Colleagues toast a colorful character

Hold off on flying those Terrible Towels at half-staff. Better to toast Myron Cope with a toddy and a story, two of his favorite pastimes. And, if you're so inclined, you can light one up in his honor, because Mr. Cope was anything but politically correct and he enjoyed a smoke as well.

Mr. Cope enjoyed life in many ways and infused others with his delight at finding pleasure in work and everyday living, his former colleagues said after learning of his death yesterday at age 79.

"It's a sad day for Steelers fans," said Bill Hillgrove, who worked with Mr. Cope at WTAE radio and TV and joined him on the Steelers broadcast crew for 11 years. "But he'd be the first one to say celebrate it, don't fly the Terrible Towel at half-staff.

"He was so good at what he did and he was so engaging, using colorful language and his ability to tell the story. In those bad games where the Steelers trailed or were ahead big, he always had a story he could tell. He called it his 'laugher' and he told it between plays and could make an entertaining broadcast out of a non-competitive game."

Mr. Cope could make watching paint dry fascinating and that was one reason the Steelers hired him as their color analyst in 1970. Ed Kiely, then in their front office, suggested they hire Mr. Cope when the Steelers radio rights switched from KDKA to WTAE that year.

"My god!" Mr. Kiely remembers someone in the discussions blurting out. "Who's going to listen to Myron Cope?"

"He's got the knowledge of the game and that's the reason we're hiring him,'' Mr. Kiely recalled as his response. "And he probably brought as much revenue to that station as the weather man, Joe DiNardo.''

He brought humor to the broadcast as well in an age when few color men lived up to the word. Dan Rooney did not give him credit for helping the team win four Super Bowls in the 1970s, but he didn't hurt the cause, the Steelers chairman said yesterday.

"Myron was great at keeping it humorous. We had a great team and a great coach, but we needed someone to loosen them up and Myron did that.''

And it was true, Mr. Rooney said, that he never once told Mr. Cope what to say or not to on their broadcasts. If they had, "it's not like he would have listened,'' Steelers President Art Rooney said.

"I thought Myron brought Steelers football closer to the fans than any one person,'' Art Rooney said. "He just made the fans feel part of it.''

One time, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder tried to influence him, sending a henchman into Mr. Cope's booth at Heinz Field to order him to stop calling them the Washington "Redfaces,'' a term he used because Washington had failed miserably that year to live up to its Super Bowl hype. Mr. Cope chased the guy out of his booth and continued to refer to the "Redfaces.''

That booth, by the way, always was stocked with several huge Pittsburgh telephone books -- the diminutive Mr. Cope stacked them up on his seat so he could sit high enough to call the game.

"He was easy to work with from a play-by-play man's standpoint,'' said Mr. Hillgrove, "because he'd wait until I finished talking. He didn't tramp on you but certainly was willing to take it when you finished and do his thing and he did it as well as anybody."

But Mr. Cope knew when it was time to work, more than his fans could imagine. He read all the papers and studied for the games, and it was not all Steelers. After he started his nightly sports talk show at WTAE radio, he kept up on all sports.

"People who don't know him and weren't around him would have been really surprised to know how serious he was about his job,'' said John Steigerwald, who worked with Mr. Cope at WTAE-TV in the 1970s and now has a talk show on KDKA radio.

Eartha Jackson, his producer for 20 years at WTAE radio until Mr. Cope's retirement in 1995, found out quickly how serious he was about his job.

"He was very demanding, very particular, and everything had to be just so,'' Ms. Jackson said yesterday. "It took me a couple years to adjust to that kind of nonsense."

Mr. Cope broke in as a sports writer and quickly became known as one of the best in the country at it.

"Some of the stories he wrote for us were so meticulous,'' said former Sports Illustrated managing editor Mark Mulvoy. "They were written the way he talked. He was so insightful."

Fred Young, now the senior VP of news for Hearst-Argyle Television in New York, was news director at WTAE-TV in the 1970s when he gave Mr. Cope his first job in television.

Mr. Young watched some old video of Mr. Cope yesterday, noting he pronounced the Terrible Towel the "tahl.''

"He wrote the Pittsburgh pronunciation book before there was one."

It was another reason fans loved him, whether he was on television, radio or in a local pub, where he never turned down a request from a fan.

"I'll miss him,'' said Mr. Kiely, speaking for them all.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at . First Published February 28, 2008 5:00 AM


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