Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini (1961-2013): Helped raise the profile of Rutgers football

Hollywood might have lost one of its most recognizable leading-men with the stunning and sudden death of James Gandolfini on Wednesday but, at the same time,  Rutgers University lost the celebrity face of its football team with the loss of "The Sopranos" star.

Whether you were from the state of New Jersey or not, you felt like you knew the actor — whose Tony Soprano mafia-boss character had a big appetite for food, life and violence — but it was his gentler real life persona who had a soft spot for his alma mater's one-time struggling football program.

Back in 2001, when the HBO hit The Sopranos was at its height with Gandolfini — an '83 Rutgers alum — the former nightclub bouncer appeared in a Rutgers football commercial with the then Scarlet Knights' head coach Greg Schiano.

The memorable spot was called "The Fan" and went like this:

“This season is gonna be great! Everybody’s talking about it! It’s a program the whole family can get behind,” Gandolfini says while sitting at a table with four other men, including Schiano.

A fan then comes up and asks for an autograph. Gandolini puts his hand out, but the fan gives the pen and paper to Schiano.

“I can’t take you anywhere,” Gandolfini says.

Then in 2002, Gandolfini shot another Rutgers football commercial. This time, Gandolfini tells his friends (real life buddies) they’ll have great tickets to Rutgers games.

“Close, real close,” Gandolfini says of the seats.

The three friends are then shown on the field, but are holding the Scarlet Knight and horse mascots costumes. One of the friends then sarcastically says, “Close, real close.”

The rise of Rutgers football in the mid-90's coincided with the popularity of "The Sopranos" and both helped put New Jersey, Rutgers and Bada-Bing on the pop culture radar screen.

When Rutgers made it to the Insight Bowl in 2005 – which was their  first bowl game in nearly 30 years – they made Gandolfini an honorary captain.

The death of the 51-year-old Gandolfini hit Rutgers and some of its former players hard.

The other well-known face of Rutgers football, former star tackle Eric LeGrand — who was paralyzed from the neck down in a 2010 game against Army — tweeted his (and everyone's) sentiments via Twitter.

He was a true Jersey guy who done good.

No comments:

Post a Comment