Thursday, June 23, 2005

Joe Starkey: Some of Cope's Finest Work Appeared in SI

By Joe Starkey
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Myron Cope most assuredly did not need a ghost writer for his 2002 autobiography, "Double Yoi!"

If you've never read Cope's prose, you'll be pleasantly surprised by what appears below. He was, in fact, one of the more accomplished sports writers of the 1960s, shortly before his accidental broadcasting career took off like Franco Harris at Three Rivers Stadium on that magical winter's day in 1972.
You could even call Cope's writing Immaculate.

Below are excerpts from two of his most-acclaimed pieces for Sports Illustrated. The first, a profile of controversial broadcaster Howard Cosell, originally appeared in the March 13, 1967 issue and later was included in SI's "50 Years of Great Writing" anthology.
Cosell was none too pleased with the piece -- until he realized it would drastically increase his notoriety.

The second story, on Pirates' great Roberto Clemente, originally appeared in SI on March 7, 1966, and later was included in "SI's Great Baseball Writing" anthology. Clemente didn't speak to Cope for about a year after the article appeared, believing it furthered his reputation as a hypochondriac.


Excerpt from profile of Howard Cosell
(Originally published in the March 13, 1967 issue of SI)

''Oh, this horizontal ladder of mediocrity,'' sighs Howard Cosell, ruminating on the people who make up the radio-television industry, which pays him roughly $175,000 a year. ''There's one thing about this business: There is no place in it for talent. That's why I don't belong. I lack sufficient mediocrity.''
Cosell fondles a martini at a table in the Warwick bar, across the street from the American Broadcasting Company headquarters. Anguish clouds his homely face. His long nose and pointed ears loom over his gin in the fashion of a dive bomber swooping in with fighter escort.
''This is a terrible business,'' he says.

It being the cocktail hour, the darkened room is packed with theatrical and Madison Avenue types. A big blonde, made up like Harlow the day after a bender, dominates a nearby table, encircled by spindly, effete little men. Gentlemen in blue suits, with vests, jam the bar.
A stocky young network man pauses at Cosell's table and cheerfully asks if he might drop by Cosell's office someday soon. Cosell says certainly, whereupon the network man joins a jovial crowd at the bar.
''He just got fired,'' Cosell whispers. ''He doesn't know that I already know.''
The man, he is positive, wants his help, but what is Cosell to do when there are men getting fired every week?

''This is the roughest, toughest, cruelest jungle in the world,'' Cosell grieves.

A waiter brings him a phone, and he orders a limousine and chauffeur from a rental agency. He cannot wait to retreat to his rustic fireside in Pound Ridge up in Westchester County.
It is Monday evening, barely the beginning of another long week in which he, Howard W. Cosell, middle-aged and tiring, must stand against the tidal wave of mediocrity, armed only with his brilliance and integrity.

Excerpt from story on Roberto Clemente
(Originally published in the March 7, 1966 issue of SI)

The batting champion of the major leagues lowered himself to the pea-green carpet of this 48-foot living room and sprawled on his right side, flinging his left leg over his right leg. He wore gold Oriental pajama tops, tan slacks, battered bedroom slippers and -- for purposes of the demonstration he was conducting -- a tortured grimace.
"Like dis!" he cried, and then dug his fingers into his flesh, just above his upraised left hip.
Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates' marvelous rightfielder and their steadiest customer of the medical profession, was showing how he must greet each new day in his life. He has a disk in his back that insists on wandering, so when he awakens he must cross those legs, dig at the flesh and listen for the sound of the disk popping back where it belongs.

Around the room necks were craned and ears alerted for the successful conclusion of the demonstration. Clemente's wife -- the tall, beautiful Vera -- sat solemnly in a gold wing chair a few feet away. Way out in the rightfield seats, ensconced on a $1,000 velvet sofa in what may be called the Italian Provincial division of Clemente's vast living room, were his 18-year-old nephew, Pablo, and Pablo's buddy, Wilson. They sat fascinated, or at least they seemed fascinated, for it may have been that Wilson, who says his hobby is girls, was wishing that minute that Roberto would lend them his Cadillac.

"No, you cannot hear the disk now," shouted Roberto. "It is in place now. But every morning you can hear it from here to there, in the whole room. Boop!"
Certainly, Boop.
Not only one boop but two, for there is another disk running around up in the vicinity of Roberto's neck. For that one he must have someone manipulate his neck muscles until the boop is heard.

All this herding of disks, mind you, is but a nub on the staggering list of medical attentions that Clemente has undergone during his 11 years as a Pirate.

Relatively small at 5'10" and 180 pounds when able to take nourishment, the chronic invalid has smooth skin, glistening muscles and perfect facial contours that suggest the sturdy mahogany sculpture peddled in the souvenir shops of his native Puerto Rico. His countrymen regard him as the most superb all-round big-leaguer to emerge from this island, while many Pittsburghers have concluded that the only thing that can keep Clemente from making them forget Paul Waner is a sudden attack of good health.

Joe Starkey can be reached at

Sandra Tolliver: Voice of the Steelers Gone But Not Forgotten

Fans raise toast in honor of Cope and his colorful persona

By Sandra Tolliver
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

He wasn't the voice of the Steelers -- that's play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove -- but he was the voice of the Steelers. Some say his was the voice of Pittsburgh.
Steelers radio color analyst Myron Cope -- he of the nasal intonations and nonsense sayings -- said Tuesday it's time to permanently mute his microphone after 35 years.

