Cope also created Terrible Towel

Updated: June 21, 2005, 5:49 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Myron Cope, whose screechy-voiced antics and towel-waving enthusiasm became nationally known during the Pittsburgh Steelers' string of Super Bowl championships in the 1970s, is retiring after 35 years as a team announcer.

Cope, a one-of-a-kind voice who became a broadcaster in 1970 only because of a radio station executive's whimsy, decided to quit after retired team executive Joe Gordon told him his on-air work had declined.

Cope, 76, has had several years of health problems, including a concussion that caused him to be disoriented during one game and to miss another last season. He also has been undergoing treatment for hoarseness and a leg injury.

"Joe came to my house and said, 'Do not go another year in the booth. You've got 35 years in and with your health ...,'' Cope said Tuesday. "My slipping, he attributed it to my health problems. He said, 'It's too punishing for you to go another year. It's too physically taxing.'

"It takes a very special friend to tell you the truth when he knows it's going to hurt," Cope said.

With Cope leaving, the Steelers will go with a two-man radio booth of play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove and analyst Tunch Ilkin, who was added several years ago to work alongside Cope. Craig Wolfley remains as a sideline announcer.

While football announcers don't often match the popularity of baseball announcers, who work 10 times as many games each year, Cope became Pittsburgh's best-known sports broadcaster and commercial pitchman in the mid-1970s and has remained so to this day.

His quick wit and quirky phrases, including "Yoi!" -- his version of "Wow!" -- added to his popularity, as did his 1976 invention of the Terrible Towel. The bright yellow good-luck charm is still twirled by the thousands at Steelers games and has generated millions of dollars in revenue, much of which went to charity.

Team owner Dan Rooney said the towel-twirling stoked the fans' abundant enthusiasm and created an intimidating atmosphere for opposing teams such as the Cleve Brownies -- Cope's nickname for the rival Cleveland Browns.

"You were really part of it," said Rooney, who talked to Cope via a speaker phone while vacationing in Ireland. "You were part of the team. The Terrible Towel many times got us over the goal line."

Last season, Jerome Bettis said there probably wasn't another local NFL team announcer whose popularity exceeded that of the players he described.

"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," Bettis said.

Cope's biggest regret is not being on the air during Harris' famed Immaculate Reception in a 1972 Steelers victory over Oakland -- the first postseason win in franchise history. Cope was on the field for his postgame show when Harris, on what seemingly was the last play of the Steelers' season, grabbed the soaring rebound of a tipped Terry Bradshaw pass and scored a game-winning 60-yard touchdown. The wildly improbable play is often called the greatest in NFL history.

"He ran straight to me in the corner, and I'm yelling, 'C'mon Franco, c'mon on!," said Cope, who, acting on a fan's advice, tagged the play "The Immaculate Reception" during a postgame TV commentary that night.

Remarkably, Cope didn't become a sports announcer until he was 40 and had no plans to do so until a WTAE radio executive suggested the freelance sports writer's knowledge and unique voice would bring attention to the Steelers. At the time the Steelers were not as popular as the Pirates, and few home games sold out.

But the Steelers quickly improved thanks to astute drafting that brought in stars such as Bradshaw, Harris, Mean Joe Greene and Jack Ham. As the team's popularity expanded, so did Cope's.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press