Gandolfini does a job for Rutgers football

With ads for alma mater, actor aims to turn Knights into a team of respect

Sports Plus

August 18, 2002|By Andy Knobel | Andy Knobel,SUN STAFF

Rutgers football, which has won just one Big East Conference game in the past three seasons, can use all the help it can get.

Good thing the program has connections - James Gandolfini, a 1983 graduate who just happens to be the star of the HBO television series, The Sopranos.

Gandolfini, who plays mob boss Tony Soprano, recently shot a commercial gently twisting the arms of New Jersey residents to support the state's only Division I-A team.

In the spot, Gandolfini assures his pals they will have great seats at Rutgers Stadium.

"Close, real close," Gandolfini says.

The three friends are thrilled when they step onto the field, but then are seen holding the costumes of the Scarlet Knight and horse.

Gandolfini's former roommate, Mark Ohlstein, says sarcastically, "Close, real close."

This isn't the actor's first advertisement for the team.

In one last year, a fan approaches a table of five men and says: "This season is going to be great. Everybody's talking about it. It's a program the whole family can get behind."

The mythical Rutgers backer then asks for an autograph. As Gandolfini starts to oblige, the fan shoves the pen and paper to Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano.

"I can't take you anywhere," Gandolfini then tells Schiano.

Last December, Rutgers took its comedy act to Miami to try to muscle in on the Hurricanes.

In a unique approach to recruiting, the program spent $12,000 to lease a billboard on a major highway near Miami International Airport. The snowflake-covered message to southern Florida's football players and coaches included a picture of Gandolfini and Schiano. It read: "Season's greetings from Rutgers football."

Schiano, Miami's defensive coordinator before taking over at Rutgers in December 2000, got grief about the sign from longtime Hurricanes offensive line coach Art Kehoe.

"He needs a lot of billboards," Kehoe quipped.

Elevating Heisman hype

Washington State, spoofing its rural image, has begun a Heisman Trophy campaign for quarterback Jason Gesser by placing a giant photo of him on the side of a grain elevator in Dusty, Wash., population 10.

The 25-by-15-foot banner reads: "Gess Who 4 Heisman? Jason Gesser."

Estimated cost: $2,500.

It's a lighthearted poke at rival Oregon's campaign last season for quarterback Joey Harrington, whose 10-story likeness graced the side of a Manhattan skyscraper at a cost of $250,000.

Oregon State also is mocking Oregon's Harrington ad. School officials paid for a mural in downtown Portland that reads: "They chase the spotlight. We run to daylight."

Oregon isn't backing down, though. This year, it spent $300,000 to put wide receiver Keenan Howry's picture on a Times Square billboard.

Not left in stitches

The Louisville Slugger Museum paid for a billboard last year proclaiming it has "more old bats than a needlepoint convention."

Creators of the ad overlooked one key detail: Louisville is also home to the Embroiderers' Guild of America. The guild was not amused.

So, workers painted over much of the billboard, leaving the words "old bats" above a picture of a century-old baseball bat.

Compiled from wire reports and Web sites.

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