By Steve Silverman
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The magic of “The Sopranos,” the best dramatic program in the history of American television, was the humanity it bestowed on Tony Soprano and his crew of mobsters.
Soprano killed, maimed, destroyed and robbed throughout his life as the boss of a fictional North Jersey organized-crime family. Yet, HBO’s landmark showed that he was far more than a villain.
James Gandolfini, 51, died on Wednesday while vacationing with his son in Italy. He was the actor who made Tony Soprano, and all of his layers, come to life.
Those who followed the series religiously know that sports were a big part of Tony’s life. First and foremost, he was a dominant figure in the sports-betting industry. All of his captains derived a good chunk of their regular income from sports betting, and nothing was better for the Soprano family than a profitable football season.
A big part of Tony’s personality was forged by his relationship with sports. What father couldn’t relate to Tony as he cheered on his daughter, Meadow, when she played high-school soccer? When Tony and the other members of his family found out that the girls’ high-school coach had slept with one of his players, they decided to have a conversation with him.
When Tony’s son, Anthony Jr., decided to play freshman football, it was a momentous event in both of their lives. A.J., as he was referred to on the show, was motivated to play football by the idea of popularity and possibly getting a girlfriend. But for Tony, having a son who played football was a point of male pride.
Soprano fairly beamed and crowed with pleasure when his son got off the bench and went into the game. When A.J. made a tackle and forced a fumble that saved the game, it was a great moment — probably greater for the father than the son. Any father who has either seen or dreamed of their child having a moment of excellence on the playing field can relate. We are happy and thrilled for our children, but we are also happy and thrilled for ourselves.
“Look at what my kid did. Did you see that? Do you know where he got that from? He got it from me.”
That was Tony’s message, and it’s universal among fathers when they see their kids perform well. It’s fleeting and it may not be realistic, but that moment is there. That little piece of humanity allowed viewers to relate to Tony Soprano — not the mobster, but the father. They also related to Tony the husband, Tony the son and Tony the tormented adult, who confided in his therapist.
Gandolfini was brilliant in the role and so was Edie Falco as Tony’s wife, Carmela. They carried the series and made it a classic.
Gandolfini was a sports lover when he was away from the screen and stage. The Rutgers grad was allowed to walk to the center of the field for the coin flip when the Scarlet Knights went to a bowl game in 2005.
The Sopranos went off of the air in 2007, but Gandolfini’s classic performance will live on for decades.
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