College football’s most enthusiastic cheerleader wasn’t on any school’s squad. Carroll “Beano” Cook, the commentator often called the “Cardinal of College Football,” died in his sleep Wednesday at age 81. Ivan Maisel, who worked at ESPN and hosted a podcast with Cook, broke the news.
He worked at the St. Petersburg Times, CBS, ABC and arrived at ESPN in 1986. From the time dominated by print news to the era of the podcast, he never lost his love for the game or the respect of his peers. One of the only clues to the outside world Cook was in declining health was a 2010 blog post. He apologized to readers for the inconvenience of health issues occurring during college football season.
The name came from him describing his hometown of Boston to a Pittsburgh neighbor, whose only knowledge of it was that beans came from there. He delivered news, predictions and opinions with humor and an obvious love for the game. Cook wasn’t afraid to go out on limbs, either. He declared former Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus would win multiple Heisman trophies. That didn’t work out so well, and no one let him forget it. Not that he would have. Even in his 80s, friends said Cook had total recall of the starting lineups for bowl teams going back to the 1960s.
He loved college football, and all other sports were a distant, distant second. Unlike many commentators, he didn’t feign any love for other games. His distaste for baseball was legendary. After hearing Commissioner Bowie Kuhn promised lifetime game passes to returning veterans, Cook quipped: “Haven’t they suffered enough?”
Everyone that worked with Cook has a story about his famous sense of humor. Perhaps the best comes from a 1982 Sports Illustrated piece by Jill Lieber.
While Cook was the sports information director at Pitt, a woman called wanting the entire Panthers roster. He explained that it contained 120 guys. If she’d wait a few weeks, he would have an actual roster of players that would really take the field. Despite his caveat, she needed the roster right then. The reason, according to her? She planned to sleep with the entire football team.
Without hesitation, the future broadcaster said: “In alphabetical order, starting at guard.. Cook, Beano.”