At 76, plagued with a variety of health problems the past three years, a hoarse Cope acknowledged he has grown "too old to have a toddy" with the players, as he used to. Nevertheless, fans who heard the news of his retirement in South Side bars at noon began hoisting beers -- perhaps flavored with their own tears -- in Cope's honor.

"It was more entertaining listening to him than anybody else," said Dan Woodske, 24, of Beaver Falls, who recalled watching games with friends when he attended Pitt. They would turn down the sound on the television and listen to Cope on the radio.

"I liked it when he would forget names and babble incoherently, and then Bill Hillgrove would get him back on track," Woodske said.

At a meeting Monday, Cope informed Steelers management and the team's flagship radio stations WDVE-FM 102.5 and WBGG-AM-970 of his decision to call it a career.
Cope "put the color in color analysts" and "brought our fans closer to the team," Steelers president Art Rooney II said. The Steelers' home game Oct. 31 will be "Myron Cope Night" at Heinz Field, to give fans a chance to thank him, Rooney said.

Cope said he is pleased that his objectivity helped him to gain respect from Steelers fans and fans of opposing teams.
"I'm most proud of my credibility," he said. "I've always guarded it. I want people to believe if I say something, I know what I'm talking about."

His one-of-a-kind voice has become weak and raspy since Cope underwent throat surgery last July. He had planned to continue broadcasting this year, believing that therapy would cure his hoarseness. But retired Steelers executive Joe Gordon, a longtime close friend, persuaded Cope it was time to quit.

"I'm not surprised, because I think last year his health was suffering," said Steelers season-ticketholder Cindy Vannoy, 42, also of Beaver Falls, who was eating lunch with Woodske at Shootz Cafe on Carson Street. "You could tell there was something just not right."
Nobody will match Cope's enthusiasm, said Margie Kupper of Center Township who was seated at a nearby table.
"I have three boys, and they go to the Steelers games," she said. "They just love him. We're going to miss him."

"What was nice about it was his projection quality -- very, very strong projection when he was in his prime," said Lon Alan, 33, of West Mifflin, who stopped for a beer at Southside Sports Bar on Carson. "I can appreciate that because I'm a musician, a vocalist."
Bartender Heather Battocchi at Southside Sports Bar was surprised to learn that Cope invented the Terrible Towel.
"I never realized that," said Battocchi, 35, of Bloomfield. "That's pretty cool."

John Poister, creative services director for Pittsburgh-based Renda Broadcasting, was assignments manager at then-Steelers flagship station WTAE-1250 AM (now ESPN radio affiliate WEAE) when Cope, then a talk show host, came up with the idea in 1975. Station management wanted Cope to advertise a gimmick as the Steelers headed into the playoffs.

Cope already was hosting a hilarious locker room fashion show with the '70s Steelers wearing outrageous get-ups. The show debuted with fullback John "Frenchy" Fuqua wearing platform shoes with water-filled acrylic heels in which goldfish were swimming.
"Only Myron could have pulled that off," Poister said. "He had the whole town talking about the Steelers the next day."

The towel was born when Cope suggested that people grab gold towels before heading to Three Rivers Stadium. He introduced the concept on an 11 p.m. Sunday TV newscast by hurling towels at the anchorman and weatherman. By the end of the season, Poister said, "you could actually go to the store and buy a Terrible Towel."

At the playoff game, an estimated 30,000 spectators turned out waving the yellow towels.
"It didn't take long," Poister said. "Myron's power over the fans was enormous. They would do almost anything he said."
Said Cope: "I've always thought when I kick the bucket, there'll be a little story there, and it'll say, 'Creator of the towel dead.' "

Sandra Tolliver can be reached at or (412) 320-7840.

Rob Rossi: Cope Calls it Quits After 35 Years

What they're saying
Reaction from Tuesday's announcement that Myron Cope has retired as Steelers color analyst:

"You would have to say that in the history of Steelers lore, he is certainly the voice of the organization. There can be no question about that."
-- Chuck Noll, former Steelers coach

"For me, I think he's the best sports journalist the city has ever known. He could decipher a story -- the pros and cons of it -- as well as anybody has ever done."
-- Penguins voice Mike Lange

"You were really part of it. You were part of the team. The Terrible Towel many times got us over the goal line."
-- Dan Rooney, Steelers chairman, to Cope on a conference call

"There is no voice more identified with any team in all of sports history -- and that includes Mel Allen with the Yankees, Ernie Harwell with the Tigers, Vin Scully with the Dodgers and Johnny Most with the Celtics -- than Myron Cope with the Steelers."
-- Peter King, Sports Illustrated

Unable to Meet His High Standards in Booth, Cope Calls it Quits After 35 Years
By Rob Rossi
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Myron Cope knew sports. He knew football. He knew Steelers football. But more than anything else, Myron Cope knew how to make football, Steelers football, fun.
That will be his legacy.
That and his famous scratch-throat-voiced delivery, his unique spin on the English language and his creation of a certain piece of gold cloth.
Cope, 76, announced his retirement from the Steelers Radio Network yesterday after 35 years as the club's color commentator.

He indicated at a news conference at the Steelers' South Side practice facility that continuing health issues played a part in preventing him from broadcasting at the high standard he had maintained for most of three decades.
Currently, Cope is undergoing voice and physical therapy. Various health ailments turned the Steelers' successful 2004 campaign into what Cope termed "The worst year of my career in terms of difficulty."
Still, he stressed doctors assured him that he would be healthy enough to broadcast during the 2005 season.
But return he won't.

