Anyone in the greater Pittsburgh area who followed the Steelers ascension out of four decades of losing starting in 1972 to unparalleled greatness is familiar with Steelers’ color analyst Myron Cope. And like me, if you missed the Super Steelers dynasty of the 1970s and grew up on the so-so Steelers of the 1980s and the ragtag playoff teams of the 90s, you are quite familiar with Cope as well. He was the “Voice of the Steelers”, not only as the color commentator during the WTAE radio game broadcasts on 1250AM, but also on his nightly WTAE radio sportstalk program Myron Cope on Sports, and on the WTAE Channel 4 News where he did commentaries several times a week. For those who don’t remember the late, great Myron Cope or didn’t live in Western PA, words cannot begin to express Cope’s nasally, thick Pittsburgh accent and the enthusiasm that he exuded. So I’ll start by posting this great segment that NFL Films did on Myron Cope in 1997. For those familiar with Cope, this will put a smile on your face. For those uninitiated eardrums that will be hearing Cope for the first time, I suggest you turn your volume down and gradually increase it as the video proceeds.
While Myron Cope’s legacy to most Steelers fans is as a radio personality and broadcaster, he actually studied to become a writer in school and it was always his first passion. Before becoming the “Voice of the Steelers” in the broadcast booth, Cope spent nearly the first 20 years of his professional career as an accomplished newspaperman and freelance magazine writer, as well as author of several books. This post is dedicated to those two decades of Cope’s writing. Please click on the numerous links throughout the post to see original newspaper articles highlighting my research, as well as pertinent original scans of his writing that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and major magazines of that era.
Myron Kopelman (Myron Cope) was born in Pittsburgh on January 23, 1929 and spent his entire life in the city, with the exception of a brief seven month stint in Erie, PA at the Erie Times. He attended Taylor Allderdice High School, where he discovered his interest in sports writing and wrote a sports column for the high school newspaper entitled “Kope’s Comments.” After graduating from Taylor Allderdice in January 1947, he went on to attend University of Pittsburgh. He was a sportswriter for Pitt News as a freshman and sophomore, and during his junior year he was sports editor of the Pitt News and hosted a radio sports program on campus. Cope was also a member of the national honorary journalism fraternity, Pi Delta Epsilon. He graduated in January 1951 with a B.A. in English, and took a job as a sports writer at the Erie Times immediately upon graduating. He remained at that newspaper for only seven months, as Erie wasn’t quite the sports town that Pittsburgh was. One thing that Cope discovered during his time in Erie was that he could sell his writing to magazines. With so much downtime as a sportswriter in a non-sports town like Erie, Cope tried his hand at writing a fictional short story about a romance between a pro wrestler and a diner waitress. He sold the story to SIR! Magazine (an old stag magazine) in New York City for $50 in July 1951, and it appeared in the September 1951 issue and was his first published magazine story.
Before the short story was even published in SIR! Magazine, Cope jumped on a job opportunity at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette as a general assignment writer. He returned to Pittsburgh in August 1951 and spent the rest of his life in the city. His managing editor at the Post Gazette, Joe Shuman, recommended that he change his name from Myron Kopelman to Myron Cope because there were already too many Jewish-sounding names writing for the newspaper. His first article appeared on November 14, 1951 under the byline of Myron Cope, and he was reassigned to sports given his past writing experience in college and in Erie. He spent the next nine years as a sports writer at the Post Gazette. During that time he sold about a half dozen articles to various magazines to supplement his income and gain further exposure. His first story was sold to True Magazine, and was about local Pittsburgh boxer and former welterweight world champion Fritzie Zivic, who was known for being a dirty fighter. Cope discovered Zivic in 1955 bartending at a local watering hole he frequented called Benny’s, and thought that a story about his life could spark interest from a magazine. True Magazine bought the manuscript from Cope, although it wasn’t published until June 1958. His first published story as a freelance writer appeared in the August 4, 1956 edition of The Saturday Evening Post and was a profile on Pittsburgh Pirate Bobby Friend, who was an All-Star starting pitcher who supplemented his big league income as a stock broker in the offseason. Cope also had a popular story published in the November 1959 edition of Sport Magazine about quarterback Bobby Layne who joined the Steelers from the Detroit Lions in 1958 to play out his Hall-of-Fame career.
With his stories being picked up by various magazines with some regularity, Cope’s writing abilities were outpacing his salary at the Post Gazette. Also, after almost nine years at the newspaper, he had yet to be promoted to a beat writer. As a result, he decided to leave the newspaper and focus full time on being a freelance sports writer for the growing sports magazine industry. His last article for the Post Gazette as a salaried member of the staff appeared in the January 29, 1960 “Roamin’ Around” column, a daily column that the various sports writers at the paper took turns penning. From 1960 to 1968 Cope was a freelance sports writer for numerous magazines such as Sport Magazine, True Magazine, Saturday Evening Post and Sports Illustrated, which gave him a national audience and greater notoriety.
Cope’s first story as a freelancer was about Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Dick Stuart, which he sold to The Saturday Evening Post in April 1960, although it wasn’t published until two years later in the April 28, 1962 issue. Cope’s biggest breakthrough as a writer came in 1962 when he wrote a story on Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali). “Look Out, World! Here Comes Cassius” appeared in the July 1962 issue of True Magazine. The following year that story brought national acclaim to Cope in the form of the 1963 E.P. Dutton Prize for best magazine sportswriting in the nation. Cope wrote another story on Muhammad Ali titled “Muslim Champ” that appeared in the November 14, 1964 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, a publication that Cope wrote for regularly as a freelancer. In the summer of 1964, The Saturday Evening Post signed Cope to a contract and listed him as Contributing Editor in its masthead. This gave Cope some financial stability as well as increased credibility as a featured writer. However, Cope wasn’t happy writing only about star athletes, which Saturday Evening Post wanted him to focus on since they had mass appeal. He found that boring and would rather write about “goofball” athletes, so he resigned from The Saturday Evening Post, with his final article about Syracuse All-American running back Floyd Little appearing in the November 19, 1966 edition.
Immediately upon departing The Saturday Evening Post, Cope joined Sports Illustrated and was only one of two professional writers in the country at that time that were put under contract as contributing writers to the magazine. Cope spent six years under contract with SI, and churned out many stories on zany sports characters, like his 1968 profile on then-unknown golfer Lee Trevino who just happened to win the US Open a day before the article was published. But he also wrote great stories on superstar athletes like Roberto Clemente in 1966. His profile on Howard Cosell, which was published in the March 13, 1967 issue, was named one of the top Sports Illustrated article of all time by the magazine on its 50th Anniversary in 2004. Even after leaving his contract at Sports Illustrated for the world of color commentary in 1970, Cope still contributed various stories to Sports Illustrated, including an August 20, 1973 story about the Steelers transcendence from a forty-year laughing stock to their AFC Central crown and divisional playoff win over the Raiders on Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception.
In addition to becoming a featured professional writer in various national magazines, Cope also churned out several books during this time. For his first book, Cope teamed up with legendary Browns running back Jim Brown to help write his memoir, Off My Chest, which was published in 1964. Cope followed that up with Broken Cigars in 1968, which was a collection of 18 of his magazine articles from the previous seven years. In 1970, Cope’s book The Game That Was; The Early Days of Pro Football was published.
While Cope established himself as a respected professional sports journalist and author during the 1960s, his greatest accomplishment during this decade was in his personal life. On December 28, 1964 Cope married his wife of 30 years, Mildred. Four years later in 1968 they had a son Danny, who factored into the major career decisions Cope made moving forward that ultimately forged his lasting legacy as a a radio personality and “Voice of the Steelers.”