LOS ANGELES — There’s a lot to be learned after just three weeks of a football season, yet at the same time it’s still a little early to come to conclusions about teams and players’ fate. I’m sure we all don’t expect Peyton Manning to keep this up or the Giants to be this dreadful, though surely we’re all surprised by Trent Richardson’s trade and Josh Freeman’s benching. This we do know: there are several teams and players performing very poorly and a few teams who look really good. One or two will stay on this path and everyone else will go up and down as the season ebbs and flows towards Super Bowl XLVIII.
That’s just how the National. Football. League. works. And why we live and die with it each week and why we love it. I can’t wait to see what Week 4 will bring. Until then, let’s find out who’s The Man.
32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) (32) — Of course, the game I bench Maurice Jones-Drew, since he’s playing against the vaunted Seattle defense, at home no less, he scores a late, garbage touchdown. Thank goodness that didn’t cost me a win, since my team is terrible. Then I really would’ve thrown something at my television. Even more so than watching the crappy “Dexter” finale.
31.) Minnesota Vikings (0-3) (30) — We’re about two more brutal losses to teams of the Browns quality (no offense, Cleveland) from me starting a Free Adrian campaign.
30.) Tampa Bay Bucanneers (0-3) (29) — How much would you pay to watch a webcam of the Bucs lockerroom? $2? $5? I think there’s some mess going on in there that I’m guessing is pretty damn interesting. Oh, and good luck, Mike Glennon, you’re gonna need it. And it’s time for a decent haircut, you’re a starting NFL quarterback now.
29.) Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) (28) — When my dad knows the Steelers are in trouble, they really are. Seriously, how are they going to score points outside of Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown breaking free on a long bomb?
28.) Washington Redskins (0-3) (24) — Preseason Week 3 went about as well as it could go, right? And did you know this is the first time EVER the Giants and Redskins have both started the year 0-3?
27.) New York Giants (0-3) (20) — The Giants are only this high because they’ve shown in the past it doesn’t matter how they start, they always seem to make it interesting down the stretch. How many more losses before the New York media starts calling for Tom Coughlin’s job?
26.) Cleveland Browns (1-2) (31) — So apparently the formula is: trade your best player, start your 3rd string QB and start winning games. Which team will be the next to follow this to Ws?
25.) Oakland Raiders (1-2) (25) — I really hope Terrelle Pryor isn’t hurt long term because he could become a special player. Though it might be time to have the conversation about the end of Darren McFadden, or at him being in need of a change of scenery to inject some life into his career.
24.) Carolina Panthers (1-2) (27) — Thirty-eight points?! Where did that come from this week? And does it say more about the Panthers being capable of turning this season around (they’re on a bye this upcoming week) or how miserable this Giants season is going to be?
23.) Arizona Cardinals (1-2) (22) — Almost positive this Cardinals team is going to be the one this season where I have no idea what to write about it each week. Most weeks it’ll probably be a lot of me gushing about the Honey Badger.
22.) St. Louis Rams (1-2) (21) — The Rams are the Cardinals are very similar in the respect that both have quarterbacks who aren’t really good but can make plays every once in a while, have solid skill guys who are underused, and defenses who could be great but something or another holds them back. Doesn’t help they play in the hardest division in football.
21.) Buffalo Bills (1-2) (24) — Not sure why but I like this team. I like E.J. Manuel. I like Doug Marrone. And I like that Manuel likes throwing to Stevie Johnson (have I mentioned that before?) They went up against a tough Jets team (can’t believe I just typed those words) on the road and nearly won. They’re going to be OK here in a bit.
20.) New York Jets (2-1) (26) — A month ago, I really thought we’d be talking about the temperature of Rex Ryan’s hot seat, not a 2-1 team with a rookie quarterback playing decently and a defense near the top of the league. Just amazing. When you think you have the NFL figured out, you realize you have no idea.
19.) Detroit Lions (2-1) (18) — The Lions got their first-ever win in Washington last week and then in the most bizarre story we’ve had this season, Nate Burleson broke is arm in a car accident when he was distracted by falling pizza and then hit the median. Your move, Bengals.
