Actual proof that a secret can be kept in today's society, even among the media, is this: At a private funeral service Friday for Myron Cope about 160 invited people were in attendance, about 10 more than expected.
Had the secret of the service and its site not been kept, had the invited relatives, friends and colleagues of the great Cope been blabbers, tens of thousands would have descended on the Slater funeral home in Green Tree. Such was the affection for Cope, who died Wednesday after a long illness, that the parkway in both directions would have been clogged. Greentree and Cochran roads, the two main arteries leading to the funeral home, would have been parking lots.
The mark of a man is not just by the lives he has touched, because that's only the half of it. The greatness of Cope, as a journalist, as an entertainer and as a human being, was how the other half of the equation played out. He reached back to those adoring fans. And they loved him for it.
Through all the zaniness that made him famous and admired, the Cope's impeccable character could not be hidden. He was a child of another era, born in 1929, raised in the hardscrabble 1930s. He had old-world manners that he would not relinquish. He was kind and courteous. He did not abide profanity in the presence of women. He said please. He said thank you. When people wrote or called, he responded. He was adored by the public and basked in that adoration. He was a ham with a large ego. But larger than that ego was his heart.
How big that heart was we've only just begun to learn. After his death came word that about $2.2 million, proceeds from his trademarked Terrible Towel, went to the Allegheny Valley School, a private, non-profit that cares for children and adults with intellectual development disabilities. Because his son Danny was so afflicted, the school was close to Cope's heart for decades.
Much has been made in the days since his death of Cope's love for print journalism. It's where he began; it's where thought he'd end. He drifted into broadcasting almost by chance and eventually had to give up writing. The praise of his writing that has appeared was not exaggerated. As both a newspaper reporter, covering Pitt for the Post-Gazette, and later as a magazine writer for Sports Illustrated and other national publications, he was a master of the craft.
My fondest recollections of Cope are not for the way he put words on paper or even for the way, as a rank amateur, he become first a radio and then a television star of the first magnitude in Pittsburgh. As strong as Cope's writing skills were, as gifted as he was at running a talk show, it was his work ethic that most stood out.
My profession, the print media, is full of workaholics -- men and women who won't call it a day until the last phone call has been made, the last fact checked, the last rumor run down. In his prime, Cope outworked everyone in the print media. He was a one-man staff who often out-scooped entire newspaper staffs.
At the height of his radio and television career, he did 19 commentaries a week. They were thoughtful pieces, sometimes humorous, sometimes provocative and always superbly crafted.
He didn't report for work at 5 p.m. for his 6 p.m. talk show. He was out in the field in the morning or afternoon talking to the people who made the news. If there was a news conference, he was there. If there was a media luncheon, common in the 1970s and '80s, he was there. When that work was done, he'd head to the WTAE studio in late afternoon to prepare for his talk show. Nor was he finished when he signed off.
If there was a hockey or baseball game, there's a good chance Cope would be there. Because of his 8 p.m. signoff time, he'd arrive in the second period of hockey games. The guys in the media lounge saved him a sandwich. That was his dinner. When the game was over, he'd head for the locker room where everyone knew him by name.
In baseball season, he'd make a point to come to at least one game in every home series. When the game ended, he headed to the clubhouse where he cast aside his celebrity, even if the players wouldn't have it, to be a reporter. Once finished interviewing, he'd repair to the press lounge for a toddy. He'd then sit by himself in the back, pecking away on his typewriter and composing his commentary for the next morning.
Although he might have become best known for his connection with the Steelers as the color commentator of their radio broadcasts, it was the talk show and the commentaries that brought Cope the most early attention and allowed his talent and personality to shine.
It was here he endeared himself to listeners and made them laugh.
At the funeral Friday, Steelers president Dan Rooney, one of five speakers, said, "My favorite Christmas carol is 'Deck The Broncos They're Just Yoncos.' "
Indeed, who can forget this immortal Cope line: "Pete Rostosky show 'em who's boss-ky."
He lived life hard. He liked a toddy, or two, and he wouldn't give up his cigarettes. He loved a good time and didn't mind chasing it into the night.
At his funeral Rooney; Sally Wiggin of WTAE; Bill Hillgrove, his long-time broadcast partner; Franco Harris and Elizabeth Cope, his daughter, spoke. They recalled the man, the friend, the father.
His hundreds of thousands of fans across the country, members of the Steelers Nation he helped popularize, will recall him as their heart chooses. An era has ended, a legend has left us.
Bob Smizik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published March 2, 2008 5:00 AM