A conversation Cope had with former Steelers public relations director Joe Gordon at his home June 10 convinced him that his days in the radio booth should come to an end.
"Myron is a pro, his standards are so high," Gordon said. "I told him that he wasn't meeting those standards."

Cope's departure marks the end of an era in Pittsburgh broadcasting.
"He's the voice of Pittsburgh," said Karen Ellis, 48, of New Brighton. "It won't be the same, because I don't think anybody could replace him. When you think of Pittsburgh sports, you think of Myron."

Cope had always pledged to leave his radio duties behind when his skills began to noticeably diminish. Gordon, a longtime friend, tried to convince him of as much over a series of phone conversations on the days leading up to that June 10 conversation.
Once the two met face-to-face, however, Cope needed "about 10 seconds" to decide he was done.
"I'm totally OK with the decision," Cope said. "When Joe left the house, I thought about it all night. I thought about it ever since. ... I have been OK since because Joe was telling me the truth. I worked that out in my mind. Sure, I am OK with it -- totally."
Added Gordon: "I went to Myron's house that day with a very specific purpose in mind. He was very receptive, which was the only thing that mildly surprise me."

Cope leaves the Steelers as one of the most identifiable figures in their storied history. Former coach Chuck Noll, the only man in NFL history to guide his team to four Super Bowl victories, called Cope "the voice of the franchise. ... Pretty much the image of the Steelers, no question."
Cope was an acclaimed newspaper and magazine writer prior to entering the broadcasting profession in 1968, when WTAE Radio invited him to contribute a daily morning sports commentary. He started providing color commentary for Steelers games on the team's flagship radio network in 1970. Three years later, he began serving WTAE Radio as host of a nightly sports talkshow called "Myron Cope on Sports," which aired for 22 years.

His unique delivery style -- a combination of honesty and witty humor by way of a screech-fueled voice -- won over Steelers fans and Pittsburghers immediately. Cope became an instant celebrity amongst local media personalities as the Steelers rose to prominence in the NFL.
In 1975, however, Cope's professional life changed forever when he invented "The Terrible Towel" at the behest of a WTAE Radio executive. It has since become a nationally recognized good luck charm for the Steelers.

Since its inception, the Steelers estimate hundreds of thousands of "Terrible Towels" have been sold worldwide. Cope owns the trademark, which in 1996 he turned over to the Allegheny Valley School, an institution for the profoundly mentally and physically disabled. According to a spokesperson for the school, "The Terrible Towel" has brought in more than $840,000 since 1996, including $275,000 during the past year.
"It was a big thing," Noll said of Cope's cloth creation. "It became something that everybody in Pittsburgh could rally around."
Cope, who yesterday described his desire to be remembered as a writer, joked that the headline above his obituary will likely read: "Creator of Towel Dead!"
According to the Steelers, Cope will not be replaced on their broadcast team for the 2005 season. Bill Hillgrove, the Steelers Radio Network's play-by-play announcer and Cope's broadcast partner since 1994 (when he replaced the late Jack Fleming), said such a decision is a no-brainer.
"We're into uncharted territory here," an emotional Hillgrove said. "You're talking about a guy who is irreplaceable."
Or, as Gina Farzati, 27, of Beaver, said, "It's going to be hard to watch a game without him."

Staff writer Sandy Tolliver contributed to this report
Rob Rossi can be reached at or (412) 380-5635.

Bob Smizik: Enough to Silence His One of a Kind Voice

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As befitting so momentous an occasion, eight television cameras lined the back of the Steelers' media room, almost going wall to wall. In front of them, 30 or so men and women, armed with notebooks, pens and tape recorders, stood poised to chronicle what they had been all but promised was a major news event.

The making of this monster media scene began about 18 hours earlier when the Steelers quietly sent out word they would have an announcement of serious import the next morning.

Literally within minutes, speculation within the media was out of control. Included among the more obvious scenarios worth investigating were:
The long-awaited signing of Hines Ward.
The coming to terms of No. 1 draft choice Heath Miller.

By early evening, serious reporting proved that neither of those were the story in question. Which meant the speculation took a giant step forward to these fairly far-fetched scenarios:
Dan Rooney was retiring.
Jerome Bettis was retiring.
The Rooney family was selling the team.

By 11 a.m. yesterday, no one knew anything, which is almost unheard of when there is nearly a full day to work a story.

At which point, a short, balding, pot-bellied man with a gnarled ear walked into the media room, and in an instant everyone knew.

This was bigger than Hines Ward, bigger than Heath Miller.

The word legend is tossed around much too casually in the sports business. It's often used to describe men whose accomplishments don't begin to merit it. But this was one time where the word fit. So did all the cliches.

A legend in his own time was retiring, and this truly was the end of an era.

Myron Cope, the most recognizable man in Pittsburgh and probably the most popular, was taking the final step in a series of cutbacks in his working life that began with the closing down of his famously successful, extraordinarily entertaining, one-of-a-kind talk show in April 1995. He was retiring as color analyst for the Steelers, a position he had held since 1970 and was his last link to an adoring public.

This was the end, and truth be known it was time -- a point Cope did not attempt to hide.
He easily could have cited ill health. His voice was a raspy whisper yesterday, barely audible. His inability to hear, always a shortcoming, obviously was more pronounced. He also has been beset with a multitude of injuries and illnesses which, for a time, deprived him of the rich quality of life he loved so much.

But he was confident he would regain his voice and his health in time to broadcast another season.
What he could not regain was his competence.

Cope had a long-standing agreement with Joe Gordon, the former Steelers public relations boss and his good friend. If Cope was slipping, Gordon should tell him.
It was a task that could challenge any friendship and one Gordon did not relish.

