Voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers whispers farewell

Myron Cope was the mouth that roared for 35 years as the radio color analyst for the Steelers. Yesterday, he went out with a whisper.

Still, the near-hoarse Cope couldn't help but cause uproarious laughter at his farewell press conference.

"It's kind of strange to be up here instead of out there," Cope opened. "I've never been here before, but, OK, Jerome, with a quad, he's probable."

The room erupted.

While Cope struggled with his voice in announcing his retirement, he flashed the wit and storytelling skills that made him a broadcast legend. He also cracked the whip one more time.

"Maybe some of you could deliver a message for me to Ben (Roethlisberger) and Tommy Maddox," Cope said. "Namely that if they still got a brain in their head, the brain God gave them, they'll take their motorcycles to the nearest bridge and push them off, if for no other reason than they've got 50-something teammates depending on them. I don't know if that's ever crossed their minds.

"So, if you can, deliver that."

It was more of what Cope has delivered in the radio booth since 1970. But he did not go gently into that good night. As he retires, Cope remains convinced his voice will return to "broadcast quality by the time pre-season starts." He planned to rebound from a sub-par 2004 performance -- until a friend interceded.

Former Steelers media liaison and vice-president Joe Gordon told Cope that his performance had slipped. It was all Cope needed to hear.

"I had at many times told him that if he ever detected me slipping in the broadcast booth, losing a step you know, he should tell me and I would retire," Cope said. "So recently he told me that at my home, and I guess, Joe, I thought about it for 10 seconds and I said I'm done."

It wasn't that easy, though. Gordon had called Cope two nights previous and begged Cope not to work another year.

"He attributed it to my health problems," Cope said. "I rejected that advice."

Cope is undergoing voice therapy at the UPMC Voice Center. The 76-year-old is also working his legs and back in a swimming pool and is hopeful of improved mobility. But Gordon persisted, and the next time he did it face-to-face.

"He came over to my house and laid it on the line for me, that I'd been slipping," Cope said. "And there's no greater authority. It takes a very special friend to tell you the truth when he knows it's going to hurt."

Cope took the 10 seconds to think about it and decided to retire. As he continued thinking about it, he kept coming to the same conclusion: Gordon was right.

"I could see it," Cope said. "Situations that involved, for example, the clock, and strategy as it related to the clock, or a seldom-invoked rule, and I remembered that I was shutting up in those circumstances and leaving it to Billy and Tunch, which I had never done before. I wasn't sure of myself."

Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin will continue in the Steelers' radio booth without a replacement for Cope, who'll continue to monitor the team.

"I was sneaking into the game when I was 13, so I'll still be interested," he said.

Cope made a name for himself as a writer before breaking into broadcasting as a morning commentator for WTAE radio in 1968. Cope was a prize-winning sportswriter for the Saturday Evening Post and Sports Illustrated and authored five books.

He began broadcasting Steelers games in 1970 and started his talk show at WTAE in 1973. In 1975, he came up with the Terrible Towel.

"I've often thought that when I kick the bucket there'll be a little story there and it'll say ‘Creator of towel dead'," Cope said. "Truthfully, I was, I think, gifted and educated to be a writer, and I made it as a writer. People think I went into broadcasting for the money. It's not so. … But that's what I was trained to be and that's what I wanted to be most and that's what I had a gift for, and so I would like to be remembered as a pretty decent writer."

Cope will be remembered by proclamation on Oct. 31 when the Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens. Art Rooney II dubbed the Monday night Halloween game "Myron Cope Night at Heinz Field."

Rooney also awarded Cope the game ball from his last game, his birthday when the Steelers lost to the New England Patriots for the AFC championship. Rooney said of Cope, "Myron put the color in color analyst."

Rooney's father, Dan, called from Ireland. "The big thing, Myron made it fun," he said. "He always made it fun for everyone."

Clear Channel senior program director Gene Romano said of Cope: "Only a handful of broadcasters in America have truly earned that title of legendary and Mr. Cope is on the top of that list."

Cope cringes when he hears such talk.

"Somehow it's always made me feel like I'm six months from the grave, so I don't know," he said. "And I get that word icon. My God, that had a religious meeting at one time. Somebody at the meeting yesterday said, ‘You're an icon and you're liable to become a saint.' And I said only if Benedictine the 16th says yes."

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