By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — When I rolled out of bed Saturday, even before I made my way to the press box at Heinz Field, I should have known who would be there to greet me.

It wasn’t E.J. Borghetti. His schedule being what it is at a typical home game, I don’t exchange pleasantries with the University of Pittsburgh’s gregarious media relations director until shortly after that day’s contest has started. Rather, I was met by one of Borghetti’s more dubious predecessors.

At my seat was a portrait of Beano Cook, flanked by a quote encompassing his love of college football. Yes, it was just an old black-and-white, nothing more, but at the risk of sounding trite, I suppose the eternally colorful Cook was there in spirit.

“Why do I love college football? The passion,” it read. “A lot of us who follow college football are like Walter Mitty. We dream of being the Saturday hero. On Sundays they play for money. On Saturdays they play for passion, for the love of the game. I think that’s why it’s our greatest sport.

“When people study this civilization ten thousand years from now, historians are going to be baffled about why more people followed pro football than college. They are going to decide that it was a weakness of this civilization that more people wanted to watch pro football on Sundays rather than college on Saturdays.

“Many things have changed about the game during my lifetime, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the passion.”

Cook, a national commentator once dubbed the “Pope of College Football,” died in his sleep last Thursday morning at the age of 81. Pitt paid tribute to its sports information director of 1956 to 1966 during Saturday’s game.

I’m young and haven’t yet entered the name-dropping stage of my career, so I wish I had a more profound anecdote than what I’m about to share. But even I could recognize that aforementioned passion on the one or two occasions I interacted with Cook.

Speaking from a background in radio production, I appreciate any guest who is just as approachable as he or she is knowledgeable. Cook was the perfect combination of both. Every time I heard him on the radio, whether it was on a CBS Pittsburgh station, or a competing one, he carried himself with enthusiasm and professionalism (and yes, wit). He never acted like what he did was a chore. We should all be so lucky to have such perspective.

In fact, as much as I appreciated “hearing from” him this past weekend, I previously stumbled upon another highly quotable quote, as originally told to him by former Pitt AD Tom Hamilton, that I, for one, take very much to heart as I try to find my way:

“No matter how badly you screw up, they’re still going to kick off at one o’clock.”

(Or, on some rare occasions, 11 A.M.)

Thanks, Beano, for doing what I’ve always wanted to do: being yourself.

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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