I don’t quite know where to start, so let’s go back to the beginning, to the exact moment that I met one of the genuine “characters” of my life. It was 30 years ago, and the ink from my Villanova University diploma was still wet. I was determined to get a job in television, and working as an volunteer intern at Pittsburgh’s ABC affiliate. It was a cold December night in 1982, and as I hurried through the lobby of WTAE-TV, I almost knocked over a middle-aged man who I immediately recognized as a local sports celebrity and a national media legend. It was the one-and-only Beano Cook, and with a bold rhetorical question, he acknowledged my rush to get to the parking lot, “What’s your hurry?” He had just finished taping a radio segment, and was waiting rather impatiently for a cab. Beano already knew what I would soon find out–that I was his cab. In essence, Beano ordered me to give him a lift to his downtown apartment. I never thought twice about it, and was happy to oblige. Beano told me he didn’t have a car, and within moments, he explained something else–that he didn’t own “the world’s three most expensive things, in reverse order: car…wife…ex-wife.” It’s safe to say that we hit it off instantly. About five years later, after I had begun to learn my craft in three smaller television markets, I returned to that same building, and there was Beano again. He had kept tabs on my career, and said he was delighted to see me back in my hometown. In retrospect, I think he was happy just to have his driver back! Our friendship matured, and I came to realize what so many people already knew about Beano. He was a simple man with a complicated personality, a lonely person who enjoyed hundreds of meaningful friendships. His depth of knowledge was remarkable. He was both smart and wise, quick-witted and opinionated, funny and blunt, and above all else, unique. He was a true original, and his riveting personality left you wanting more. In the early 90s, as the Penguins won two Stanley Cups, Beano was in full stride, holding court at each and every pregame meal at the Civic Arena. Some people joked that he was there for the free food, but anyone who really knew Beano knew that he was there for something else. He craved the companionship. He loved the conversation. In the media room, he used to sit at the same table as my wife, without any inkling that there was a connection to his former chauffeur. When he finally found out, our friendship was etched in stone. After the pregame food had been eaten, and as the games were about to start, media members would stand up and begin the trek to the press box.  Beano always demanded that we sit down for a few more minutes. He would grab me by the arm and order me back to my seat. “Forget the game,” he’d say, “the conversation is what you’ll remember.” Beano was so right. We talked almost daily.  I’d call him, or more often than not, he’d call me. If I wasn’t at home, he was just as happy to talk to my wife, interrogating her on that week’s grocery bill, and reacting with horror when he’d hear the total.  “$200? My Gawd. For that amount of money, they should wash your car and change your tires.” He regaled us with stories of his youth, like the day in grade school when he earned the nickname “Beano” in honor of his birth city, Boston, or Beantown. He told us of a romance from long ago, Annie Mullins, whose father, Moon Mullins, was a former Notre Dame football star, and a favorite of Knute Rockne’s. As legend has it, when Rockne died in a plane crash on a Kansas farm in 1931, he was holding rosary beads. According to Beano, those same rosary beads were given to Moon Mullins, and eventually passed down to his daughter, and Beano’s former girlfriend. With his connection to the rosary beads of college football’s greatest coach, maybe it was written in the skies that Beano would become the country’s preeminent college football analyst. Beano told me many times that he hated to fly because “the first word you see at the airport is terminal.”  He also joked that, “You only have to bat a thousand in two things, flying and heart transplants.  Everything else, you can go 4-for-5.” When Beano underwent an operation to treat the effects of diabetes, the nurses found out first-hand that he could be a cantankerous curmudgeon. I called the hospital, and arranged for a special food delivery. The nurses said for us to bring “anything that would shut him up,” so we brought him a pizza. Beano devoured it, but was a bundle of nerves as our young children raced around his hospital room. “You gotta get these kids out of here,” he told my wife. “That’s why I didn’t have kids. I have no patience.” It was classic Beano. We left the hospital, but he called later that night to “catch up.” Over the years, we drove him anywhere he needed to go. When Pittsburgh hosted an AFC Championship game in the mid-90s, we took Beano to the Saturday-night party hosted by the league. He was in his glory, reminiscing with old-timers like Will McDonough and Pat Summerall. They all wanted to talk to Beano. The next day, while driving to the game in a paralyzed friend’s jammed-packed wheelchair-equipped van, we stopped to pick up Beano. As always, he demanded the front passenger seat, but as we approached Three Rivers Stadium, I swerved to avoid a car driving in the wrong direction. As Beano slid out of his seat, he screamed, “My Gawd, don’t kill me before I know if the Steelers covered the spread.” Beano had an open invitation to our holiday parties, but always declined.  “Holidays are for family.”  My power of persuasion never seemed to work, but each year, usually on Christmas Eve, we’d leave a present outside the door of his apartment.  Sometimes, he’d come out to the curb to get it, and many other years, I’d drop the gift with his buddy Yovi at the hot dog shop which was adjacent to the lobby of his apartment building. Beano never opened the gift until Christmas, because only then, he said, “did it really feel like Christmas.” He’d always call early Christmas morning, wanting to know what time the kids got out of bed. “What does the living room look like? Is the floor covered with wrapping paper?” Many times over the years, I met him at that same hot dog shop, and that’s the spot where we ate and talked on a November day in 1996, the day that Beano paid up on a bet with Penguins owner Howard Baldwin. A few years earlier, Beano had challenged Baldwin. If Baldwin moved the team from Pittsburgh within five years, he’d have to pay Beano $1000. If the team stayed, then Beano would give Baldwin $1000. The Pens remained in Pittsburgh. Baldwin won, and Beano was delighted. I was with him that day as he withdrew ten $100 bills from the bank to pay the bet. His home phone number wasn’t on my speed-dial, but it should have been. He always answered the phone as one of two television detectives, “Columbo” or “McGarrett” and if he didn’t answer, Beano warned that it meant one of two things: either he wasn’t home, or he was dead. Beano loved classic television shows, and in one of his favorite quips, he wondered how five squad cars from Hawaii 5-0 could all race into the Honolulu wharf parking lot on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and be lucky enough to find five open parking spots. Beano also enjoyed “Hart to Hart” and more specifically, actress, Stephanie Powers, and Beano thought her co-star, Robert Wagner, was the luckiest man in America because “He got to be with Stephanie Powers by day, only to go home to Natalie Wood at night.” Stephanie Powers also played the lead role in Beano’s imaginative tale of the way he always said he wanted to die! He loved to talk about about history, politics, and entertainment. He ranked the Gettysburg address as the greatest speech of all-time, and he told me never to complain when my sports script was edited, “Remember, Thomas Jefferson sat in the corner and stewed as they re-wrote portions of the Declaration of Independence.” Beano loved the stories of CBS newsman Charles Kuralt, and he couldn’t get enough bacon.  One time, while treating my family to breakfast, Beano instructed our young son to go to the buffet line, and to fill a plate with bacon. Beano said not to come back until it was piled up, and falling off the plate.  He also wanted some shrimp cocktail if there was a spot left on the plate! What he loved most, though, was talking about college football.  Other more qualified people have chronicled his considerable success, and the national notoriety that came with it. The stories about Beano are seemingly endless, but in an effort to end my tribute to him, I’ll finish with this. Even after I heard the news that Beano had died, I called his home phone number. Doing what I had done a thousand times before was my way of remembering a great and loyal friend, and one of the truest characters of my life.  The phone kept ringing, and in my mind, I heard his voice, “Lieutenant Columbo…” Beano’s parents had long since passed away, and he had no other family–no brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or cousins.  What he did have were great friends. More friends than he could count. I was honored to be counted among them.

 http://shultsford.com/

About these ads