Beano and I always ended our podcast with the quip, "Well, we fooled 'em again." And as I sit here, stunned and saddened, I have to say that Beano fooled me. He has been telling me for years that he focused every offseason on living until the start of football season. Once the games began, he knew he would never die, because he would stay alive long enough to find out who would be No. 1.
I suppose God needed to know who won the Northwestern-Minnesota game in 1940.
A few journalistic rules are being broken here. Let me do it the right way: ESPN college football analyst Beano Cook died overnight at age 81. For those of you who don't know, Beano and I have done the ESPNU College Football Podcast together for the last six years. When he and I began podcasting, other people hosted the podcast on other days. But he and I did so well together that I took over as host of all the shows.
That's one of the many things for which I have Beano to thank.
Beano and I spoke twice a week for the last six years: once on the day before every podcast, when we would discuss the topics, and then the podcast itself. Occasionally, what we discussed on the day before made it to the podcast itself. More often, we would digress on one tangent or another that may or may not have something to do with college football.
It might be a story about how he hitchhiked from Providence, where he was a student at Brown, to see Army play Navy in Philadelphia. It might be about why Stanford and Arkansas opened the 1970 season against each other. It might be about my children.
You see, Beano may have been an expert on the history of college football from 1930 to 1990, but he showed his real expertise in friendship. He collected friends like some people collect stamps. He didn't marry -- even though he might have given up college football for Stefanie Powers, the 1980s television star -- and never had children.
But Beano cared about the people around him. He asked questions. I am not the only one at ESPN who had that kind of relationship with him. Mel Kiper Jr. did. Howie Schwab did. I am sure there are others.
He always asked me what other writers had been at the game I covered the previous Saturday. "I don't miss the games," he said. "I miss the hanging out."
There was an old-school quality in the way he related to people. Having grown up an Irish Catholic in Pittsburgh, an ethnic town, he attributed personality traits to ancestry in a way that 21st-century America no longer does. Political correctness may be at play, or the melting pot. But Beano got a kick out of the fact that a Southern Jewish guy like me married an Irish Catholic girl.
Anyway, on our day-before discussions, we would talk for anywhere from 12 to 45 minutes. Yes, I use "we" in the loosest of terms. The podcast served as the perfect vehicle for Beano. It is an open-ended conversation.
But I enjoyed listening to Beano as much as he enjoyed being listened to. Trying to interrupt Beano was like trying to catch the blade of a ceiling fan with your bare hand. You didn't get hurt, but the fan just kept going.
Toward the end of just about every call, he would say, "I've bored you enough. We'll talk tomorrow. Of all the things I've done at ESPN, this is my favorite."
More and more often, Beano said to me on those preparatory calls, "So you'll call tomorrow and if I'm alive, I'll answer and we'll do the show."
"If I'm alive," I chimed in one day in June, "I will call you."
Beano didn't miss a beat.
"If you have to bet," he said, referring to one of us not being alive, "bet on me."
He wasn't being maudlin. As a man in his early 80s fighting diabetes and its related offshoots, he was just being matter-of-fact. My trying to dismiss his concern had more to say about me. I didn't want to think about losing him.
Beano had a lot of pride. When I covered Baylor at West Virginia two weeks ago, and had to fly to Pittsburgh to get to Morgantown, he wouldn't let me come see him. He remained delighted when I would call, which I didn't do enough.
The last time we spoke, he unnerved me. He said the doctor told him his recovery would be long and laborious.
"I'm struggling," he said. "It's like trying to score on Alabama on fourth down from the 4-yard-line."
Of course, Beano overlooked the fact that very few offenses could get to the 4-yard line against the Alabama defense in the first place.
I had a short bucket list of plans for me and Beano. I did sit down with him in the summer of 2011 with a video crew and interviewed him about his life in college football. I wanted to go to a college football game with him. He refused to fly, of course. My editors and I tried to figure out a way around that, but never did. I wanted to go to Pittsburgh and go to dinner with him, but I put that off, too. There always would be time for that.
Ernie Accorsi, the retired general manager of the New York Giants, may have been Beano's closest friend. He spoke with Beano on a daily basis. Ernie told me Thursday that Beano didn't feel up to watching games last Saturday, but he wanted Ernie to call him with the scores. So Ernie called him regularly.
"Where have you been?" Beano demanded. "It's been three hours, you know."
"I went to Mass, Beano," Accorsi said. "Is that OK?"
Accorsi laughed as he told me. In fact, in each of the conversations I had Thursday with people who knew Beano well, I laughed hard at least once. That is the gift that Beano left us. He made us laugh when he was here. He is still making us laugh.