PITTSBURGH (AP) -Myron Cope, the screechy-voiced announcer whose colorful catch phrases and twirling Terrible Towel became symbols of the Pittsburgh Steelers during an unrivaled 35 seasons in the broadcast booth, has died. He was 79.
Cope died Wednesday morning at a nursing home in Mount Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb, Joe Gordon, a former Steelers executive and a longtime friend of Cope's, told The Associated Press. Cope had been treated for respiratory problems and heart failure in recent months, Gordon said.
Cope's tenure from 1970-2004 as the color analyst on the Steelers' radio network is the longest in NFL history for a broadcaster with a single team and led to his induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2005.
Even after retiring, Cope - a sports talk show host for 23 years - continued to appear in numerous radio, TV and print ads, emblematic of a local popularity that sometimes surpassed that of the stars he covered.
Beyond Pittsburgh's three rivers, Cope is best known for pioneering the Terrible Towel, the yellow cloth twirled by fans as a good luck charm at Steelers games since the mid-70s. The towel is arguably the best-known fan symbol of any major pro sports team, has raised millions of dollars for charity and is displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
``You were really part of it,'' Steelers owner Dan Rooney told Cope in 2005. ``You were part of the team. The Terrible Towel many times got us over the goal line.''
An announcer by accident, Cope spent the first half of his professional career as one of the nation's most widely read freelance sports writers, writing for Sports Illustrated and the Saturday Evening Post on subjects that included Muhammad Ali, Howard Cosell and Roberto Clemente. He was hired by the Steelers at age 40, several years after he began doing TV sports commentary on the whim of a station manager, mostly to help increase attention and attendance as the Steelers moved into Three Rivers Stadium.
Neither the Steelers nor Cope had any idea how much impact he would have on a five-time Super Bowl champion franchise that, within two years of his hiring, would begin a string of home sellouts that continues to this day.
Cope became so popular that the Steelers didn't try to replace his unique perspective and top-of-the-lungs vocal histrionics when he retired, instead downsizing from a three-man announcing team to a two-man booth.
``He doesn't play, he doesn't put on a pair of pads, but he's revered probably as much or more in Pittsburgh than Franco (Harris), all the guys,'' running back Jerome Bettis said. ``Everybody probably remembers Myron more than the greatest players, and that's an incredible compliment.''
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Associated Press Writer Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

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