Myron Cope, the screechy voiced football announcer whose colorful catchphrases and twirling Terrible Towel became symbols of the Pittsburgh Steelers during an unrivaled 35 seasons in the broadcast booth, has died. He was 79.
Cope died Wednesday at a nursing home in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mount Lebanon, Pa., said Joe Gordon, a former Steelers executive and a longtime friend of the announcer. Cope was treated for respiratory problems and heart failure in recent months, Gordon said.
Cope's tenure from 1970 to 2004 as the announcer on the Steelers' radio network is the longest in NFL history for a broadcaster with a single team and led to his induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2005.
Beyond western Pennsylvania, Cope was best known for urging fans to twirl yellow towels as a good-luck charm at Steelers games since the mid-1970s. The Terrible Towel is arguably the best-known fan symbol of any major professional sports team.
"His creation of the Terrible Towel has developed into a worldwide symbol that is synonymous with Steelers football," Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney said Wednesday.
"You were really part of it," Rooney told Cope in 2005. "You were part of the team. The Terrible Towel many times got us over the goal line."
Born in Pittsburgh on Jan. 23, 1929, Cope spent the first half of his professional career as one of the nation's most widely read freelance sportswriters, writing for Sports Illustrated and the Saturday Evening Post on subjects such as Muhammad Ali, Howard Cosell and Roberto Clemente.
He was hired by the Steelers at age 40, several years after he began doing TV sports commentary on the whim of a station manager, mostly to help increase attention and attendance as the Steelers moved into Three Rivers Stadium.
Neither the Steelers nor Cope had any idea the effect he would have on the franchise. Within two years of his hiring, Pittsburgh would begin a string of home sellouts that continues to this day -- a stretch that includes five Super Bowl titles.
A sports talk show host for 23 years, Cope became so popular that the Steelers didn't try to replace his unique perspective and top-of-the-lungs vocal histrionics when he retired, choosing instead to downsize to a two-man announcing team.
"He doesn't play, he doesn't put on a pair of pads, but he's revered probably as much or more in Pittsburgh than Franco [Harris], all the guys," said running back Jerome Bettis. "Everybody probably remembers Myron more than the greatest players, and that's an incredible compliment."
Cope and a rookie quarterback named Terry Bradshaw made their Steelers debuts on Sept. 20, 1970.
Pittsburgh fans began tuning in to hear what wacky stunt or colorful phrase Cope would come up with next. With a voice beyond imitation -- a falsetto so shrill it could pierce even the din of a touchdown celebration -- Cope was a man of many words, some not in any dictionary.
To Cope, an exceptional play rated a "Yoi!" A coach's doublespeak was "garganzola." The despised rival to the north was always the Cleve Brownies, never the Cleveland Browns. For years, he laughed off the downriver Cincinnati Bengals as the Bungles.
"I guess sometimes in the football business we all take ourselves too seriously and Myron never let anybody do that, so he had that knack for sort of reminding us of what business we were in," Steelers President Art Rooney II said Wednesday.
Cope is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth, and a son, Daniel, who is autistic and lives at Allegheny Valley School in Coraopolis, Pa., which received all rights to the Terrible Towel in 1996. Cope's wife, Mildred, died in 1994. Another daughter, Martha Ann, died shortly after birth.
Services are pending.