Beano Cook was and still remains a college football icon. Every sport needs to have voices to comment on the game that help us understand everything unfolding before us, and Cook was there for decades to share his insight on today’s game and make links back to how the game was once played. A true historian of the game, Cook has contributed much to the history of the game himself, including one of the more infamous predictions of all time.
Cook had a pure love for the game of college football, a sport he covered in some way or another until he passed away in the fall of 2012. By that time, Beano had long since been a fixture on College GameDay, but his presence was always near to the college football world even if in a reduced role. Beano made us all smile no matter the subject. He let us know that no matter how bad things may be, there was still good to be found in the sport of college football. The man knew more about college football and the history of the game than many of us will ever recall, which made his predictions so noteworthy. Beano wasn’t the guy who would make a prediction just for the sake of attracting attention to himself. He made predictions with a historical perspective in mind. This is what made one of his most famous predictions all the more noteworthy.
It can be difficult for many fans today to remember a time when ESPN’s College GameDay didn’t set up its stage on a college campus every Saturday in the fall, but in 1993 the studio show hit the road for the very first time to visit Notre Dame for a game between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Notre Dame. Cook was a fixture on the show, alongside Chris Fowler and Lee Corso. Before Corso became the character he is, Cook was the main attraction for his predictions. During the first road show for GameDay, Cook made a couple of bold predictions by suggesting Notre Dame would win multiple national championships in the next few years. He also predicted Heisman Trophy glory for one of its latest prized recruits.
“Let me tell you something about Notre Dame. In the next four years, they’re going to win the national title at least twice and Ron Powlus will win the Heisman Trophy at least twice,” Cook predicted. “He will be the best quarterback in the history of Notre Dame.”
For a guy so versed in the history of the game, Cook had to know that was quite the long shot to happen, but it also speaks to how highly Cook thought of Notre Dame and Powlus at the time. To this day, there has only ever been one player to win the Heisman Trophy twice, with Ohio State’s Archie Griffin pulling off back-to-back Heisman Trophy wins in 1974 and 1975. But in the 1990s, Powlus was one of the surefire, can’t miss prospects out of high school and fans in South Bend were very excited to see him play for the Fighting Irish and lead them to national glory. As Cook predicted, there was supposed to be much to celebrate in the years to come.
Powlus was the 1992 USA Today offensive prep player of the year, a USA Today High School All-American, and the Parade Magazine prep player of the year at Berwick High School in Pennsylvania. The top quarterback in the nation going to a program coached by Lou Holtz coming off a 10-1-1 record and a Cotton Bowl victory? This was bound to lead to greatness. It couldn’t possibly disappoint! Beano was spot-on with this prediction and there was no way it would backfire.
But oh, did it ever.
Powlus got off to a rough start in South Bend when he injured his collarbone in training camp before his freshman season. That injury was aggravated later in the fall during a practice, thus bringing his promising freshman campaign to a premature end. But Beano’s prediction was still seemingly safe. It was just one year for Powlus, and Notre Dame went on to go 11-1 in 1993 with Kevin McDougal leading the passing attack, but there was room to improve in the passing game. A healthy Powlus in 1994 would surely be the cure to help the Irish get an elusive national title, the first of at least two predicted by Cook.
Powlus earned the starting nod from Holtz for the following season, but the Irish went just 6-5-1 in a season when Notre Dame started the season ranked second in the AP poll. Losses to Michigan, Boston College, BYU, Florida State all derailed Notre Dame in 1994. Powlus did show some promise though, with a school record (at the time) 19 passing touchdowns. He would remain the starter for the Irish in 1995, but the season started with a top 10 ranking and a 17-15 loss to Northwestern. The Irish later lost to Ohio State, which likely kept Notre Dame from having a chance to sniff a national title shot. Powlus started the first 10 games for the Irish that season, but a broken wrist brought an early end to his season. Still no national championship, and not one trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Time was quickly running out for Cook’s prediction to even come half true.
In 1996, Powlus passed for 1,942 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions as Notre Dame went 8-3. Powlus would indeed go on to have a successful career at Notre Dame in the school’s record books, but the Irish had already fallen shy of winning a national title as predicted by Cook. Granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, Powlus was back on the team for one final season, and he etched his name next to a number of passing records at Notre Dame, making good on his hype of being one of the best quarterbacks in Notre Dame history. But his college career came to a close without ever receiving one vote from the Heisman Trophy voters from 1994 through 1997. Even Zach Wiegert, an offensive lineman from Nebraska in 1994, received 27 points in the Heisman Trophy voting during that span, including one first-place vote.
“I had some big games and we had winning teams, but it fell short of all those superlatives people expected of us,” Powlus would later say in Gerry Faust’s Tales from the Notre Dame Sideline. “I walked away knowing I’ll never quit, no matter how bad things get.”
Maybe Beano was suggesting Notre Dame would win at least two national championships at life?
In any event, Beano swung for the fences and missed big time on this one. It happens to everybody. Every season we talk about Heisman Trophy predictions for the upcoming season, and every year seemingly has a candidate or two or more pop up out of nowhere. Remember the three top Heisman picks going into the 2016 season? Very few people would have guessed Louisville’s Lamar Jackson would be the runaway favorite. We still love Beano and thank him for his many contributions to the college football world. Somewhere up there, Beano is probably thinking he fooled us again.