18.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) (16) — We know the Eagles don’t play any defense, but we also know the Eagles are still figuring out their own offense. Since the first half of the win against the Redskins they’ve been punked by the Chargers and Chiefs. I still think they’re going to be OK though. Not enough to make the playoffs but enough to lay the foundation.
17.) San Diego Chargers (1-2) (15) — Tennessee has proven to be a tough, hard-fighting team, so there’s no shame in losing to them. It seems like the AFC West is going to be more than a Denver runaway and the Chargers aren’t going to be an easy beat this year.
16.) Baltimore Ravens (2-1) (17) — I don’t know how the Ravens are above .500 but somehow they are. Very good win last week. Emotional with the retiring of Ray Lewis’s number and they found a way. That’s going to be their M.O. this season: finding a way.
15.) Dallas Cowboys (2-1) (14) — See what happens when DeMarco Murray gets his carries? Now if only he could run against the Rams each week he’d be in Adrian Peterson territory. I happen to think Dallas will beat San Diego this week which will set the ‘Boys up nicely this season, but we’ll see. They’re bound for a stinker.
14.) Houston Texans (2-1) (7) — There’s something about the Texans I don’t like. I can’t put my finger on it. Matt Schaub has done some Matt Schaub-like things this year. Arian Foster seems a bit disgruntled. Andre Johnson is dinged. But J.J. Watt is still awesome, but how long can he carry this team?
13.) Tennessee Titans (2-1) (13) — I haven’t seen more than a few seconds of the Titans play but I know Warren Sapp loves their defense. And when a first ballot Hall of Famer tells you something, you listen. Jake Locker is also proving to be very dangerous with his feet, which is something you can’t ever prepare for.
12.) Indianapolis Colts (2-1) (19) — Andrew Luck bent his old coach over his leg and gave him a spanking last week. I don’t know how else to explain what happened against the 49ers. Trent Richardson’s first carry in the blue and white was a touchdown and Indy’s defense made Colin Kaepernick look like a novice back there. This could be a dangerous team.
11.) Atlanta Falcons (1-2) (10) — I’m not convinced the Falcons could be fine without Steven Jackson, but an unhealthy Roddy White is really limiting Matt Ryan’s vertical attack. His offensive line isn’t giving him much, either, but this still is an explosive offense and a playoff team.
10.) New England Patriots (3-0) (8) — It’s hard to be undefeated yet still drop each week in the rankings, but that’s just what the Patriots have done thus far. I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but Tom Brady hasn’t been good through three games, tantrums, dropped passes or not. He’s missed a lot of throws. But as long as the defense keeps bringing its A Game, the Pats will be OK.
9.) Green Bay Packers (1-2) (5) — Their running backs ran hard, aside from Jonathan Franklin’s late-game fumble, and the defense was opportunistic, Aaron Rodgers made a couple bad throws late in the game which cost Green Bay. This is still a dangerous team but the jury is out if it’s playoff bound.
8.) Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) (9) — Andy Dalton is a good, not great, quarterback. He’s taken this team to the playoffs the last two seasons. He has playmakers all around him and a good defense. The Bengals should win the AFC North going away and contend in the conference. They should.
7.) Miami Dolphins (3-0) (12) — Raise your hand if you saw an undefeated start from the Dolphins coming? Anyone? Didn’t think so. Their running backs aren’t great and you can’t name one of their receivers other than Mike Wallace. But they play hard, Mr. Lauren Tannehill is slingin’ it and Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan are pinching the ends like mofos. They’re gonna be in the hunt all season.
6.) San Francisco 49ers (1-2) (4) — I still think the 49ers are good. I still think Colin Kaepernick is a superstar in the making, but as someone said to me last weekend, he’s feeling himself a little too much. He’s buying into his own hype a little too much. Take him favoriting all the “hate” tweets this week. Why? How does that motivate you?
5.) Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) (11) — What an awesome scene in Philly last week. Really proud of the fans for showing Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb the respect they deserved. Too bad they couldn’t show the same gratitude when the two of them were leading the Eagles to NFC East titles and conference championship games. Chiefs are making the playoffs. Mark it down. That defense and zero turnovers, along with Jamaal Charles, they might even beat Denver.
