February 27, 2008

Steelers announcer Myron Cope dies

PITTSBURGH - Myron Cope spoke in a language and with a voice never before heard in a broadcast booth, yet a loving Pittsburgh understood him perfectly during an unprecedented 35 years as a Steelers announcer.

The screechy-voiced Cope, a writer by trade and an announcer by accident whose colorful catch phrases and twirling Terrible Towel became nationally known symbols of the Steelers, died Wednesday at age 79.

Cope died at a nursing home in Mount Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb, Joe Gordon, a former Steelers executive and a longtime friend of Cope's, said. Cope had been treated for respiratory problems and heart failure in recent months.

Cope's tenure from 1970-2004 as the color analyst on the Steelers' radio network is the longest in NFL history for a broadcaster with a single team and led to his induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2005.

"His memorable voice and unique broadcasting style became synonymous with Steelers football," team president Art Rooney II said Wednesday. "They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and no Pittsburgh broadcaster was impersonated more than Myron."

One of Pittsburgh's most colorful and recognizable personalities, Cope was best known beyond the city's three rivers for the yellow cloth twirled by fans as a good luck charm at Steelers games since the mid-1970s.

The Terrible Towel is arguably the best-known fan symbol of any major pro sports team, has raised millions of dollars for charity and is displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Upon Cope's retirement in 2005, team chairman Dan Rooney said, "You were really part of it. You were part of the team. The Terrible Towel many times got us over the goal line."

Even after retiring, Cope — a sports talk show host for 23 years — continued to appear in numerous radio, TV and print ads, emblematic of a local popularity that sometimes surpassed that of the stars he covered.

Team officials marveled how Cope received more attention than the players or coaches when the Steelers checked into hotels, accompanied by crowds of fans so large that security guards were needed in every city.

"It is a very sad day, but Myron lived every day to make people happy, to use his great sense of humor to dissect the various issues of the sporting world. ... He's a legend," former Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker Andy Russell said.

Cope didn't become a football announcer until age 40, spending the first half of his professional career as a sports writer. He was hired by the Steelers in 1970, several years after he began doing TV sports commentary on the whim of WTAE-TV program director Don Shafer, mostly to help increase attention and attendance as the Steelers moved into Three Rivers Stadium.

Coincidentally, a pair of rookies — Cope and a quarterback named Terry Bradshaw — made their Steelers debuts during the team's first regular season game at Three Rivers on Sept. 20, 1970.

Neither Steelers owner Art Rooney nor Cope had any idea how much impact he would have on the franchise. Within two years of his hiring, Pittsburgh would begin a string of home sellouts that continues to this day, a stretch that includes five Super Bowl titles.

Cope became so popular that the Steelers didn't try to replace his unique perspective and top-of-the-lungs vocal histrionics when he retired, instead downsizing from a three-man announcing team to a two-man booth.

Just as Pirates fans once did with longtime broadcaster Bob Prince, Steelers fans began tuning in to hear what wacky stunt or colorful phrase Cope would come up with next. With a voice beyond imitation — a falsetto so shrill it could pierce even the din of a touchdown celebration — Cope was a man of many words, some not in any dictionary.

To Cope, an exceptional play rated a "Yoi!" A coach's doublespeak was "garganzola." The despised rival to the north was always the Cleve Brownies, never the Cleveland Browns.

Cope gave four-time Super Bowl champion coach Chuck Noll the only nickname that ever stuck, the Emperor Chaz. For years, Cope laughed off the downriver and often downtrodden Cincinnati Bengals as the Bungles, though never with a malice or nastiness that would create longstanding anger.

Among those longtime listeners was a Pittsburgh high school star turned NFL player turned Steelers coach — Bill Cowher.

"My dad would listen to his talk show and I would think, `Why would you listen to that?'" Cowher said. "Then I found myself listening to that. I (did) my show with him, and he makes ME feel young."

Cope, who was born Myron Kopelman, was preceded in death by his wife, Mildred, in 1994. He is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth, and a son, Daniel, who is autistic and lives at Allegheny Valley School, which received all rights to the Terrible Towel in 1996. Another daughter, Martha Ann, died shortly after birth.

