PITTSBURGH — Beano Cook, the college football commentator with an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport he dearly loved, has died.
The 81-year-old Boston native had worked for ESPN since 1986 and was sports information director at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, from 1956 to 1966. The school announced Thursday that Mr. Cook had died in his sleep.
‘‘He was one of a kind,’’ ESPN executive chairman George Bodenheimer said. ‘‘There never was and never will be another Beano. His combination of humor, passion, love of college football, and his engaging personality left an indelible mark on the sport and touched anyone who knew him.’’
Born Carroll H. Cook, he grew up in Pittsburgh before graduating from the university in 1954, and was known for his love of the college game and, in particular, championing the cause of northeastern teams including Penn State and Pitt before either school was a nationally known power.
‘‘Beano Cook was an American original,” ESPN host Chris Fowler said. ‘‘. . . He was an invaluable early mentor to me and friend. His imprint can still be seen on GameDay each week.’’
Mr. Cook, like many in the business, fell in love with simply being around the competition. With a career that took him so many places, it was hard not to get wrapped up in it.
‘‘Getting to know the athletes really provided me with my fondest memories,’’ Mr. Cook once said. ‘‘That was the most fun.’’
He said his favorites from his time working at Pitt were Mike Ditka, who went on to become a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and basketball star Don Hennon.
His wealth of knowledge about college football and memory for details made him an irresistible storyteller, as well a passionate pundit.
He was not always right, but he was not afraid to make bold pronouncements, such as when he predicted Notre Dame freshman quarterback Ron Powlus would win at least two Heisman trophies. Powlus never even won one, but Mr. Cook’s prediction made him famous forever.
In recent years, Mr. Cook was a frequent contributor on ESPN Radio and did a weekly podcast with ESPN college football writer Ivan Maisel.
He was an unapologetic defender of college football, while recognizing its warts, and was not shy about touting its superiority to the pro game.
‘‘On Sundays, they play for money,’’ he once said. ‘‘On Saturdays, they play for passion, for the love of the game. I think that’s why it’s our greatest sport.’’
Mr. Cook worked as a writer or media representative for the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Dolphins, the Mutual Radio Network, ABC, and CBS before joining ESPN.
‘‘Beano was a unique human being, and he was college football at ESPN,’’ ESPN analyst Lee Corso said. ‘‘I am indebted to him. Beano was a tremendous help at the start of my television career and I would not be where I am today without him.”
Mr. Cook received his distinctive nickname as a youth, when his family moved from Boston to Pittsburgh. A neighbor of the Cook family said, ‘‘Oh, from Boston, like the beans’’ and tabbed the 7-year-old Beano.