4.) New Orleans Saints (3-0) (6) — Would you believe the Saints are 4th in Total Defense (295.7 ypg) and 6th in Offense (404.3 ypg)? Jimmy Graham is out of his mind right now and though it appears New Orleans has zero running game right now, at least it doesn’t have to worry about always being in a shootout with teams.
3.) Chicago Bears (3-0) (3) — Jay Cutler has the mojo working so far but before we all get carried away, myself included, let’s remember he’s gotten off to hot starts each of the last few seasons with the Bears with nothing to show for it. So while he looks great now, let’s not count the cubs before they’re done hibernating.
2.) Denver Broncos (3-0) (2) — Actual Yahoo headline on Tuesday: “Is it too early to give Peyton Manning the 2013 NFL MVP?” Manning’s stat line this season is ridiculous with 1,143 yards, 12 TDs and ZERO picks, not to mention his 73% completion rate, only 4.2% higher than his previous career high, but MVP? After 3 weeks? Slow the truck down, people.
1.) Seattle Seahawks (3-0) (1) — Yes, the Seahawks gave up 17 points to the Jaguars. Yes, that is unacceptable. Yes, they’ve won 10 in a row at home. No, they will not lose at home this season. Yes, they are The Man until there’s a something in the “L” column.
LOS ANGELES — Wow. What a Week 1 in the National. Football. League. Hey, what do you think Ryan Seacrest? Cool. Seriously, though, it had stunning plays, fantastic finishes and rousing introductions to the league, it’s hard to believe we went seven months without football. Seriously, it’s almost as if the epic Super Bowl 46 and Ray Lewis’s final cry were an eternity ago, and combine that with what seemed like an offseason cloud that would never lift. But lift it has, and the 2013 NFL season couldn’t be off to a more amazing start.
When I last left you here at the “You’re The Man” rankings back in February, I asked questions each team should be thinking about heading into the offseason, along with their final rankings. Now, as we head into Week 2, I’m going to give you their rank along with how they answered my question plus one more to think about as we embark on 22 weeks of pure football bliss.
As always, these are scientifically proven and 100% accurate. Now let’s find out who’s The Man.
32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2013 record: 0-1) (2012 final YTM ranking: 32) — Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t get paid and Shad Khan didn’t bring in Tim Tebow, which means you can bet MoJo will be doing the Eisen Podcast End Zone Dance for another team next year while Blaine Gabbert continues to throw interceptions for the worst dressed team in the NFL. Seriously, how bad are those helmets? Burning Question: How do they get worse? Honestly, what do they do for an encore, sign that 9-year old girl from the YouTube videos last year to return kicks? Wait, that might actually work.
31.) Cleveland Browns (0-1) (26) — Brandon Weeden has some great AARP insurance because it guaranteed him the starting job this season, and would you believe the help he and Trent Richardson were seeking actually came? Maybe it’s because I watched two Browns preseason games and they looked above average, or maybe I got drunk listening to Bernie Kosar during the broadcasts. Burning Question: Every year there’s a team that surprises, could the Browns be this team?
30.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) (16) — If you want to stop explosive passing offenses you go out and trade for a guy like Darrelle Revis. Or you just go get the man himself. Now, whether or not he’s 100% healthy is another question, but in the NFC South, the Bucs are the only team who improved defensively. That’s a start. Burning Question: Josh Freeman was all over the map in Week 1; if Tampa Bay wants to be a player, he needs to be consistent and consistently great. Jury’s out.
29.) Oakland Raiders (0-1) (30) — Well, it’s always nice to start the column off with a correct prediction, like I did in accurately guessing Carson Palmer would be let go in favor of Terrelle Pryor. What I didn’t anticipate is Matt Flynn crapping down his pants in the process after being given the keys to the… wait, what kind of car would the Raiders be? I’m thinking the burnt out minivan Thomas Kubb has to drive at the end of “Project X” (awesome movie). But hey, at least he had wheels. Burning Question: At what point this season will Darren McFadden just say “eff it” and stop showing up for work? Week 6? 10? 2?
28.) Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) (15) — The Steelers thought they found some running help, then Le’veon Bell got hurt and is out six weeks. Now, their most important offensive player not named Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season, after Maurkice Pouncey’s knee injury in Week 1 vs. Tennessee. Burning Question: A team without an identity heading into the season, Pittsburgh’s back is against the wall immediately. What team will emerge from the smoke as the season rolls on?
