“The Immaculate Reception” was a game-saving Franco Harris catch in 1972. Cope gave credit for the phrase to a caller and said he wasn’t sure at first that he should use it on the air, for fear that Pittsburgh’s substantial Catholic population would be offended.
Cope gave the rights to the trademark for the “Terrible Towel” in 1996 to the Allegheny Valley School, which has cared for his son, Danny, since 1982. The Moon Township institution has reportedly since earned more than $2 million in royalties.
A 1951 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a dyed-in-the-wool Pittsburgher, Cope told PBRTV columnist and contributor Jason Togyer in 2002 that he never considered moving permanently away from the area. He chalked up his success to being “extraordinarily lucky.”
One of Cope’s rare absences from Pittsburgh came when he started his journalism career at the Erie Daily Times. One of his early editors pressured him to change his last name from the family’s “Kopelman” to the easier to pronounce and spell “Cope.” He came back to Pittsburgh to write for the Post-Gazette.
A few years later, he began a successful run as a freelance magazine writer. Cope quickly became one of the nation’s best-known sports journalists of the 1960s, crafting memorable portraits of legendary figures such as Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), Howard Cosell and Roberto Clemente for mass-circulation magazines such as True, Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post and Sports Illustrated, along with major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times.
He also collaborated with Cleveland fullback Jim Brown on the player’s 1964 autobiography and authored several books of his own, including a history of the early days of professional football.
One of his last published pieces, an Oct. 18, 2007 cover story for Pittsburgh City Paper, skewered the management of the Pittsburgh Pirates through a series of imagined conversations.
“I’ve been following the Bucs for at least 70 years,” Cope said in recapping the team’s dismal 2007 season. “I have no memory of precedents for the depths to which the Pirates sank this year.”
And he blasted the team’s management, asking “do you realize how many of Pittsburgh’s young may have turned off on a sport that might have given them pleasure through a lifetime?”
Although Cope’s broadcasting duties left little time for writing, he collected some of his favorite anecdotes in a 2002 autobiography, Double Yoi.
In the book, which Cope recently updated, he also wrote frankly of his son’s severe autism and his own depression following the death of his wife Mildred.
Her death, Cope freely admitted, drove him to seek solace in alcohol and led to a well-publicized drunken driving arrest. Though one Pittsburgh talk show host began attacking Cope on the air, fans rallied to his side and quickly forgave him.
Following the 2004 season, Cope, whose health had been in decline for several years, retired from broadcasting permanently. At a tearful news conference, Cope said he could no longer follow the action on the field properly.
In 2005, he was inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ Radio Hall of Fame and received the NFL’s Pete Rozelle Award for “exceptional contributions to pro football in television and radio.”
“We have lost a great friend in Myron Cope, but history will remember him as one of the great sportscasters of any era,” Steelers President Art Rooney said today in a prepared statement. “Our prayers go out to the entire Cope family. Though he can never be replaced, his impact will continue to live strong at every Steelers game.”
In addition to his son, Cope is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth.
Corrections: This story was updated to correct the amount of royalties earned from the Terrible Towel and the number of seasons of Cope’s talk show.
The gravelly voice of the Steeler Nation has been silenced.
Myron Cope died this morning in a Mount Lebanon nursing home after a lengthy illness. He was 79.
The Associated Press quotes Joe Gordon, longtime Steelers public-relations executive, as saying that Cope had been suffering from respiratory problems and heart failure for several months. An operation to remove a growth from his throat had reduced his distinctive voice to a hoarse croak.
From 1970 to 2004, Cope was the color analyst on Steelers football broadcasts, punctuating powerful plays with patented Cope-isms like “yoi!” and panning poor performances with “feh!”
He also hosted the city’s first daily sports talk show on the former WTAE (1250) and contributed commentaries (and wacky music videos) to newscasts on WTAE-TV (4).
The talk show, launched in 1973, ran for 22 years. The show was created, Cope noted wryly, after a WTAE executive said he had noticed a trend in radio toward “annoying voices.”
Along with the Steelers’ play-by-play men — first Jack Fleming, later Bill Hillgrove — it was Cope’s prodigious broadcast talents that encouraged many fans to “turn down the TV sound” and turn up the radio coverage from the Steelers’ flagship stations, first WTAE and then WDVE-FM (102.5).
Cope’s rise in Pittsburgh broadcasting coincided with the Steelers’ remarkable 1970s turnaround from professional football’s doormats to four-time Super Bowl champions.
Helping to knit together the team’s fan base, his contributions included the invention of the “Terrible Towel” as a WTAE radio promotional gimmick, while his quick wit created such memorable nicknames as “Emperor Chaz” for Coach Chuck Noll, “the Bungles” for the Cincinnati Bengals, and “The Bus” for halfback Jerome Bettis.
“His contributions and dedication to Steelers football were incredible,” Dan Rooney, Steelers chairman, said in a statement today. “His creation of the Terrible Towel has developed into a worldwide symbol that is synonymous with Steelers football. He also helped immortalize the most famous play in NFL history when he popularized the term ‘Immaculate Reception.'”