Instead of citing Cope's competence, Gordon urged his friend to retire for the sake of his health.
Gordon said, "When I tried to persuade him to give it up because it was too much of a burden, he said, `My voice will come back and I can get better.' "

A few days later, June 10, Gordon told Cope the truth. He wasn't his old self. He was making too many mistakes, mistakes he had never made in the past.

That's all Cope needed to hear. He knew it was time. There was nothing to think about. If Gordon had said it, it must be true.
He also knew it wouldn't be easy.
"It's my whole life," Cope told Gordon.

"It was my whole life and it was Chuck [Noll's] whole life, too," answered Gordon.

"You'll get another life."

The first day of that life began yesterday.
Cope likes nothing better than being the center of attention, but that might have been particularly so yesterday because it could have been for the final time. This was his chance to officially and formally say goodbye to the millions he had entertained over the years and to whom he was the main link to their team.

Befitting the old-school gentleman he is, he came immaculately attired in a Seersucker sport coat, dark slacks and shoes, a white shirt and a blue tie with faint design.
Art Rooney II was there representing the Steelers and his dad, Dan, was on the phone from Ireland wishing his best.

Cope, despite the voice, was his usual sharp self. If he has slowed in the broadcasting booth -- and he acknowledged as much -- he remains a master on his feet. It was always a strength and it still remains one.

Since he was sitting where Bill Cowher usually sits for his news conferences, Cope drew a laugh by imitating the coach at those sessions. "Jerome with a quad; he's probable."
He also had a word for the Steelers' motorcycle-riding quarterback.
"Ben with a cracked head. He's out."

He later pleaded with quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Tommy Maddox to give up their motorcycle riding for the sake of their teammates.

It's well known, despite his immense success in broadcasting, that Cope's passion has been his writing. It's what he always wanted to do, what he was educated and trained to do and what he did so brilliantly in the 1950s and '60s.

"That's what I had a gift for. I'd like to be remembered as a pretty decent writer," he said.

Then he told a story -- which he admitted was boastful -- about the time he went to his boss at Sports Illustrated, where he did free-lance work under contract, and asked for a raise.
"I was told I already made as much as any of the contract writers, and that included George Plimpton."

It's true, he was up there with them all, even the widely acclaimed Plimpton, a darling of the literary set and a best-selling author.

That was a lifetime ago. He chose another path, one he might have found somewhat less fulfilling but one that was so much more enriching for Steelers fans throughout the region and across the country.

(Bob Smizik can be reached at


Myron Cope never gained a yard nor scored a touchdown in his 35 years doing Steelers games. Yet his Steelers numbers are unparalleled. Consider that he worked:

54.6: Percent of all Steelers games played in the franchise's 72-year history (561 of 1,027).
64.1: Percent of all Steelers victories (326).
75: Percent of all winning seasons in franchise history (24 of 32).
97.6: Percent of all Steelers postseason games (40 of 41). The Steelers made one postseason appearance prior to 1970, losing to Detroit, 17-10, in the 1962 Playoff Bowl.
326: Steelers victories in 35 years, giving him a winning percentage of .580.
FYI: His first game in the booth was Sept. 20, 1970 -- a 19-7 loss to the Oilers. His final game was Jan. 23, 2005 -- a 41-27 loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship.

Robert Dvorchak: Cope Quits; Admits He's Lost His Edge

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

He has a gargle-with-gravel voice that clangs of vaudevillian shtick rather than the polished prose of his writings. He isn't much taller than a Lombardi Trophy. He has a face made for radio. Yet Myron Cope is as synonymous with the Steelers as anyone not named Rooney.

But plagued by health woes that hoarsened his voice and neutralized his once lightning-quick insights, Cope has thrown in the towel after 35 years as the color analyst on Steeler broadcasts. No more yoi and double yoi, you betcha, hmm-hah and Zounds. The Steeler Nation will be farklempt on game days this fall.

"I'm done, folks," Cope, 76, said in a scratchy, weakened voice.

At a news conference yesterday, Cope couldn't hear well enough to determine where some questions were coming from. He also coughed a time or two, audible evidence of recent bouts of walking pneumonia and a throat condition that required surgery, not to mention the years of smoking and his taste for a toddy or two.

But his anecdotes and one-liners filled the interview room at the Steelers offices with laughter in what turned out to be an appreciation for a uniquely Pittsburgh phenomenon.
After some technical difficulties, Dan Rooney called from his vacation in Ireland to send his regards and wish Cope the best.

"Myron always made it fun for everyone," Rooney said.

Team president Art Rooney II presented Cope with a game ball from the last game he broadcast -- the AFC title game against the Patriots that ended in a disappointing defeat but set a record for the waving of Terrible Towels, a Cope creation.

Copeisms to remember:
Part of the charm of Myron Cope was his ability to create phrases that stuck not only with him but with his listeners. Here are some well-known Copeisms:
YOI: An expression to use when things are going bad.
DOUBLE YOI: When things are going really bad.
HMM-HAH: Signaling a pause or an end to the conversation with emphasis.
TODDY: A cocktail
COPE-A-NUT: An honor bestowed on a particularly brilliant talk-show caller.
DALLAS CRYBOYS: Dallas Cowboys
WASH DIRTYSKINS: Washington Redskins
WYCKY WACKY: Former Bengals Coach Sam Wyche
CLEVE BROWNIES: Cleveland Browns
BYE NOW: Goodbye
HOW-DO: Hello
DUMB-KOPF: A not-too-bright person.

