Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rutgers Loses a Loyal Son, James Gandolfini (B.A., 1983)

I just heard the sad news that James Gandolfini has passed away suddenly at the young age of 51 while on vacation in Italy.

We'll all remember him as Tony Soprano, of course, but I'll always remember him as one of the Scarlet Knights' most important supporters when very few people had jumped on our bandwagon.  There was the video he did in support of Rutgers football right after Greg Schiano was hired (but which I can't find right now on YouTube or anywhere else), but there are three Rutgers football moments that stand out in my mind on this sad night.  Here they are in reverse chronological order.
I remember seeing him at a spring Scarlet and White game in '08 or '09 with a young child on his shoulders walking around the field with all the other fans and players and while everyone was asking the players for their autographs, the families on the field left this family man and fellow fan alone even though we all recognized him.
I also remember seeing him on the sideline during a very cold and wet night at Michie Stadium in November 2007 as Jabu Lovelace and Ray Rice and the rest of the Scarlet Knights ran all over the Black Knights. Tony Soprano, dressed in Scarlet, was spending a lot of time on the home team's sideline in the soaking rain and wet snow talking to every West Point cadet who wanted to spend a few moments with him.
Finally, I remember September 4, 2004 when Rutgers beat Michigan State in the season opener, long before even the most wild-eyed Knights fans had any thoughts of joining the Big Ten.  It was an important upset win in the Schiano era and students immediately started flooding the field as the game ended.  My son, turning 15 that month, asked if he could hop the wall and join the students and I said yes. I watched from the seats as he wandered around in the end zone at the open end of the field with a smile on his face.  I noticed that the star of The Sopranos was standing about 10 feet from him, so I called my son's cell phone and asked him to turn around.  I watched as he walked right up to James Gandolfini and shook his hand. As we walked back to the car I asked him what he had said to the star of his favorite show.
My son had said, "Mr. Gandolfini, I love your show."
"You're too young to watch my show," Mr. Gandolfini had said.

More than any line from The Sopranos or any of his movies, that's the one quote I'll always remember when I think of this larger-than-life loyal son of Rutgers.

Rest in Peace.