr. Cook's main job was to get Panthers coverage in the local newspapers and on radio and television.

"In Beano's era, Pitt played a big-time schedule, and he had to fight for [news] space," said Ernie Accorsi, one of Mr. Cook's best friends who worked his way up from sports publicist to top executive with two National Football League teams. "In those days the writers were in the office and you had to sell ideas to the papers. You really had to work at it. He was probably one of the all-time best with story ideas.

"What you were doing basically was trying to sell tickets. And no one was as good as Beano with story ideas."

One of his best ideas never made it into print. He brainstormed getting Pitt basketball All-American Don Hennon and Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, together for a picture in 1958. The headline of the picture would have been: "The World's Two Greatest Shot Makers."

But Dr. Salk would not agree to pose for the picture, much to Mr. Cook's chagrin.

"The picture would not have made every paper in the country, it would have made every paper in the world," Mr. Cook told the Post-Gazette in 2006.

Mr. Cook did not work for Pitt in an official capacity after 1966, but he remained a champion of the university and has the working media room at the Petersen Events Center named in his honor.

A plaque with Mr. Cook's picture and this inscription hangs in the workroom: "This media room is dedicated to Beano's legendary contributions to the field of sports journalism and unyielding dedication to his profession. Beano brought the national spotlight to Pittsburgh as he became a college sports icon."

"Beano left a legacy never to be matched," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said in statement issued by the university Thursday. "Not matched in accomplishment, wit or loyalty to Pitt and his friends. ... He loved the University of Pittsburgh and his name is synonymous with all good things at Pitt."

"He was special," said Mike Ditka, an All-American tight end at Pitt in 1960 who is enshrined in the college and pro football halls of fame. "We became really good friends the years I was in school at Pitt. I don't know that anybody loved that job and loved Pitt more than he did."

Mr. Cook left Pitt for ABC Sports in 1966 as the network's NCAA press director, a job he held until 1974. He worked in a variety of different jobs in sports over the ensuing years, including a stint as a sports writer for the St. Petersburg Times, vice president of the Civic Arena, public relations director for the Miami Dolphins and the Mutual Radio Network and publicist for CBS Sports before becoming an on-air commentator for ABC Sports from 1982-85. In 1986, he moved to ESPN, where he earned a larger audience for his now famous one-liners.

One of Mr. Cook's more famous quips was delivered because of a job he held in his one year out of sports. During a mid-life crisis when his social conscience got the better of him, Mr. Cook toured with VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America), serving as a quasi-parole officer for a young man who was released from jail in Florida.

"Beano was responsible for him," Mr. Accorsi said. "So the parolee commits another crime and gets sentenced to 15 years in jail. Beano was in court with him, and he tells me all he could think of was how this guy was going to miss the next 15 Ohio State-Michigan games. That was Beano."

It wasn't long until Mr. Cook was back working in the world of sports, entertaining thousands with his unique points of view.

"He used to make me roll on the floor laughing with some of his one-liners," said Roger Valdiserri, the former sports information director at Notre Dame. "He once said if Notre Dame was playing Russia, he'd root for Russia. He was anti-Notre Dame. I don't know if it was genuine, but I didn't care because we were friends."

In 1981 shortly after Iran released a number of American hostages, Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that they would all be given lifetime passes to major league games. Mr. Cook, known for his preference of football to baseball, got off one of his most famous lines:

"Haven't they suffered enough?"

Mr. Cook became a household name while working for ESPN television and continued to contribute to the network for many years afterward on ESPN Radio and ESPN News and the network's website until his health problems forced him to decrease his workload in recent years.

Mr. Cook maintained a blog, beano-cook.com, where he wrote about a variety of subjects, including politics. His last entry, dated Oct. 1, was titled "No broken promises":

"Sorry to say that health issues hit me at the worst time -- start of College Football Season. Everything except recovery takes a back-burner now. I won't say I'll be back to the blog by a certain date, as some businesses might 'promise,' but I do hope to return soon. Thanks for your support and encouragement. Enjoy the season! -- Beano".

Mr. Dunn said Mr. Cook, who never married and often poked fun at his married friends, had no surviving family.

Mr. Cook will be cremated, Mr. Dunn said. He said he will consult with Mr. Cook's friends and Pitt officials and expects to announce plans for a memorial service in four to six weeks.

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Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230. First Published October 11, 2012 4:15 AM


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