Cope was not the first to use the term Cincinnati "Bungals," he only popularized it. It was coined by former Pittsburgh Press sports writer Glenn Sheeley.

"Myron put color into color analyst," said Art Rooney, seated at Cope's right hand.

To allow fans an opportunity to show their appreciation to the man who analyzed 35,000 plays, give or take a couple thousand, the Steelers are holding a Myron Cope Night on Monday, Oct. 31, Read into what you will that the date falls on Halloween.

Most of the assembled media horde, which sat between eight TV camera tripods and Cope seated at a table, weren't born when Cope became a broadcast analyst in 1970, the year that Three Rivers Stadium opened. Those who remember Cope as a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or Sports Illustrated could be counted on one hand.

Despite episodes such as falling and suffering a concussion last November, Cope had intended to return to the booth this year, convinced that his voice therapy sessions would have him ready to go.

But he had made a pact with Joe Gordon, the former director of media relations for the Steelers, that he would retire if he lost his edge. And Gordon paid a visit to Cope's home on Friday, June 10, with a very specific purpose in mind.

That meeting went like this:
"You've told me many times that if I ever detected you slipping in your broadcasts, I should tell you and you would retire. Well, last year, maybe the last couple of years, you started slipping. At times, your focus on the field wasn't right. Your health has affected your work," Gordon told him.
Cope said he gave it about 10 seconds of thought, then replied: "That's that. I'm through."
Cope insisted he was OK with the decision.

"It takes a very special friend to tell you the truth when he knows it's going to hurt," Cope said. "He's absolutely right. I could see it in the tapes. There were situations in games involving the clock and strategy when I was shutting up. I wasn't sure of myself."

It was Gordon who helped Cope get the job in the first place, even though Cope had never been trained in broadcasting.

In 1970, the Steelers had moved from KDKA to WTAE because they felt they were playing second fiddle to the Pirates. Dick Stockton was lined up as the analyst, but he balked at sharing the play-by-play with the late Jack Fleming. When the job re-opened, Gordon recommended Cope, just as the Steelers were beginning their Super Bowl run.

Cope never fit the mold of the corporate broadcaster with a perfect coif and melodious voice. But Steelers fans found it a must to tune into his shows before and after the games, or the radio talk show Cope had for nearly 22 years. It was a custom to turn down the sound on TV games and listen to Cope on the radio.

"The reason he was so good was that nobody worked harder. Nobody cared more. And the reason he was slipping was he couldn't put in the prep time," Gordon said. "He had such high standards. He had such creativity. He survived in that jungle because he had respect for athletes, respect for coaches and respect for fans. In all the years he had the talk show, I never heard him insult a caller."

And Cope has shoes that can't be filled, no matter what direction the broadcasts go in the future.
"There will never be another Cope," Gordon said. "There's no cookie cutter here. There's only one Cope."

Cope had a clownish side. He once did a parody of M.C. Hammer and did a video of the Macarena. At Christmas, he'd perform football-themed carols such as "Deck the Broncos, they're just Yonkos, fah-ga-ga-ga-gah, ga-ga-ga-gah."

He's been published five times and is planning a sixth book during his retirement. Some of his books are sports classics, including "Broken Cigars," "The Game That Was," "Off My Chest" and his memoir "Double Yoi!" A profile he wrote of Howard Cosell in 1974 is being reprinted in an anthology by Sports Illustrated.

Inevitably, the question was asked about how he wants to be remembered, and Cope responded with humor.

"When I kick the bucket, there'll be a little story there that'll say, 'Creator of Towel Dead,' " he laughed.

Turning serious, he added: "I made it as a writer. That's what I was trained to be, and that's what I wanted to be most. I had a gift for it. I would like to be remembered as a pretty decent writer. This is what was dear to me."

At one point in the proceedings, Cope did a passable impression of coach Bill Cowher reading off player injuries, which was fitting in that Cowher proclaimed last year that "Myron is Pittsburgh."
That led to a Cope moment.

"Maybe some of you could deliver a message for me to Ben [Roethlisberger] and Tommy Maddox," Cope said. "Namely, if they still have a brain in their head, the brain God gave them, they'll take their motorcycles to the nearest bridge and push them off -- if for no other reason that they have 50-some teammates depending on them. And I don't know that that's ever crossed their minds."

(Robert Dvorchak can be reached at or 412-263-1959.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Gerry Dulac: Lemieux's Other Sport a Lifetime Passion

Lemieux's other sport turns into lifetime, family passion

Sunday, June 19, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It has been his passion since he arrived here in 1984, a French Canadian teenager who played his sport with wonderful skill, impeccable style and professional grace. And Mario Lemieux learned quickly, too, picking up the nuances of the game like a seasoned veteran.

Almost overnight, he was something special, and he brought something special to Pittsburgh, too. His love, his devotion, his desire for the sport was infectious, and those around him sensed Lemieux's dedication to be, as his French surname indicates, the best.

Oh, yeah. He wasn't a bad hockey player, either.

"I never played the game until the year before I came to Pittsburgh," Lemieux said. "But, when I came to Pittsburgh, a bunch of the guys were members at Rolling Hills and I just got hooked on it."

And so began the other career of Mario Lemieux, hockey superstar.

Nearly 20 years later, Lemieux still has a passion for golf, something he has passed to his wife, Nathalie, and even his kids, especially his oldest son, Austin.

But his devotion to the game runs deeper than that, and it is apparent every year when the Mellon Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational golf tournament is staged at The Club at Nevillewood, one of eight clubs at which Lemieux is a member.