February 05, 2008

(7) Rutgers 73, (1) Connecticut 71

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Epiphanny Prince scored 27 of her career-high 33 points in the second half and No. 7 Rutgers handed top-ranked Connecticut its first loss of the season, 73-71 on Tuesday night.

Kia Vaughn added 14 points and Matee Ajavon had 13 for Rutgers (19-3, 9-1 Big East), which snapped Connecticut's 34-game regular season winning streak.

Renee Montgomery scored 24 points and Tina Charles added 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead Connecticut (21-1, 8-1). The Huskies, who were the last unbeaten team in Division I basketball, last lost in the regular season to North Carolina on Jan. 15, 2007.

With the game tied at 61 with 4:17 left, Essence Carson hit two free throws and Ajavon hit a 3-pointer to give Rutgers a 66-61 lead with 2:50 left. After Montgomery scored a layup to cut the deficit to three, Prince answered with a jumper.

Montgomery missed a 3-pointer on the other end and Connecticut was forced to foul Prince, who hit both free throws to give Rutgers a 70-63 lead with 1:42 left.

Connecticut refused to go away as Maya Moore hit consecutive 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 72-69 with 58 seconds left. After Rutgers turned the ball over on a shot clock violation, Connecticut had one last chance, but turned the ball over on the inbounds.

Carson hit one of two free throws with 6.9 seconds left to seal the win.

February 03, 2008

Giants stun 'perfect' Pats in Super Bowl

Eli Manning was named Super Bowl XLII's MVP a year after his brother Peyton won the award.

GLENDALE, Ariz. - The Giants had the perfect answer for the suddenly imperfect Patriots: a big, bad defense and an improbable comeback led by their own Mr. Cool quarterback, Eli Manning.

In one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, New York shattered New England's unbeaten season 17-14 Sunday night as Manning hit Plaxico Burress on a 13-yard fade with 35 seconds left. It was the Giants' 11th straight victory on the road and the first time the Patriots tasted defeat in more than a year.

It was the most bitter of losses, too, because New England (18-1) was one play from winning and getting the ultimate revenge for being penalized for illegally taping opponents' defensive signals in the season-opener against the New York Jets.

But its defense couldn't stop a final, frantic 12-play, 83-yard drive that featured a spectacular leaping catch by David Tyree, who had scored New York's first touchdown on the opening drive of the fourth quarter.

"It's the greatest feeling in professional sports," Burress said before bursting into tears.

The Patriots were done in not so much by the pressure of the first unbeaten season in 35 years as by the pressure of a smothering Giants pass rush. Tom Brady, the league's Most Valuable Player and winner of his first three Super Bowl, was sacked five times, hurried a dozen more and at one point wound up on his knees, his hands on his hips following one of many poor throws.

Hardly a familiar position for the record-setting quarterback. And a totally strange outcome for a team that seemed destined for historic glory.

Oddly, it was a loss to the Patriots that sparked New York's stunning run to its third Super Bowl and sixth NFL title. New England won 38-35 in Week 17 as the Patriots became the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to go spotless through the regular season. But by playing hard in a meaningless game for them, the Giants (14-6) gained something of a swagger and Manning cast off older brother Peyton's shadow and found his footing.

Their growing confidence carried them through playoff victories at Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay, and then past the mightiest opponent of all.

Not that the Patriots were very mighty this day. They even conceded with 1 second on the clock as coach Bill Belichick ran across the field to shake the hand of jubilant Giants coach Tom Coughlin, then headed to the locker room, ignoring the final kneeldown.

That it was Manning taking that knee was stunning. Peyton's kid brother not only matched his sibling's achievement of last year with the Indianapolis Colts, but he showed the brilliant precision late in the game usually associated with, well, Brady.

Peyton Manning was seen in a luxury box jumping up and pumping both fists when Burress, who didn't practice all week because of injuries, caught the winning score.

The upset also could be viewed as a source of revenge not only for the Giants, but for the other NFL teams over Spygate back in September. That cheating scandal made headlines again late in Super Bowl week, and could have placed an infinite cloud over New England's perfection.

The Giants became the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl; four AFC teams have done it. They also are the second team in three years to play nothing but away games and come away with the big prize; Pittsburgh did after the 2005 season.