Fashions change, and when bleary eyes and capacious jowls displace baby blues and razor-edged cheekbones as a media ideal, Beano Cook will take his place with Rodney Dangerfield as one of America's handsomest men.
Cook, who dispenses wisdom on ABC's college football pregame shows, points to his mug and says, "I don't think people who look like me are exactly the wave of the future in TV. I'm an average guy. I'm too big in the rear. My IQ's only about 106 or 107. But I think I have something to say."
As he is on "Beano's Corner," Cook is possessed by his subject, wavering between patrioic reverence and irreverent critique. "There are three things in this country that have tradition: baseball, the South and college football," he says. "College football has one thing the pro game doesn't and that's the color. Of course, if we see one more pyramid shot, we're finished. If you want to see pyramids, go to Egypt."
Cook's one-of-a-kind reputation developed when he was the sports publicist at his alma mater, Pittsburgh. Reporters receive scores of press releases from colleges every day, and more often than not the material ends up not in the newspaper, but in the waste basket. Cook, however, took to inserting such trivia as the price of tomatoes in Pittsburgh. "I loved to see us get ink," he says. "That's the game."
After 10 years at Pitt and stints with ABC, the NCAA, the St. Petersburg Times and Mutual Broadcasting, Cook spent 1975 working for $57 a week for VISTA. "I had to get away from sports," he says. "The thought of talking to one more professional athlete bored me. They're all egomaniacs. They think they're more important to society than doctors. The only ones they're more important than is lawyers. Then again, everyone is more important than lawyers."
Cook took a job with CBS in 1976, a time when the network was preparing to challenge ABC's monopoly on college football. Cook helped CBS draft plans to bid for the 1976-1981 contract. CBS tried, but once again, ABC's Roone Arledge won the bidding and the entire package. Not until last year did CBS finally split the college schedule with ABC.
Cook did some color work for ABC in 1970. He wrote Arledge asking to work on the air once more. Arledge accepted and Cook, 52, is in his second season.
"They said, 'Just be Beano,' and I said, 'Okay.' Of course, I didn't plan to be anyone else. I feel like the guy on the last seat on the last boat out of Dunkirk. I'm grateful."
During the week, Cook works as a publicist for the Pittsburgh Civic Arena and commutes on weekends to the studios in New York. After making calls to his contacts throughout the country, he prepares his Saturday spot. "Opinions is what I do," he says, and he has no shortage of them:
* "When we fight the Russians, I want the kids from the rural South and the ones from the Catholic high schools on my side. They have discipline. That's who'll beat the Russians. In the meantime, they win the national championship and the Super Bowl."
* "Betting is big, in the South especially; you have to cover the spread. That's why Charlie McClendon got fired (as LSU's head coach). He won enough, but he didn't cover enough."
* "When I was at Pitt in the early '60s, our recruiting budget was $12,000. Now they spend that much a week for lunches."
* "I'm concerned about not enough kids graduating; that taints it. And I'm against athletic dormitories and redshirting. College football doesn't need that."
* "Players in college football are incidental. They come and go. What's great is the rivalries. Michigan-Ohio State is the greatest in all sports. It's the scene. It's the Ohio State band. To dot the "i" is my everlasting ambition."
Unfortunately, Cook's TV stints can occasionally resemble Bo Schembechler's bowl-game performances. Cook has an admitted tendency to tighten up on the air, and what comes across to the global village is not the smartest-guy-in-the-saloon persona that is truly Cook's, but rather a slightly stiff recital of a well-reasoned thought.
But when he is relaxed, it's nice to see Beano Cook, rumpled and weary, spouting his enthusiasms and frustrations about a game he knows and cares about so much.