Beano Cook remembered in fitting Pittsburgh ceremony

PITTSBURGH — The laughter that filled the Pittsburgh Athletic Association club today was the perfect tribute to Beano Cook. Friends gathered at the University he loved to remember the long-time ESPN college football analyst who passed away in October.

For decades, Cook schooled everyone on his sport’s rich history, but also taught fans and friends the value of a good laugh. And today, laughter was the consistent theme as the stories flowed.

ESPN researcher Howie Schwab, decked out with a Larry Fitzgerald Pitt football jersey under his blue blazer, eulogized his friend emphasizing Beano’s passion for people. Others to speak included University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, author John D. Lukacs and several Pittsburgh luminaries.

ESPN college football reporter Ivan Maisel, who for the past six years hosted a weekly podcast with Beano, also spoke at the ceremony and shares his remarks with Front Row:

I am a writer, and time is theoretically of the essence, so I will give you a peek into the editing process. My first draft of my opening paragraph went as follows:

Dear God! What a man we are here to remember today. I want to thank everyone at Pitt and at the Kiski School who put this together. As you know by now, it was a lot of work. But he’s worth it. And as all of us who came from across the country, when travel is such a a pain in the ass. . .

But that took 30 seconds, so I began to pare down each sentence to get to the core of what I think we all feel as we gather today. With care, considering every word, this is what is left:

Dear God,

As you know by now

He’s

Such a pain in the ass.

***

I knew Beano for 30 years but I didn’t get to know him until the last six years of his life. We recorded a podcast together. We started out recording once a week during the football season and eventually we recorded once a week year-round. So Beano and I talked for 15 to 30 minutes the day before the show, and then the show went from 20 to 45 minutes.

Podcasting is a new form, created by technology, just as letter-writing, just as television and radio. It is most like radio, of course, but it is not radio. The best podcasts are, essentially, overheard conversations between smart people who are passionate about the subject.

So Beano podcasting about college football was a matchup like Notre Dame and Alabama. Our listeners grew to adore him for that passion, for his incredible and nearly infallible memory regarding not only games but point spreads and how much he lost on the parlay.

I tell you that because that is the Beano I knew. So many of you knew him better and longer than I. But I wanted you to know that even in the final innings of his life — and I worked hard to include one reference to baseball into this talk — Beano captivated people. His listeners adored him. I expected, in the week after he died, that they would tell me so. What has surprised me is that I continue to hear from them every week.

As Notre Dame continued its incredible run, as No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon lost within minutes of each other on a November Saturday night, as Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel directed an upset at Alabama and is on the verge of becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman — every week, I got emails and tweets from listeners.

What would Beano think? What would Beano think of Northern Illinois?

(Would Beano think of Northern Illinois?)

How would he have reacted to the Notre Dame-Pitt game?

(I just wanted to know what he thought about that pass interference call.)

My favorite letter came from one of our many ex-pat listeners. The best thing the podcast does, in my opinion, is provide a college football lifeline to Americans living overseas. Shortly after Beano died, I received a letter from Monsignor Richard Soseman, a Marquette grad working at the Vatican.

“His comparison of a team today to a team in the 1960′s to a team in the 1930′s kept all of us interested, and reminded me that college football is, in some ways, timeless. He said that if God selected a football game to watch, it would be the BCS championship. On the other hand, I hope now, unbound by time and space, Beano can watch whatever game he wants, live.”

I am not a believer that Beano or anyone else dies and then orchestrates events from Heaven. In fact, I am sure he would be furious to know he is not here to see the second half of the season, which evolved so that Notre Dame cannot fully return to glory without beating Alabama.

Two years ago, the Football Writers Association of America honored Beano with the Bert McGrane Award. Its recipients are honored in the College Football Hall of Fame. Every December, Beano and I would do a memorial show in which we would discuss the Hall of Famers who had died that year.

We’re going to do the show next week, and Beano will be a part of it. He’s just in the wrong damn category. Instead of talking with him, I will talk about him — every chance I get.

Thank you.

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