ON THIS DAY: February 27, 2008, Myron Cope dies at 79

PITTSBURGH — Beloved Pittsburgh Steelers announcer Myron Cope died at the Covenant of South Hills nursing home in Mt. Lebanon on Feb. 27, 2008, after being hospitalized months before with pneumonia. Cope was best known as the energetic Steelers announcer who created the Terrible Towel.

Born on Jan. 23, 1929, Cope graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1947 and the University of Pittsburgh in 1951. He married Mildred Lindberg in 1965, and the couple had three children, including a son with severe autism. Mildred died in 1994.

Cope became a sports announcer largely by accident, embarking on the career change in earnest after he was hired by the Steelers at the age of 40. Prior to that, Cope was one of the nation’s most widely read freelance sports writers, with columns appearing in Sports Illustrated and the Saturday Evening Post.

Cope’s debut was overshadowed by that of the Steelers rookie quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, who also fired up the fans on Sept. 20, 1970.

One of the most iconic items in sports today, the Terrible Towel, was born on Dec. 27, 1975 by Cope while he was working as sportscaster at a local radio station.

Officials with the Steelers said the account was chronicled in the late Cope’s book, “Double Yoi!

Cope, an icon himself in local sports history, wrote he was called into the station general manager’s office and was told he had better come up with some sort of gimmick. He only had a few months left on his contract.

Cope urged fans to bring yellow dish towels to the game and wave them.

Nearing kickoff for the next game on a rainy, cold day, Cope wrote, tens of thousands of towels were waving in the air around the stadium and the legend of the towel was born.

The Steelers embraced the towels and printed scores of gold towels with black lettering proclaiming, “Myron Cope’s Official Terrible Towel,” in time for Super Bowl X in January 1976.

As Cope’s popularity grew, the Steelers wisely let his enthusiasm and histrionics continue unabated until he retired in 2004 after 35 seasons. He was revered by fans and players alike, with Dan Rooney crediting his contributions’ prominent role in the team’s success, telling him in 2005: “You were really part of it. You were part of the team. The Terrible Towel many times got us over the goal line.

In 1996, Cope gave the rights to the Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School in the Pittsburgh suburb of Coraopolis. Proceeds from sales help to fund the school, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and represent a continuation of Cope’s efforts to raise awareness for autism.

Today, the Terrible Towel can be found in the standard gold with black lettering, in a camouflage edition, in special editions for various holidays, in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness, as a full-length beach towel and printed in various languages. It’s been taken to the peak of Mount Everest and blasted into orbit on the International Space Station.

Cope’s health challenges began shortly before his retirement. A longtime smoker, he had several bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis and a cancerous growth that was removed from his throat.

He died of respiratory failure at the age of 79.

In a statement released by the team after Cope’s death, Steelers President Art Rooney II added, “Myron touched the hearts of Steelers fans for 35 years and became one of the true legends in broadcasting history. His memorable voice and unique broadcasting style became synonymous with Steelers football. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery and no Pittsburgh broadcaster was impersonated more than Myron.

Following a private funeral service, hundreds gathered in front of the City-Council Building during a heavy snowfall for a silent minute of Terrible Towel waving.