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Pittsburgh Steelers
Cope helped draft Sinatra into 'Army'

Myron's immaculate '72 coup, chronicled from here to eternity, enlisted Frank Sinatra in Franco's Italian Army

Thursday, May 21, 1998

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Frank Sinatra was laid to rest yesterday, 25 1/2 years after Myron Cope helped induct the legend into Franco's Italian Army during the middle of a Steelers practice in Palm Springs, Calif.

You can look it up.

Better yet, Cope will tell the story, and often does at speaking engagements. Cope, the longtime Steelers color analyst and broadcaster for WTAE radio and television, is a big Sinatra fan.

"I've always considered him to be the greatest pop singer who ever lived, with no one even close," said Cope. And of that December day in 1972 when Cope orchestrated Sinatra's visit to the Steelers' practice: "It was the greatest thrill of my career."

As with many things involving Cope or Sinatra, the story was packed with drama and comedy. The Steelers were in Palm Springs for a week of warm-weather practices to prepare for their season finale Dec. 17 at San Diego. They needed to win to capture the AFC Central Division title, the club's first championship of any kind in 40 years in the NFL.

Sinatra made his home in Palm Springs and, at the time, was in retirement and rarely photographed.

Steelers rookie Franco Harris had spawned Franco's Italian Army, which brings Cope to his story.

Pittsburgh's Tony Stagno led the Army as its 5-star general. Al Vento was next in line as the 4-star general.

"The High Command gave me my mission in Palm Springs: Find Sinatra," Cope recalled yesterday.

Cope spread the word throughout Palm Springs with no results. One night, he and a large group of media and Steelers officials were dining at the swank Lord Fletcher's in Palm Springs. Suddenly, in walked Sinatra, golfer Ken Venturi and former Dodgers and Giants manager Leo Durocher with, as Cope put it, "a tall, good-looking brunette."

They sat across the room. Cope grabbed a cocktail napkin and wrote out an invitation for Sinatra.

"Dear Mr. Sinatra," he recalls writing. "We are a bunch of newspaper and Steelers front office bums out here with the Steelers. I'm sure you heard of Franco's Italian Army. I hope I'm not disturbing you, but I would like to invite you to practice tomorrow to induct you as a 1-star general."

He signed his name with a PS: "Franco's from Hoboken." Hoboken is Sinatra's home town.

"That's a damn lie," Cope said. "Franco's from Mount Holly, N.J., but I figured it wouldn't hurt."

He gave the note to the proprietor, who delivered it to Sinatra. He read the note, walked over with Durocher and Venturi and sat down with the group. It had long been rumored that Sinatra bet big on football games. Terry Bradshaw had hurt his pinky and Sinatra's first question of Cope was "How's the quarterback?"

"I said to myself," Cope remembered, "'The rumors are right."'

They talked for a bit, Sinatra promised to attend practice the next day, and then Sinatra and what Cope called "his flunkies" rejoined the brunette. Shortly thereafter, the proprietor brought the finest bottles of wine from his cellar to the Steelers' table, "compliments of Mr. Sinatra."

Cope got on the phone back to Pittsburgh to tell Stagno and Vento to get on a flight the next morning for the induction.

The following day, while suffering with a hangover from celebrating his coup, Cope walked through the hotel lobby to get on the team bus. Coach Chuck Noll approached him and said sternly, "What's this I hear, your planning a distraction at my practice?"

Cope said he replied: "Look, Chas, I have this terrible headache. You're only two years younger than me, kid, so I know you were as big a Sinatra fan as I." And he walked away and got on the bus.

There was a gaggle of photographers at practice as Cope did not keep any of this a secret. An hour into practice, no Sinatra. Jim Boston, the Steelers' traveling secretary, was talking to someone on the phone on the other side of the field and announced that there was no sign of Sinatra and "Cope's a loser again." With that, Boston felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He turned around and the man in the orange cardigan and porkpie hat said, "When Sinatra says he'll show, he shows."

It was Sinatra, who had been watching practice unnoticed in the bleachers. Cope turned around and saw Sinatra approaching the field, then saw Stagno and Vento walking through the gate, wearing their helmets and lugging homemade red wine, cheese and prosciutto supposedly needed for the induction ceremony.

"I have to go get Franco," Cope yelped and ran to the middle of the practice field.

"What am I doing out here? Noll will kill me!" he then thought, but still yelled out, "Franco, the man's here; get over here!"

Franco said he could not, he was practicing.

"I told you the man's here, get over here on the sideline, will you."

Franco said he could not.

"Whereupon," Cope said, "Noll barked: 'Franco, get over there.' And he throws a thumb toward the sideline."

Franco did as he was told, the wine and cheese and prosciutto were passed around, everyone kissed Sinatra on the cheeks and the Chairman of the Board became a 1-star general in Franco's Italian Army.

"It was like kissing God," Stagno told his wife.

That Sunday, the Steelers whupped San Diego 24-2 to win their first division title. The following week in Pittsburgh, Franco pulled off the Immaculate Reception to stun the Oakland Raiders 13-7 in the playoffs.

A telegram was delivered to Harris in the locker room.

It read: "Go Steelers Go."

It was signed: "Colonel Francis Sinatra."

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