A celebration of Beano Cook.
I wrote the post below in August 2011. Upon Beano's passing, I felt I should bump it to the top again. He was one of a kind, and I really, really enjoyed him. Even when he gave me reason not to.
There, I said it. I've been holding this one in all summer.
First things first: I understand exactly why there are a lot of people in the world who cannot stand Beano Cook, and chances are their rationale is dead on. Yes, he comes off as a Notre Dame homer (though he's a Pitt guy). Yes, he's irascible and fiery and occasionally frustrating. Yes, he can be obnoxious. Et cetera. All valid points. But I love him anyway, and here's why:
1. He is unique. We live in an era of cookie cutter analysts. It doesn't necessarily matter whether your analysis is totally canned and less than insightful, as long as it sounds good, and as long as you look good saying it. And if you are a former player, then that puts you at the front of the line. Beano Cook is not pretty, and chances are, he's not going to say what you want him to say. He is going to say what he believes, and if that matches conventional wisdom, so be it. But it might not.
2. He is genuine. If you search for Beano Cook on YouTube, you are going to get nothing but bloopers, of him getting annoyed and snapping. "TELL FOWLER I CAN HEAR HIM." Those (mostly fantastic) bloopers happened because he is not a natural-born television personality, he is not a "smooth delivery" kind of guy. He is a smart guy with knowledge and opinions and a temper, and he was good enough at his job to get on television, warts and all.
I used to think a lot of the fiery aspects of Beano's personality were a bit of an act, but then I talked to him on the phone. I wanted to get his opinion about the Top 100 list I created last summer, and the reaction he gave me was exactly what I could have hoped for: he was pissed. First of all, any list that didn't include 1947 Notre Dame at or near the top is completely worthless, as they are, without question, the greatest team of all-time. How can 1959 Ole Miss be No. 1? They lost! And 1957 Auburn at No. 7? They were fine, but please. There were five Notre Dame teams better than that one. The entire list was un-buh-LEEV-able.
It was fantastic. It became a rant about numbers, about "typical ESPN" (Football Outsiders has a connection to ESPN Insider, but really, I probably didn't explain who I was very well), et cetera. I think he assumed I was going to hang up or something, but when I kept asking questions (I'm nothing if not passively persistent) and proved that I was looking for discussion and was open to disagreement, he started talking. Over the course of three phone calls, he talked about why those late-1940s Notre Dame teams -- 1947 in particular -- had such an advantage over everybody else (he rattled off the number of future pros on those teams and how some post-war teams became all-star teams of sorts because of all the players coming back from the war with eligibility left), why Frank Leahy is probably the most underrated coach of all-time (he was un-buh-LEEV-able), etc. We veered briefly into politics and Missouri (he asked where I was from) and conference realignment. It didn't take long for me to realize that the Beano Cook you see on television is the Beano Cook that exists in real-life, 24 hours a day. And that quickly made him very endearing. And very, very funny.
3. He is a college football encyclopedia. In the podcast recorded in the above link, and in a couple hours of other phone calls, he gave me an immediate tidbit for every single team I threw at him, from 1952 Georgia Tech to 2004 USC. When we talked more about 1957 Auburn, he was able to immediately recall their 40-0 whipping of Alabama that got Jennings B. Whitworth fired in Tuscaloosa and Bear Bryant hired. On the podcast, he was a little more passive about 1959 Ole Miss, saying they were obviously great, but since they lost, he couldn't really take them seriously as No. 1 ... but that, hey, it was my list. It was very enjoyable. I said I would need to come up with an excuse to call him again, and he said to call whenever, but "If I don't answer, I'm either not home or dead." One gets the feeling he ends every call with that, which, like Beano himself, is both unique, endearing and odd.