The event has become an attraction for sports fans who want to see Michael Jordan, Dan Marino, John Elway and Charles Barkley -- staples of the event -- play golf. More important, though, the tournament has raised approximately $6.5 million for the Mario Lemieux Foundation, which supports, among other causes, cancer research.

To Lemieux, a cancer survivor, that is most significant.

"We started with a one-day tournament and we decided to make it bigger," Lemieux said. "It's been a nice surprise that it has gotten this big. It's a tribute to the sponsors and all the fans who made it this big."

Some complications

The 2005 edition of the Mellon Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational commences Friday, and the drill hasn't changed: 54 holes of competition for the likes of Lemieux and his celebrity pals -- Jordan, Barkley, Elway, Marino, actor Jack Wagner, former tennis star Ivan Lendl and 2004 champion, Pierre Larouche.

But also three days of watching people such as actor Joe Pesci, morning-show TV host Matt Lauer and Carson Daly, a new addition this year. The winner gets $40,000, making it one of the best and most lucrative celebrity events in the country.

Lemieux has been staging the event for eight years, and the money raised has surpassed his expectation. He expects another good turnout this week, especially with the addition of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"When you have great sponsors, you're able to put on a great event," Lemieux said. "And Nevillewood is a great golf course. The fact that Michael Jordan, Dan Marino, John Elway come every year, that's why it's so successful."

Staging the tournament as a public event, though, has become costly and time-consuming, which is why this will be the final year the tournament will be open to the fans.

Starting in 2006, Lemieux will move the tournament to Laurel Valley and make it more of a corporate outing with two days of pro-ams. Some of the same big names will still attend, though Lemieux figures he will shrink the field of celebrities to 40 players.

Corporate sponsorship will remain unchanged, which is how Lemieux hopes to reach the foundation's annual goal of $1 million raised. The loss of ticket revenue will be offset by the gain in not having to stage the tournament and prepare the course for the public.

"It's been a great run and a lot of work for everybody, but every year gets more and more difficult," Lemieux said. "We're kind of maxed out."

Family affair

Today is Father's Day, and Lemieux, the father of four, plans to be with his family. They have started to play golf together, all but the youngest, Alexa, who is 4.

For Lemieux, it is a chance to combine two of his passions -- family and golf. The other -- hockey -- is a little more difficult as a family activity. And, potentially hazardous.

"We all go out from time to time and play a couple holes at night," Lemieux said. "It's a good activity for the family and it's a way for me to get away from everything."

Golf always has been a big deal for Lemieux since he arrived in Pittsburgh and saved the Penguins more than 20 years ago. He played the game religiously as a rookie, quickly developing into a low-handicap player who routinely shot in the 70s.

Now, though, he claims he's "back in the 80s," even though the Penguins, along with the rest of the National Hockey League, did not play in 2004-2005.

"I think it's the challenge every day to shoot the lowest score," Lemieux said. "It's a test of your patience, it's a mind game. That's what I enjoy -- to go out and compete."

Busy, busy, busy

Despite the lockout, Lemieux has remained busy. Not only is he is in the process of selling majority interest in the team to William "Boots" Del Biaggio, a friend and West Coast investor. But he is working out and trying to get in shape, preparing for a training camp that never came last season.

"It's been a tough year for everybody, not having a chance to play hockey," Lemieux said. "It's tough on myself and tough for the fans in Pittsburgh. That's something we have to get done. It seems we are getting closer and closer to an agreement."

Lemieux, who will be 40 in October, is not worried about the inactivity. After all, when he surprised nearly everyone with his decision to return to hockey in December, 2000, he had missed nearly 31/2 seasons.

Lemieux retired the first time after the 1996 season, citing his health and a disdain for the way the game was being played. He returned 44 months later for a number of reasons, including wanting his son, Austin, to see him play.

"It was tough [sitting out], but I've done it before," Lemieux said. "I retired before. I'm used to it, but it's not easy. As you get older, you need to put in a lot more time. It's doable, but you have to work out every day, making sure you get your body and mind fit to play at a high level. You have to dedicate yourself to be in the best shape possible to play a very tough game."

Actually, the missed year might have prolonged Lemieux's career by at least another season. Right now, he has no timetable for retiring a second time, saying he will merely go year-to-year.

"I'd really like to play a couple more years if I stay healthy, but that's always been an issue," Lemieux said. "I've been pretty good the last couple years. As long as I'm healthy, I'd like to play a couple more years."

Hockey, that is.

Golf will go on much longer.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Gene Collier: Defense at it Again

Thursday, June 09, 2005
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Barely 24 hours after turning a jaw-dropping Cirque du Soleil double play to lock down their biggest come-from-behind victory in more than a year, Pirates infielders were at it again last night against the bemused Baltimore Orioles.

In the first five innings after Kip Wells set up the protection racket for a 3-0 lead erected by the Pirates' first four batters against Bruce Chen, Lloyd McClendon's sometimes spastic but rarely dull defenders had already performed the full spectrum of double-play attempts: the double play not turned but much admired, the double play turned at a most opportune moment, and the double play turned even though it resulted in the third and fourth outs of the inning.
Who said you can't give a good team like the O's four outs?

That happened in the fifth, when Melvin Mora walked with two outs and Miguel Tejada chopped the next pitch to Rob Mackowiak at third. Mackowiak fed Jose Castillo at the bag to end the inning, but Castillo pivoted smartly and threw on to Daryle Ward, who gladly accepted Castillo's perfect throw as if a fourth out could be carried over to the sixth.

