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The Big Picture: Myron copes with back attack

Monday, September 30, 2002

Here was another comeback story yesterday at Heinz Field. Here was another body playing with pain deep into overtime. For the past three months, this guy endured a back that throbbed so excruciatingly, he worked Steelers games while medicated. Finally, during the bye week, he went under the scalpel of Steelers team neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon, who repaired not one, not two, but three bad disks in this guy’s spine.

Triple yoi.

Pish-tush, Myron Cope said of this return to work just 11 days after back surgery. He was only flapping his trap. “Annnnh,” he growled on the air from the Steelers’ WDVE-FM flagship booth high above the squishy playing surface. “There are guys playing down there in a lot worse shape than me.”

Yeah, but none of them is a septuagenarian. None of them takes a verbal beating from Tunch Ilkin for the entire three hours, 29 minutes of a 16-13 overtime thriller of a Steelers triumph. None of them invokes three Okle Dokles, two Hmm-Hahs and two fiddle references to the delight of thousands upon thousands of listeners.

In short, it was a pretty routine gameday broadcast for a post-operative patient still on meds.

“The game was all played to the left,” said Cope, whose press-box view of that side of the field gets blocked by a monitor while he’s seated. “So that was probably better for me. I spent probably the whole game standing.

“It was like a nice, good injection.”

Not to say this leprechaun of a radio man was responsible for the Steelers’ victory. Not to say his job entails a greater degree of difficulty than playing or coaching or even working on the chain gang. Not to say his efforts superseded those of Tommy Maddox or Todd Peterson.

Just the same, it was an admirable accomplishment by a splendid fellow who didn’t want to fail you.

“I’ve only missed one game in my career, and that was when my wife died,” Cope said, referring to the dear Mildred, who died a decade ago. “I missed the first quarter of a game for my brother-in-law’s funeral once.”

So he worked through the pain in training camp, the preseason schedule, the New England and Oakland games. Then Maroon opened Cope the Wednesday before last.

Maroon made a house call to the press box around 11:45 yesterday morning, talking with his patient for about 10 minutes inside the lunch room. Less than an hour later, Cope gingerly sat on a new, cushy black pillow on a chair where telephone books used to be stacked and went to work. His opening subject: the death last week of Steelers’ Hall of Famer Mike Webster.

Then it was on to this up-and-down day. He stood for the opening 4 1/2 minutes of the game broadcast, sat for one play, stood for another minute, sat for one huddle, stood for another 2 1/2 minutes, sat barely five seconds.

Cope was more muted than normal, probably a result of the pain pills. Yet he still was uttering the Myronspeak we’ve come to know -- auspicious, Brownies, keen, hmm-hah. Off the air, during one commercial break, Ilkin asked, “How you feeling, My? Did you take a shot? The doc gave me a syringe. I can shoot you. I’ve had enough of them and seen enough of them that I know how to do it.”

Nahhhhh. Cope could take one for the team in his own way, you betcha.

He seemed to tire as the game wore on. If you were scoring this at home, he stood for 33:02 and sat for just 4:13 in the first quarter. He stood for 27:07 and sat for 16:42 the second quarter. In the third quarter, when he stood only 6:27, he showed signs of wear. “Kordell Smith,” he began. “. . . Kordell Smith? What am I saying?” But he rallied at the finish, staying on his feet for the final 13:15 of the game. Yoi and Double Yoi, he proclaimed. Bill Hillgrove concluded the broadcast by congratulating him.

For an injury that hurts only when you breathe, for a spine ailment that disrupts only everything you do, Cope put on quite a little performance yesterday and, in retrospect, the three months before.

At the Cope Cabana show from the Coca-Cola Great Hall, the surgically repaired broadcaster smiled about the overtime work and pronounced, “That’ll take your mind off a bad back.”

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com e or 412-263-1724.

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