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Names & Games / Beware of Rutgers: Tony Soprano's on board

Sunday, December 23, 2001

By Pete Aldrich, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Despite a 2-9 season in which his team went winless in the Big East, Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano has landed the most intimidating recruit in America: Tony Soprano.

The Rutgers football program spent $12,000 for this billboard on a well-traveled highway near Miami International Airport. (Marta Lavandier, Associated Press)

And Schiano immediately put Soprano to work in Miami, hoping the New Jersey mob boss can muscle in on some of the nation's richest turf for high school football players.

In a unique recruiting approach, the Rutgers football program spent $12,000 to lease an advertising billboard on a heavily traveled highway near Miami International Airport. The billboard features Schiano and actor James Gandolfini, the star of the HBO television series "The Sopranos."

The snowflake-covered message says: "Season's greetings from Rutgers football."

"Whatever exposure we can get in that area is great," Schiano said. "You look at New Jersey, it's so talented. But per square mile, that one area might be equally, if not more talented."

The key for Schiano is to convince those players to come to New Jersey.

"In New Jersey we can get away with billboards with just Greg," Rutgers associate athletic director Kevin MacConnell said. "We don't need a hook. We're in New Jersey. It's Rutgers football. It's Greg.

"But Florida, our thing was, what can we do to get somebody to look at a billboard?"

Enter Gandolfini.

The actor appeared in a television commercial with Schiano earlier this year and didn't hesitate to help when called upon again.

"He's so generous to let us do that," said Schiano, who was Miami's defensive coordinator before taking over at Rutgers a year ago. "I'm well aware what it would cost us if we had to pay him. But he's an alum and he does it for nothing to make this a championship program."

If Tony Soprano can deliver Rutgers a championship, he'll be more than the most persuasive mobster on television.

He'll be a miracle worker.

More than a water hazard

Somsak Thepsutin, a cabinet minister in charge of tourism in Thailand, said the country is working on building a 27-hole golf course linking Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with nine holes in each of the countries.

The proposed site is 400 miles northeast of Bangkok in an area littered with land mines from the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia and the subsequent Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978.

"Yes, the area is booby-trapped, but it is a piece of cake for three countries to solve," Thepsutin said.

In other words, just don't hit the ball out of bounds.

Sealed with a kiss

As the losses mounted, the Detroit Lions became regular monologue material for Jay Leno, host of NBC's "The Tonight Show."

How do you keep Lions from attacking?
Put up a goal post.

You get the idea.

So, moments after Detroit beat Minnesota last week for its first victory of the season, wide receiver Johnnie Morton looked into the Fox cameras and told Leno to "kiss my [behind]."

Leno responded by inviting Morton to appear on his show Wednesday.

This time, Leno was the butt of the joke as he somewhat fulfilled Morton's wish by kissing a donkey. Morton, who taped his segment from the Silverdome, arranged for the donkey to be led on stage to receive a personal greeting from the comedian.

Who are those guys?

Talk about a team with an identity crisis.

The Western Illinois University men's basketball team played its first six home games this season with the word "Illinois" misspelled on players' jerseys. The white jerseys had "Illinios" on them. The word is spelled correctly on the team's purple road jerseys.

The misspelling was a manufacturer's mistake.

Just call her Mrs. 007

Former tennis player Pam Shriver is engaged to Australian actor George Lazenby, who played James Bond in the 1969 flick "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."

Hall of shame

Penguins right winger Billy Tibbetts would like to put his troubled past behind him.

But not everyone is willing to let him.

Maxim magazine includes Tibbetts in the Sports Felon Hall of Fame in its January 2002 edition.

Don't go anywhere

In a bid to deter jailbreaks during the 2002 World Cup, prisons in Thailand will allow inmates to watch the games on television.

But prisoners will be allowed to watch videotaped games only because officials fear live telecasts would stir gambling.

The budget blues

How financially strapped are the Montreal Expos?

According to Sports Illustrated, General Manager Larry Beinfest drove from Montreal to Boston for the winter meetings earlier this month.

Let's hope he used cheap gas.

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