Myron Cope, Voice of the Steelers, Goes to His Reward

He had a face for radio and a voice for newspaper. His wheezy Pittsburgh accent was undisguisedly ethnic, his wholehearted enthusiasm flecked with Yiddishisms -- he made Howard Cosell sound like Cary Grant. But it was his signature, and "yoi!" became a catchphrase, and it was worth signing a quarterback out of Miami of Ohio just to see how he'd pronounce "Roethlisberger." As the Steel Town's fortunes faded in all but football, Myron Cope was the one constant, the defiant bulwark against the Cleveland Browns, the Haray Caray of Western Pennsylvania. He was 79.

As the home of U.S. Steel - once a giant, now little more than a logo on a football helmet - Pittsburgh was one of the wealthiest cities in the country, once. Now it's just a regional capital of the Rust Belt, with all the second-generation assimilation of a factory town that lost its factories. The children of the Polish immigrants now say "yinz" and drink Iron City, and absolutely everyone wears black and gold. It's hard to pass five people on the street without seeing one of them in Steeler gear, especially on Sunday. Some even wear it to church, which is almost as holy a communion as Heinz Field.

And Myron Kopelman was the voice of the Steelers. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted just before his retirement, he only missed five quarters of football in 34 years on the job. He popularized the phrase "the Immaculate Reception" to describe Franco Harris's miracle catch in 1972, along with Bill Mazeroski's World Series-winning home run perhaps the greatest sports moment in city history.

He was probably lucky to stay in Pittsburgh; the leap to national prominence might have forced him to descend to self-parody even faster than Cosell. He created the Terrible Towel, perhaps the first marketed sports gimmick, and the spiritual father of Atlanta Braves tomahawks, Anaheim Angel Thundersticks, and every other invasion of advertising executives into the grandstands. His autobiography is called Double Yoi!; his board game is called "Triple Yoi!", and undoubtedly, had he just hung around a few more years, someone would have found a way to sell a fourth.

The first time anyone listens to Myron Cope, it's disorienting: how in heaven could that make it on the radio, let alone into the Radio Hall of Fame? As Cope recounted the story of his start in broadcasting, "The program director at WTAE radio said, 'We'd like you to do commentary for us.' I said, 'Don't try to kid me. I've heard my voice on tape.' And he said, 'That's okay. Obnoxious voices are coming into style.'" Another story he liked to tell was about a guy to whom he'd given an autograph. The man came up to him years later, told him about the autograph, and said, "And you know, it might be worth something if you were dead."

He was good at being self-deprecating; he was a 5'4" Jew in a town with a huge Polish, German and Ukrainian immigrant population. He was an underdog made good, and he died as he lived, in the shadow of bigger men. The same morning he died saw the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr., along with whatever faint hopes he might have had for news coverage in the other 49 states. But they won't forget him in Pittsburgh, where every glass will raise to mourn his passing with one last Okel Dokel, the halfhearted hopes for a decent summer by the Pirates, and the small comfort of remembering that it's only another six months until football season, where a Roethlisberger's a Roethlisberger, no matter how you pronounce it.