Sunday, December 17, 2017
Colleges

Beano Cook's death brings memories of the laughs of his life

Serious stuff, this college football. Whatever you hear, whatever you see, do not smile.

These days, the announcers look like insurance salesmen, and they speak in the solemn tones of funeral directors, and they take turns nodding sagely in the direction of the cameras.

After all, they are talking about important matters such as thirds-and-one and zone coverages and success in the red zone. Clearly, there is no room for levity.

Every now and then, Lee Corso puts on a funny hat or Lou Holtz sprays saliva toward a cameraman, but other than that, college football has taken on the tone of a doctor telling you about a bad spot on an X-ray.

And man, do I miss Beano Cook already.

•••

"The Big Ten is like Spain. Both have seen better days."

Cook, 1982

"The SEC is a jungle. It's like trying to survive Dunkirk.''

Cook, 1984

"You only have to bat a thousand in two things: flying and heart transplants. Everything else you can go 4-for-5."

Cook, 1988

The world lost a funny, funny man Thursday when Beano Cook died in his sleep at age 81. Cook, the Pope of College Football, was that rare soul who managed to love the sport without surrendering his sense of humor to it.

To Cook, college football was like the corner table during happy hour. He made you think. He made you laugh. He made you enjoy his sport as much as he did.

Cook bounced around for a while before becoming an unlikely television star. He was a public relations man for the Dolphins. He wrote sports for the St. Petersburg Times for four months in 1974. He was a sports information director at Pitt.

As a TV analyst, he was not slick, he was not smooth and he was not pretty. But Cook knew his stuff, and he never entered a room without being the funniest guy inside of it.

Once, someone mentioned to him that baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn had given a lifetime pass to baseball games to the Iran hostages. Said Cook: "Haven't they suffered enough?"

For Cook, every moment seemed to be a struggle of when to be insightful and when to be hysterical. He could do both. Once, when I was a young writer working on a story about the best college coaches in America, I asked Beano his opinion. Naturally, the name of Joe Paterno came up, and the topic turned to Paterno's ability as a game-day coach.

"Joe Paterno could do Penn State a favor by staying home on Saturdays,'' roared Cook.

Sports writers loved him. Viewers (some of them) loved him. Penn State fans? Not so much.

The go-to story? The absolute go-to story about Cook?

He was working as the SID at Pitt when a co-ed called and asked Cook if he could read her the names, numbers and position of the Pitt roster. Cook started with something like "No. 14, quarterback, Williams, Stan … No. 15, safety, Lockett, Ted,'' and so on.

Finally, Cook stopped and asked the woman why she needed the names. She replied that she intended to sleep with the entire roster.

Not missing a beat, Cook then said "No. 87, tight end, Cook, Beano."

"Argentina invaded the Falklands because they had ESPN, and the Argentines wanted to get the late scores."

Cook, 1986

"Take a team like Indiana. That's an aberration, like the Republicans winning in Chicago. It happens once and that's it."

Cook, 1987

"The most bitter rivalry is Auburn-Alabama — it makes the Middle East look like a tea party. Michigan-Ohio State is the best rivalry because of two great bands, Michigan's helmet, and dotting the 'i.' "

Cook, 2003

Yeah, Cook was funny. But people forget that he was pretty darned smart, too. And pretty darned important.

"He's right up there with the great college voices,'' said his old running mate, Howie Schwab, on Thursday. "He was extremely important to college football. He was knowledgeable, and he was wet-yourself funny.''

It was 25 years ago when Schwab would pick up a 12-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper, then go to the airport to pick up Cook. When Cook did his Internet chats on ESPN, it was often Schwab who would type the words.

Schwab tells the story, and the emotions catch in his voice. He tells the one where Cook once dressed like the devil because he was picking Duke to win a game.

"I looked like an idiot,'' Cook said later, "and I was an idiot for picking Duke.''

Cook hated the business side of football. He tweaked everyone for being too serious. He once suggested that sports writers confused their work "with the Ten Commandments.'' He once praised the Amherst-Williams rivalry over FSU-Florida. When a fan called him on it, he said "I know FSU-Florida is a big rivalry, but I can drive to Amherst-Williams.''

Then there was this: A lot of Cook's humor was aimed at Thursday, the day of his death.

•••

"You're gonna get fired. I'm gonna get fired here some day. I just hope it's the day before I die."

Cook, 1986

"I'd like to do the last scoreboard show and then go. I don't want to die in the middle of the football season. I have to know who's No. 1 in the last polls.''

Cook, 1988

"You'll never have a 16-team playoff in college football. The most that could happen would be four teams in the next century. But after that, I'm dead, so who cares?''

Cook, 1992

He is gone now, and the world is a more serious place. That isn't a compliment. Think of Beano, and smile.

After all, that was his best analysis.

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