Rest In Peace, Mark Cook


My heart pounded as I walked down the hallway and up to the doors of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers locker room. It was my first time in a professional sports locker room, and I was there to try to get some interviews and audio clips for ESPN 1040, for whom I served as Buccaneer Insider. Inside, there was a mass of humanity moving back and forth.  Guys already dressed headed for the doors. Players hanging out and talking. Players moving to and from the shower area. Others at their lockers listening to music or playing on their phones. And a group of a dozen or so media members stood in the dead center of the room, looking for a player to approach.

I approached one particular player (who I won’t name here) and asked him if I could ask him a few questions about the upcoming game at Cincinnati. “Nah, man.” was the response I was given. A little shell-shocked, I moved on to another Buccaneers player, who looked at his phone and gave me curt answers to my questions. In the middle of it, I learned the hard way that you can’t impede another player’s path from the shower to his locker while interviewing another player. So I quickly stepped out of the way.

I must have looked frazzled and out of my element, because a gentleman walked over to me and said, “Hey man, what’s your name?”. So I told him. He asked who I was with, and I told him. So he said, here, come with me. As we walked up to another player I was introduced to him and told him I was new. He let me ask a few questions, to which I got the content I needed to write my practice report.

That was the first time I met Mark Cook. And it was one of the best first impressions of my life.

I’ve mentioned it before on Twitter, but the media world can be…..well, not collegial in some respects, let’s just say. It’s a competitive field, sure. That’s understandable.  Everyone is trying to break a story, get the best source, be the best they can be for the folks who sign their paychecks. That’s business.

But the simple decency of treating someone like they’re not completely invisible – like just  smiling and saying hi when walking past someone – was not always the case with everyone in the Bucs media room. At least it wasn’t during my time there from 2010 to 2013. The shoulder was often cold from many in the room. That being said, I had the occasion of meeting some folks between One Buc Place and the Raymond James Press Box that I consider to be wonderful people and great members of the local media. Rick Brown, Ronnie Lane, Jenna Laine, Rock Riley, and Charlie Bernstein were among those that always would say hi and shoot the breeze while we watched practice or waited in line for Bananas Foster at halftime in the press box. They were what I hoped more of the local media would be, but often weren’t.

For me, Mark was even on another level. Mark just knew people. That was probably his strongest skill. Mark knew when to approach players. He knew what to ask; he always had thoughtful and engaging questions. I tried to model my thought process of forming questions off of what he would often ask.

And it wasn’t just that he knew players, who to approach, what to ask, etc. He had a personality that was suited well for his job. He just knew how to elicit a good answer and convey it accurately and effectively to the fan base. And he knew how to connect with players. I mean, he switched outfits with former Buccaneers tight end Alan Cross – his doppelganger – on Halloween in 2018. And it was a dead giveaway.

He just had that kind of relationship with players, which is evident from the outpouring of respect from current and former Buccaneers this week. And it was because he had gained their respect through the way he handled himself with them and his just and proper coverage of them for Pewter Report. The ability to make that kind of connection is simply innate and not something that you can teach. It’s a gift, really.

And boy, he loved his Seminoles. As a Hurricane alum, he was what I wanted in a rival fan. Fun, not chippy. I remember coming up and standing next to him one time during training camp at an outside media tent. He was standing up and wearing sunglasses. I was wearing a University of Miami shirt.

With a deadpan look, he leaned over and said in a low voice, “Those colors clash like hell, you know?”. I responded, “When is that damned Seminole logo of yours going to finally pass that kidney stone?”. We both cracked up.

That was 9 years ago. It’s been years since I’d seen him, but we had exchanged messages as recently as last month. I wanted to write this Thursday, but I didn’t have the appropriate words. I don’t know that I still do.

To be honest, I probably never will.

Mark, thanks for coming over to me that day, being a mentor, and becoming a friend.  I hope you are in a peaceful place, at rest, and I’m sending my prayers out to your family.

Along with Craig, Bucs Report would like to extend our deepest condolences to the Cook Family. Mark was a beacon of light and positivity, which is something this world will always need.

RIP Mr. Cook. You will be missed.