Saturday, March 01, 2008

a few words on the death of myron cope

at two points this morning i was describing the intricacies of the pittsburgh patois to my less yinzer prague friends. i think a while back we all discussed the fact that none of us seem to have regional accents, although apparently i say the word "potraviny*" a little funny because on several occasions it has led to these discussions on "pittsburghese." it's difficult, when put on the spot, for me to explain the differences (though when i'm drunk i'm quite fluent in pittsburghese).

i realized i could have just pointed to the apotheosis of the "yinzer," myron cope.

myron cope passed away last wednesday, february 27th. the four known regular readers of this blog run the gamut from those who are quite familiar with myron cope (alicia), those who have felt his influence, if only subconsciously (debbie, lori) to those who would not know a terrible towel if it smacked them in the face (nick).

here is the pittsburgh post-gazette's, in my opinion quite well-written, obituary for mr. cope:

so now we're all on the same page.

myron cope is synonomous with the pittsburgh steelers. he's their voice (a nasaly, scrappy southwestern pennsylvania yowl), he invented the "terrible towel" (which, if you're unfamiliar, is a bright gold tea-towel meant to be waved in a helicopter style, making a circular motion with the wrist, above one's head in order to show appreciation for a good play to rouse the excitement of players and fellow fans. it's nearly impossible to imagine a steelers' game without the sea of gold they create). he coined the term "immaculate reception," for the best-known play in steelers' history. before he retired in 2005, it was common practice for many to turn down the sound on the TV broadcast for the game and turn up cope's show on WDVE**.

if you're a steelers fan, i challenge you to imagine steelers football without myron cope; it can't be done.

his death has got me thinking about a few things. first, his accent, as i've already said. quintessentially pittsburgh in a time when regional accents like ours are becoming more scarce. and he's added quite the roster of terms to our vocabulary, most notably "yoi" and "double yoi." (i mentioned mike lange below; pittsburgh has been blessed with very linguistically influential broadcasters.)

secondly, at the city's memorial service for mr. cope, fans outside the city-county building downtown waved terrible towels and chanted some of his catchphrases. this sounds like the most ideal funeral service ever. even during a moment of silence, the towels were still waving.

third, it got me thinking about the vicissitudes of a sports town. i began watching football when i was about 9, so you can say i've been a fan for the better part of fifteen years. the steelers franchise has quite a penchant for stability; in all my years of watching football, we had the same coach, bill cowher. last year he was gone. now with someone as important to the idea of steelers football as myron cope to be gone, it makes it a little more apparent that we're entering a new "era."

i haven't been watching long enough to remember a different era of steelers football, like those who are old enough to remember the steelers of the 70s. but i'd imagine it's going to be quite strange. i don't know how someone remains a fan of a team for so long without being very sad about their nostalgic feelings for bygone eras of that team. i can't imagine how weird it would be for someone who had listened to his broadcasts to suddenly hear someone else's voice calling out plays.

for the meantime, cope's influence on the steelers and pittsburgh won't change. but someday it will. the things we associate with the steelers will be completely different. i know it might sound stupid, like it's just a sport, but i think anyone who has a hometown team can understand what a huge part of a city's culture its sports teams are. i'm reaching the point where i can start to remember a time when things were different, and that's odd. i suppose at this age that starts to happen with a lot of other things.

anyway. my last point about myron cope is this: what a wonderful time to be in pittsburgh. sad, yes, but one of my favorite things about pittsburgh is the camaraderie. pittsburghers have a way of pulling together in times of happiness and equally in times of sadness. i think that's really important in a hometown and it's absence is something that makes prague feel a bit empty. i'm not sure if i can quite put it into words, but i've never felt more at home than the celebration after the steelers' superbowl win in 2006. i've also never felt more at home than standing on the sidewalk, with a bunch of strangers, watching our new mayor bob o'connor's funeral procession slide down grant street last september.

this was a bit rambling, but the point is: he'll be missed.

"bye now!"

*potraviny in czech means food or groceries, although i think it has taken on the colloquial meaning of "grocer's." basically, there are hundreds of small convenience stores in prague and they usually list on their signs what they provide: cigarettes, alcohol, drinks, fruits, vegetables, etc. i'm no expert but i think groceries, or "potraviny" has become the umbrella term for all these offerings and therefore appears on most if not all convenience store signs. i don't know if czech speakers refer to them this way, but us english speakers with a dearth of czech knowledge use it as a noun to mean "convenience store."

**is this common practice in any other major sports market? because not only is it done for steelers games to hear cope's show, i know many penguins fans who will tune into mike lange's radio broadcast instead of listening to the announcers on TV. no one watches pirates games on TV, so to my knowledge there is no baseball equivalent.

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