PG's Penn State writer inherits Beano Cook's Heisman vote
Beano Cook speaks after having a room dedicated to him in the new Peterson Event Center at Pitt. Mr. Cook died Oct. 11.
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On election night, a colleague named David Jones texted to ask if I would like a Heisman Trophy vote, as if such a question can lead to an answer that doesn't reside in the affirmative.
I told him yes. What I meant to say was, "Yes!" followed by a celebratory, profane expression of shock that can't be printed in this publication but can be shortened to "OMG."
Then Jones, who writes for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, dropped this other nugget. "You just acquired Beano's vote, dude," he wrote. "Hallowed ground."
I told him wow. What I meant to say was "Wow!" followed by "Huh?" I knew Beano Cook as a legend because the word always precedes his name, like a formal title, but otherwise I knew little about him.
You see, I haven't spent much time in Pittsburgh. I'm employed by the Post-Gazette, but I live in State College, Pa., and grew up in the Midwest, always seeing this city from afar. To wit, television personality Adam Richman introduced me to Primanti's; Christian Bale showed me the glory of this city's bridges via a Batcycle.
I had no idea Beano Cook, who died Oct. 11, was from here. I had heard of him. When I was younger, my mom or dad would drive me to and from basketball or soccer games on Saturdays, and there would be this guy named Beano syndicated on our local sports radio station, speaking about subjects I can't remember in a voice I wouldn't recognize.
I read the tributes. I learned he was a Pittsburgh guy, a former sports information director for Pitt who loved college football and was called the "Pope" and joked about baseball, and if a woman asked him for his version of alphabetical order he would begin with the name Cook, Beano. When I found out I had his Heisman vote, I wanted to learn more.
On Wednesday, about 100 people honored him at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland. They were media personalities, athletes, sports businessmen. They wore suits and ties, and Howie Schwab, the guy everyone tried to stump on that old ESPN show, wore a Pitt football jersey under a sport coat because he thought Beano would like that.
A bar opened in the corner. Beano's friends drank Bloody Marys, his favorite, and reminisced. You remember ... how Beano would know the scores and point spreads of games from the 1940s, how Beano would speculate on the love life of Howard Hughes before steering the conversation to the siege of Stalingrad, how Beano would waltz into a South Hills Notre Dame bar years ago and start cheering for Pitt.
Some of the friends there Wednesday said they would argue with him that professional sports were better than college sports. Beano would fire back with a similar answer each time. As much as the commercialism of recent years bothered him, he loved college football because of the pageantry. Yale still sang "Bulldog, bulldog," and Ohio State still used the tuba to dot the "I" in its marching band formation.
He didn't get to watch this football season before he died. Not really. Beano entered a rehabilitation facility in the middle of September after back surgery. Diabetes had decimated him the final few months of his life.
One of his best friends, former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, spoke with him daily. Accorsi isn't sure if he didn't have access to college football on TV, or if he just wasn't in the mood to watch, but every Saturday Beano would have Accorsi update scores for him over the phone. Accorsi would call Beano several times. At 5 p.m., Accorsi would go to Mass and not update him for a couple of hours.
"Where the heck have you been?" Beano would ask.
I was the outlier at this tribute. I'm in my 20s and let's just say the others present were the age of people who would not earnestly write "OMG" in a column.
Like most people in their 20s, I want to craft my own route through the world, but I'm amazed and frightened and desperately seeking guidance or at least assurance at the same time. And when the right advice hits you, you appreciate the wisdom right away, and it's awesome.
I expected to write how this man's unbridled passion for college football and all things in it, like the Heisman, could be a model to help me stay enthused when it comes to my career. But another part of the afternoon struck me.
His friends said he worked hard and took risks in life and then he cherished the benefits. As much as he loved college football, friends said, he loved the people close to him more, the 100 or so individuals who flew and drove from all over to formally remember him for a couple of more hours.
Schwab told of how not long ago he, Beano and a few others dined at Morton's in Downtown Pittsburgh. They were eating steak and drinking and enjoying each other's company. Out of nowhere during the meal Beano made an announcement of sorts.
"This is fun," he told everybody. "This is the life."
Correction/Clarification: (Published Dec. 7, 2012) This story was amended to reflect that Howie Schwab wore a Pitt football jersey under his sports coat. The original version stated he wore a Pitt basketball jersey.
First Published December 7, 2012 12:00 am