27.) Carolina Panthers (0-1) (17) — So the Panthers went out and kept their roster basically the same as 2012 and what happened, Cam Newton had his lowest total yardage output of his career in Week 1. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Burning Question: This is something to monitor as the beginning of the season moves on, because Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and faster.
26.) New York Jets (1-0) (27) — Turns out Mark Sanchez got irrevocably broken sooner than I anticipated. But for the second year in a row, the Jets did Sanchez dirty (see what I did there) by bringing in another quarterback while at the same time pledging he was the man. He’s never been the man. Ask me point blank and I can’t tell you why I feel bad for Sanchez, I just do. He didn’t deserve all this. He could’ve been a fine NFL backup for a dozen years. Sadly, I think he’s out of the league in two. Burning Question: How exactly will Rex Ryan go down? Will it be guns blazin’ “Desperado” style? Will it be quietly in his sleep? Will there be a bloody horse head? Will he choke on a Krispy Kreme? I just hope it’s broadcast live on NFL Network.
25.) Minnesota Vikings (0-1) (12) — It’s almost as if the Vikings read my column back in February, because they went out and signed Greg Jennings and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson to be pass catchers for Christian Ponder. But in Week 1 they were hardly effective. And after a 78-yard jaunt on his first play, Adrian Peterson was held to 17 yards on 15 carries. Get used to this, Vikings fans. Burning Question: It’s still all about Ponder for the Vikings. If he can develop and make teams respect the pass attack, this will be continue to be a playoff team.
24.) Buffalo Bills (0-1) (23) — The Bills were 7 seconds away from beating the Patriots, and the Dolphins took care of Cleveland in Week 1, which means Bills fans have something to be encouraged by. However, CJ Spiller was held in check and failed to show anything really of what made people think last season he could be a superstar in this league. EJ Manuel, however, now there’s something Bills fans should be encouraged by. Burning Question: Will Manuel be the guy this season and make Buffalo forget about Fitz, Trend Edwards, Rob Johnson, and all the other jamokes it trotted out behind center since No. 12 hung ’em up?
23.) San Diego Chargers (0-1) (22) — Do you think Norv Turner watched the Monday night game? Let’s say that he did. What do you think his range of emotions were? Kinda like Deb on “Dexter” I’m guessing. In the end, Norv got the last laugh after the Chargers choked away what would’ve been a pretty big statement win to start the year. Now who do you blame? Philip Rivers? Burning Question: Will Manti Te’o get himself a real-life girlfriend this year? I hope that’s reported on to no end like we all did his fake one.
22.) Arizona Cardinals (0-1) (28) — Bruce Arians decided on his quarterback and the name he pulled out of his Kangol hat was Carson Palmer. I’ll let you make your own joke. I actually think the Blonde Bomber could have a big season and no, he didn’t pay me to say that. Burning Question: Will we see the Larry Fitzgerald of old this year or did the year’s of gawd-awful quarterbacking suck the superstar blood from his veins?
21.) St. Louis Rams (1-0) (21) — Tavon Austin might not be a huge, household name as we head into Week 2, but it was a splash, and a potentially explosive one for Sam Bradford and that Rams offense. Austin wasn’t showcased at all in the preseason and exactly how he’ll be used is something everyone is watching for. Burning Question: Is Sam Bradford going to finally show he was worth of that #1 pick back in 2010?
20.) Tennessee Titans (1-0) (25) — The Titans kept Chris Johnson and his 1,200 yards around this year and people are predicting a comeback season for CJ. Looking at his stats, he’s never had a sub-1,000 yard season, which is pretty amazing. You wonder how much he has left in that tank. Burning Question: What will the Titans get out of Jake Locker this season and can he be a franchise quarterback?
19.) Detroit Lions (1-0) (24) — I don’t think anyone on the Lions got arrested this offseason (though league-wide odds would say otherwise) so that’s a good start, but this team is still full of knuckleheads and it begins with the head coach. Burning Question: Matthew Stafford got a boatload of cash this offseason for his 17 career wins; does he improve from the chubby gunslinger to elite status to carry his team?
