Beano Cook, staple of the game, dies

Beano Cook, a longtime staple of the Pittsburgh sports scene and an ESPN college football studio commentator since 1986, has died. He was 81.

The University of Pittsburgh, from which Cook graduated in 1954, announced Thursday that he had died in his sleep.

Cook began his career as a sports publicist at the school from 1956 to 1966. He later worked with a number of organizations, including the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.

Cook was a studio commentator for ABC from 1982 to 1985 before joining ESPN. He also worked as ABC's media director from 1966 to 1974. He later worked for the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Dolphins, and was a publicist for CBS Sports.

His breadth of knowledge of the history of the college game earned him the moniker, the "Cardinal of College Football." Most recently, Cook and ESPN.com senior college football writer Ivan Maisel shared the microphone on a weekly podcast. Cook also chatted regularly with ESPN.com users.

"He was one of a kind," George Bodenheimer, ESPN executive chairman, said in a statement. "There never was and never will be another Beano. His combination of humor, passion, love of college football and his engaging personality left an indelible mark on the sport and touched anyone who knew him."

Said ESPN "College GameDay" host Chris Fowler: "Cook was an American original. His passion, depth and breadth of knowledge, and humor were unique. He was an invaluable early mentor to me and friend. His imprint can still be seen on 'GameDay' each week."

Said ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso: "Beano was a unique human being and he was college football at ESPN. I am indebted to him. Beano was a tremendous help at the start of my television career and I would not be where I am today without him. I am forever grateful to Beano and the time we spent behind the 'GameDay' desk."

One of Cook's most famous quips came in 1981, after then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn offered lifetime passes to baseball games to U.S. hostages returning from Iran. "Haven't they suffered enough?" Cook said.

He also was afraid to fly, often citing that one of the words associated with any airport is "terminal."

"You only have to bat a thousand in two things -- flying and heart transplants," Cook once said. "Everything else, you can go 4-for-5."

In 2002, Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson unveiled the Beano Cook Media Room at Petersen Events Center. The dedication plaque reads: "This media room is dedicated to Beano's legendary contributions to the field of sports journalism and unyielding dedication to his profession. Beano brought the national spotlight to Pittsburgh as he became a college sports icon."

"He was special. We became really good friends the years I was in school at Pitt," said Mike Ditka, who played tight end. "I don't know that anybody loved that job and loved Pitt more than he did."

Cook also started a blog in 2010. His last entry, from Oct. 1, read: "Sorry to say that health issues hit me at the worst time -- start of college football season. Everything except recovery takes a back-burner now."

Cook was born Carroll Hoff Cook on Sept. 1, 1931. His family moved from Boston to Pittsburgh when he was 7; a neighbor gave him the nickname "Beano" because of his Boston roots ("Oh, from Boston, like the beans").

He served in the U.S. Army for two years after graduating from Pittsburgh, never married, and lived in Pittsburgh for 74 years until his death.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.