I guess when you're playing the kind of second base Castillo is right now, you don't want to come off the trapeze just yet. Four innings earlier, he'd taken an identical throw from Mackowiak with Chris Gomez bearing down on him, whirled and would have completed another exquisite DP had his throw not sailed to the outer fibers of Ward's mitt, from where it fell to the dirt.

"I like my guys up the middle," McClendon said about Castillo and Jack Wilson a few minutes after the Pirates delivered Baltimore's first series loss on the road. "I like them a lot. I can't imagine trading them for anybody. I don't see everybody on a consistent basis, but I can't imagine there's anyone better at turning the double play. When they get their gloves on the ball, good things seem to happen."

The very necessary DP came in the fourth, right after B.J. Surhoff started the inning with a single to center. Gomez rolled Wells' 2-1 pitch awkwardly past Wilson's side of the second-base bag. Jack accepted it as Castillo closed in, but tramped on the base himself and threw Gomez out. Jay Gibbons followed that with a single over Wilson's head, a single that would have ended Wells' shutout and perhaps ignited something that would have burned for some time given Baltimore's flammable offense and the North Side humidity.

Equally as intriguing from the defensive playbook, an eighth-inning sequence demanding a precise coordination rarely attempted outside of a tent. Reliever Mike Gonzalez had been summoned right after McClendon saw something in Wells' performance he didn't like -- namely a liner off Tejada's bat that landed in the left-field seats. Rafael Palmeiro followed with a pop-up in the center of the diamond. Gonzalez walked toward catcher Humberto Cota and would eventually indicate to Cota that he didn't see the thing anywhere. By this time though, Mackowiak, who did see it plainly, also saw plainly that it might land right on top of Gonzalez' head. Mack got there in time to catch it, brush past the pitcher, and get chopped down from the other direction by the charging Ward, who fell beside him. Castillo arrived from second in time to help the fellas to their feet, and Wilson just stayed at short, looking on in admiration. Surhoff then rolled a bunt to the right of the mound, but Gonzalez charged down the hill and flipped it to Ward in the same motion with which he executed some kind of Gonzo The Flying Squirrel-type move that brought McClendon from the dugout to see if Gonzalez had injured himself on this second attempt.

"He hurt himself, his knee; I'm a little concerned about it," McClendon said.

But for a team that has cracked at least one extra-base hit all 58 games (no other team has done that), a team that has been leading the National League in slugging for more than a month, this pitching and defense thing seems to be the style with which they're more comfortable.

"I've said all along that we're not going to outslug anybody," the manager said in defiance of the league's curious bookkeeping. "We're going to have to pitch well, keep the ball down, and play solid defense. On this homestand, we've done those things well."

The significance of last night for Wells shouldn't be understated. Not only did he leave the mound to torrents of applause for the second time in a week, but his fifth win matched his win total for all of last season, when his less-than-one-a-month victory pace was a major drain on the club's progress. Even though his first 12 starts this year where a cross-section of indifference -- four wins, four losses, four no-decisions, all of the 28-year-old right-handers numbers are trending favorably. He has allowed only one in his past two starts, and his earned run average, floating at 8.03 April 12, cruising at 4.53 as recently as May 9, has now executed a steady descent to 3.39.

Just to sustain this little enigma regarding the club's comfort zone, the offense erupted for three more runs in the ninth, two of them on the third hit of the game by Mackowiak, who's cranking at only .419 since May 3. But the game ended as comfortably as the Oriole ninth: Castillo to Wilson to Ward.

(Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Obituary: Terry Long

Obituary: Terry Long / Steelers offensive lineman for 8 years

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Terry Long, a short but sturdy Steeler guard whose eight-year NFL career ultimately was beclouded by a positive test for steroids and subsequent suicide attempt in 1991, died yesterday at UPMC Passavant Hospital.

No cause of death was reported last night by the Allegheny County coroner's office, where officials released only the scant details that Mr. Long, 45, of Sewickley, died at Passavant.

An autopsy was scheduled for this morning.

"I had just talked to him Thursday ... he was joking, catching up," former line mate Tunch Ilkin said. "I said, 'Let's talk early in the week and get together.' We were going to get together for lunch. Unbelievable. I'm shocked."

"I'm stunned and sick," said former teammate and line mate Craig Wolfley. "Lots of great memories of him. He was just a great guy. A very hard worker.

"He was just a guy ... always had a heart of gold. Could be testy, a little tempestuous, but who wasn't that played that game?"

Mr. Long was a 5-foot-11 hulking specimen when he came to the Steelers in 1984, a fourth-round draft selection and 111th choice overall from East Carolina University, where he grew to fame as a powerlifter who could hoist a North Carolina-best 2,203 pounds in a squat, bench press and deadlift. The college All-America guard, with a listed Steelers weight of 284 pounds, started the team's 1984 season opener at left guard for an injured Wolfley and remained a fixture in the lineup, moving to starting right guard. The Steelers' offense routinely ranked among the NFL's best at preventing sacks in the mid-1980s with Mr. Long on the line.

He was a respected fellow, becoming in 1989 the first East Carolina player to donate a football scholarship -- worth $20,000 -- to his alma mater and one of a dozen Steelers profiled on a youth trading card sponsored in part by local police departments.

"The kind of guy who could talk a lot of trash one minute and be quiet the next," Ilkin said. "We'd be up at the line arguing before the snap about what the [blocking] call should be. He was a lot of fun."