18.) Miami Dolphins (1-0) (20) — The Dolphins went and out signed Steelers big-play receiver Mike Wallace to catch the ball from Lauren Tannehill’s husband but that didn’t stop No. 11 from saying the media should “ask the coach” after the game as to why he wasn’t more involved in the offense. Uh oh. Burning Question: Do they have enough defense to stop the Patriots and win the AFC East?
17.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) (31) — Here’s the funny thing, even I’ve talked myself into being a Chiefs fan. I’m almost ready to pick them to win the AFC West. Unlike most, I don’t think Denver can repeat 2012 and San Diego/Oakland are completely inept. Burning Question: How much weight will Andy Reid put on this season? OK, a serious question: will Jamaal Charles carry the ball on consecutive plays?
16.) Indianapolis Colts (1-0) (9) — The Colts picked up right up where 2012 left off, meaning Andrew Luck had to lead them from behind to victory, against the hapless Raiders, no less. Indy didn’t get any better on defense so look for Luck to have a lot of games like Week 1. Burning Question: Peyton Manning made a huge leap in his second year in the league; can Luck do the same and a repeat playoff berth as well?
15.) Washington Redskins (0-1) (10) — In the first half against the Eagles, it looked as if My Good Friend Robert hadn’t run or played football in quite some time; which he hadn’t. He either a) shouldn’t have been out there or b) should’ve played some in the preseason. His health is paramount. Burning Question: Will Robert stay quiet this season (the opposite of his M.O. this offseason) and let his superb play do the talking?
14.) Baltimore Ravens (0-1) (1) — It isn’t exactly clear who replaced Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Dannell Ellerbe, or even Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin, but they still have the hardware and every team this year is going to give the Ravens their best. That is a fact. Burning Question: When the Ravens get behind in games, much like they did in Week 1, who is going to be their go-to guy to bring them back? Bueller?
13.) New York Giants (0-1) (14) — As it turns out, consistency is not for sale at any price, though Tom Coughlin probably wishes there was a price tag attached so he would at least know what it might cost him. You saw the famed Giants roller coaster on full display Sunday night in Week 1 vs. the Cowboys. Six, count ’em, six turnovers but yet there they were, a final drive touchdown away from victory. Get used to it. Burning Question: In the wake of Andre Brown’s injury and David Wilson pissing down his leg for the second straight season opener, what will New York do at running back to compliment Eli Manning? ‘Cause they have to do SOMEthing.
12.) New Orleans Saints (1-0) (19) — The Saints were DFL in the NFL in defense last season and hired Rob Ryan to make them less sucky. So far, so good, holding the explosive Falcons to 17 points in a huge Week 1 win. Hey, when you hit rock bottom, there’s only two ways to go: straight up or sideways. Burning Question: Will New Orleans consistently be able to stop teams so that Drew Brees doesn’t have to score 40 a game to win?
11.) Houston Texans (8) (1-0) — There’s no boost to the secondary like adding the words “Ed” and “Reed,” however you’d like to get the Ed Reed that was making Pro Bowls and winning Super Bowls, not the one who looks better in a tux at the Oscars Red Carpet with me. Unfortunately, that’s who the Texans have at the moment. Who knows when Ed is going to play again, because he sure doesn’t. Burning Question: Could this be the beginning of the end for Arian Foster? Simmons threw out Larry Johnson’s name in his Cousin Sal podcast and it doesn’t seem that far off given how Monday night played out.
10.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) (29) — Not only did Chip Kelly stick with Michael Vick, but after watching what a disaster Geno Smith has turned into with the Jets, I’m sure Mr. Hurry-Up is doubly glad he didn’t trade his whole draft away to get him. This new college-style offense seems tailor made for Vick, who is flying under the radar as someone who could have a potential monster season (OK, I’m talking myself into him after drafting him in my 5th fantasy league). 2013 Burning Question: When will the first column be written saying “I told you so” about Chip’s offense never being able to work in the NFL?
9.) Chicago Bears (1-0) (13) — It seems as if the Bears are going to replace Brian Urlacher with an even better version of 2012’s Peanut Tillman. It took him all of 15 minutes to have two forced turnovers. Though rookie MLB Jon Bostic looks as if he could be the real deal. Burning Question: As always, the onus is on Jay Cutler to lead this team and be the new face of the franchise. Whether he can do it is a whole other red hot question.
