We all knew Beano Cook. Every sportswriter of a certain age knew the Beano stories the way prisoners know all the jokes and finally just number them. Somebody shouts, “921,” and everybody on the cell block laughs. With Beano, if someone said, “Alphabetically,” we stopped typing. The legend (print the legend) had a girl calling the Pitt publicity office. She asked for a football roster. She planned to sleep with each guy. “Alphabetically,” Beano replied, “‘Cook, Carroll, offensive tackle, number 62.’”
Carroll (Beano) Cook died the other day. He’d been sick most of the summer. He was 81. It didn’t happen the way he wanted. He wanted to go at the end of a college football season and only after he knew the national champion. He last worked as a college football analyst for ESPN. He had first worked as a newspaper copy boy. In between, he did public relations for Pitt, ABC, the Miami Dolphins and CBS.
Wait. Analyst? Public relations? Too fancy. He worked at being Beano, and nobody ever did a job better. He was a graying, pasty, lumpy man in a sports coat. A button was missing. The coat seemed to have been packed in a bowling ball bag. His idea of high fashion was the raincoat worn by Peter Falk in “Columbo.” Scraps of newspapers were stuffed into the pockets. And he had this voice. Tom Callahan wrote of the voice: “The voice of a plumbing fixture gargling Drano.”
Here’s “the Germans” story: Work took Beano to Maryland. He loved college football. He studied its history. He knew the Notre Dame stories better than his own. Hubert Mizell wrote that Beano “liked Michigan’s helmet with its classic maize and blue stripes -- liked it so much that he wanted to be buried wearing one.” Anyway, Maryland had lost a thousand straight to Penn State. A radio guy asked Beano if Maryland had a chance to win that day. “A chance, yeah,” Beano said, “and someday the Germans will win a war.”
He was born in Boston and moved to Pittsburgh when he was 7 years old. A neighbor said, Boston, like the beans? He became Beano. Anyone born Carroll Hoff Cook who becomes Beano is destined to look for the laughs in life. He was our Rodney Dangerfield, king of the one-liners, every sportswriter’s best friend. He knew our names, knew our stuff, and knew what we needed. The newsprint stuffed into his pockets was Google before Google.
He could tell you about Army, 1945. That year he was 14 years old. You’d have thought he carried water out to Blanchard and Davis. “They were just so much better than everybody,” he wrote. “The war was over in August, and everybody knew things were going to be different in ‘46. A lot of the players would be back, but the ‘45 team dominated. The opposition wasn’t that strong. Some teams were at a complete disadvantage. When they got done with someone, that team knew how a Republican felt running for office in Chicago.”
Dan Jenkins met Beano in 1960. “He came with Pitt to Fort Worth and a game with TCU,” Jenkins said. “Mike Ditka was in the Pitt lineup and started a brawl between the teams. They tied, 7-7. I was with Beano in the press box and he said, ‘This is nothing. Wait ‘til we play Notre Dame.’”
Beano’s favorite lines: “The three most beloved figures in the South are Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Bear Bryant.” ... “You only have to bat 1.000 in two things -- flying and heart transplants. Everything else, you can go four for five.” ... On baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn giving lifetime major league passes to 52 American hostages freed in Iran: “Haven’t they suffered enough?”
Mike Lupica, 30 years ago, asked Beano about the downside of an NFL players strike. “If I’m the head of Planned Parenthood, I’m very concerned,” Beano said. “And I’m a little worried about the bookies. If the thing lasts, some of them might have to take their kids out of Harvard.”
The night Ernie Accorsi’s team got to the Super Bowl XXXV, the Giants general manager came home and heard a voice mail. It was Beano, who knew what the GM would be thinking. He left only seven words. “If the Gipper knew,” he said, “your dad knows.”
Beano knew what he thought and hurried to share those thoughts. George Solomon said, “Our lunches mostly consisted of his telling me what was wrong with the country, television, the NFL, the Post sports section and the Post editorial page.” At the time of their meetings, Solomon was The Washington Post’s sports editor. “Beano was one of the last great newspaper readers. Not on the Internet, mind you, but holding the paper in your hands, getting ink stains on your shirt.”
Late last year, Beano wrote, “I’ve accomplished something when I read a newspaper. The newsprint on my fingers gives evidence of my diligent, daily perusals. And it, along with other products of my habits, keeps my housekeeper busy. It’s my small contribution to positive employment numbers.”
He wrote that in the blog he began a couple years ago. He also presented himself as a presidential candidate: “I would reinstate some civility. Perhaps the tipping of a man’s hat should be renewed. That would include baseball hats, a little inconvenient for those worn backwards. Toupees are excluded from the tipping rule.”
On Sept. 1, Beano wrote: “Next post ? ? ? as possible.”
On Oct. 1: “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. I won’t say I’ll be back to the blog by a certain date, as some businesses might ‘promise,’ but I do hope to return soon. Thanks for your support and encouragement. Enjoy the season! -- Beano.”
Nine days later, he died. The next morning, Tom Callahan told the Mary Tyler Moore story.
“A hundred years ago, in Runyon’s,” Callahan said, naming the New York saloon then favored by everyone who ever wrote a deadline column, “someone mentioned they had seen Mary Tyler Moore that afternoon in the lobby of the Essex House.”
Along with chocolate chip cookies and the jet plane, Beano counted Mary Tyler Moore as one of the 20th century’s greatest achievements. She was in New York doing a Broadway play that had been widely panned. Though Beano had never met her, he decided he should call Mary Tyler Moore to buoy her spirits.
“Amazingly, he got her on the phone,” Callahan said. “They talked for about 15 minutes, at which point he introduced me quickly and handed off the phone. I apologized to Mary and explained that alcohol was involved. She said, ‘That’s OK, I enjoyed it. He sounds like a sweet, sweet man.’”
Heaven just got funnier.