On July 23, 1991, Mr. Long's career -- and, seemingly, his life -- veered after his testosterone levels tested at more than three times the limit to pass the NFL steroids test. He cried and went into shock that day, at the start of a training camp at St. Vincent College, when Coach Chuck Noll informed him of the positive test. The next day, Mr. Long attempted suicide. He grabbed a gun and mulled over shooting himself. He tried to overdose on sleeping pills. Then he swallowed rat poison.

Mr. Long later told Post-Gazette football writer Ed Bouchette that he was talked into going to Allegheny General Hospital, where "they never had to pump my stomach. I think the Lord worked a miracle, that that stuff never really affected me."

In that interview, following his four-week NFL suspension for steroids, Mr. Long spoke about how he took the drugs for the first time in his career the winter before, trying to recover from two knee operations. He added that the positive test came after he started trying legal, over-the-counter substances like Yohimbe bark, ginseng root and various muscle-building proteins. He didn't want anyone to think that he was a chemically enhanced football player.

Mr. Long, nicknamed "T-Bone," returned to the Steelers after a one-week stay in the hospital, where he underwent psychological counseling, in time for the final exhibition game. He started three games at left guard before tearing a triceps muscle in his right arm, then, after losing his appeal to Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, was suspended for four games without pay. He wasn't offered a new Steelers contract when Bill Cowher succeeded Noll in early 1992.

Mr. Long, born July 21, 1959, and reared in Columbia, S.C., is the second player from Noll's final teams to die this year. Linebacker David Little, 46, died March 17.

After his playing days, Mr. Long made news in 2003 with a controversial North Side business venture, Value Added Food Groups. His chicken- and vegetable-processing plant met with complaints from neighbors about odors from chicken carcasses. Soon after, USDA inspectors deemed that the plant was in violation of federal regulations, and Allegheny County plumbing inspectors likewise found sewage inadequacies. Two months later, the two-story, 30-employee business was extensively burned in a fire that left an estimated $100,000 in damage.

In a March 29 hearing before a federal magistrate judge, authorities said they determined that the fire was arson, a charge they filed against Mr. Long. He also was charged with defrauding the state of some $1.2 million through business loan schemes. Mr. Long, for whom Kansas City, Mo., authorities also held a warrant on a felony bad check charge, was released on bond.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.

(Chuck Finder can be reached at or 412-263-1724.)

Monday, June 06, 2005

Joe Starkey: Sanchez Helps Spark Wilson's Revival

By Joe Starkey

Wilson hugs Freddy Sanchez after Wilson scored on a Sanchez hit in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the Reds on May 30th.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Friday, June 3, 2005

Before his two-year, $8 million contract expires, Jack Wilson will convince the Pirates it was money well-spent.

Or he'll die trying.

Wilson extended his consecutive-hits streak to seven on Thursday before lining out in the fifth inning of a 6-3 loss to Florida. He was robbed of a hit in the seventh, lined out in the ninth and finished 1 for 4. Still, his average has risen 35 points this week, to .234.

Of course, one good spell doesn't kill a slump, just as one bad spell doesn't expunge a track record. Wilson was the best shortstop in the National League last season and the first Pirates shortstop since Honus Wagner in 1908 to record 200 hits. His numbers improved each of his first four seasons, complementing sensational defense.

And he had a pretty good excuse for the rocky start.

Emergency surgery and eight percent of one's body weight two months before spring training beats the dog ate my batting donut, doesn't it?

Wilson's appendectomy sapped his strength and his spirit -- a commodity he has delivered to his comatose franchise in megadoses since 2001.

Some people want to see Wilson exercise more patience. Are they kidding? Haven't we heard enough about patience for the past 12 years?

Give me the guy who swings at everything (it got Manny Sanguillen his own barbecue stand).

Give me the guy who tries to stretch a double into a triple against all reason (or who scores from first on a single, as Wilson did Wednesday).

Give me the guy who tries to make the impossible play every time.

You can have the guy who bolts before the patient dies. I'll take the one who's still administering CPR four hours after the heart stops.

That's Jack Wilson.

So maybe it was only right that when Wilson's spirit sagged this season, an angel landed next to him on the infield dirt.

That would be newly anointed third baseman Freddy Sanchez, who met Wilson 15 years ago on a California summer league all-star team. Sanchez played shortstop; Wilson was relegated to second base.

"I've been holding that over his head ever since," Sanchez said.

The two, born eight days apart in 1977, roomed together and developed a strong bond. They lived 35 miles apart and stayed in touch thereafter. When the Pirates recalled Sanchez last season, he moved in with the Wilson family.

It's probably not a coincidence, then, that Wilson began to hit about the time manager Lloyd McClendon put Sanchez at third.

"Freddy has rubbed off on Jack quite a bit," said McClendon, who raised the subject unsolicited. "Here comes this little sparkplug, talking and bouncing all over the place. I think it kind of reminded Jack of how much fun he can really have."
Wilson agreed.

"We've got that special bond," he said. "I mean, I look over, and there's Freddy. We're in the big leagues together. ... I keep telling him he stinks. He keeps telling me I stink."

Actually, Sanchez keeps telling Wilson to think positive and hit the weights. To compensate for the lost strength, Wilson has doubled his visits to the weight room.
"I won't let him not be in there," Sanchez said.

After a victory Wednesday, Sanchez nodded toward Wilson, who went 4-for-4, and said, "He's back!"

It's beginning to look that way. And if the Pirates are smart, they won't let Wilson go anywhere for a long, long time. Not even to clear the way for Freddy Sanchez to play shortstop.

Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at