8.) Green Bay Packers (0-1) (7) — Green Bay didn’t get younger or faster on defense and guess what happened? Colin Kaepernick torched them again. Oops. Packers/49ers is turning into one awesome rivalry. Burning Question: Will Aaron Rodgers score enough points this season to render the inept Green Bay defense unnecessary?
7.) Dallas Cowboys (1-0) (18) — Dallas brought in Monte Kiffin to call the defense and Bill Callahan to call the offense, leaving head coach Jason Garrett to supervise and ya know, be the head coach. While try as they might to lose it, a Week 1 win against the rival Giants is a good start. Still, gotta be weary of Tony Romo’s bruised ribs. Burning Question: Will Dez Bryant be the all-world guy we saw the last 8 weeks of last season or the dog of the first 9?
6.) Atlanta Falcons (0-1) (3) — You want to know how the Falcons improved on defense? They let John Abraham and Brent Grimes walk, and signed Osi Umenyiora. That’s it. Not sure how they stop the 49ers and Seahawks with that, let alone the Saints, Cowboys or Packers. Burning Question: Can Matt Ryan complete 4th and Goal to advance to the Super Bowl? Because Arthur Blank sure has hell didn’t pay him serious Home Depot money not to.
5.) New England Patriots (1-0) (4) — The Patriots did sign a receiver this offseason. That is a fact. They did not sign a big-play corner guy (Aqib Talib re-signed) nor did they bring in a big-time rush end. Now, if you had Game 2 as the first Danny Amendola would miss, raise your hand. I see too many hands up. Maybe my roommate was right. Who knows what the Pats are gonna do this season. Burning Question: Who will emerge as the darkhorse offensive go-to guy, since it has to be someone?
4.) Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) (11) — If “Hard Knocks” star Jay Gruden uses his Week 1 gameplan for A.J. Green in the playoffs this time around, I’m guessing the Bengals will have a different result. Dude is a beast and could be better than Calvin Johnson this season. It’s just up to Gruden and Andy Dalton to get him the ball. Burning Question: How will the Bengals handle the title role of expected greatness?
3.) Seattle Seahawks (1-0) (5) — Despite the suspensions and notoriety the Seahawks got this offseason, I still stand by them being the most complete team in the NFL, though they’re not my pick to win the Super Bowl. I also can’t recall if they bolstered their offensive or defensive lines. Go Hawks! Burning Question: What will Percy Harvin look like when he returns to the team for the final month? Will he make an impact or will it not matter at that point?
2.) Denver Broncos (1-0) (6) — Wait. Peyton Manning just threw another touchdown pass. OK, back to the column… In other news, was I really that stupid to predict a Favre-in-2010-esque season for Manning this year? Jesus. No wonder I’ve never won the ROFFL championship. Burning Question: Will Rahim Moore be able to knock down a 2nd-and-72 Hail Mary?
1.) San Francisco 49ers (1-0) (2) — Oh, you want Colin Kaepernick to stand in the pocket and beat you? No problem. You didn’t think they had a deep threat with Michael Crabtree out? How’s Anquan Boldin doing these days? Forgot how awesome that defense was? How’s Aaron Rodgers feeling this week? Burning Question: As the tape grows on Kaepernick, will someone figure out a way to stop this kid, or will he continue to wreck the whole league?
Finally, we made our picks on the Rich Eisen Podcast last week and here’s who I said would take home individual crowns:
Passing Champion: Matthew Stafford, Lions
Rushing Champion: Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, Patriots
MVP: Tom Brady, Patriots
Super Bowl: Patriots vs. Falcons
LOS ANGELES — The first time I ever saw “The Sopranos” was in the Spring of 2001. The show was leading into its third season, and as customary, HBO was replaying Season 2 every Sunday night as a buildup. I got hooked by my dorm neighbor and great friend, Rich Kiss, who like the Sopranos themselves, hailed from New Jersey. He was a junkie for the mobster hit and I figured, if he liked it, then I would, too. One of the first episodes I remember seeing was the one where Janice kills Richie Aprile. Blown away a semi-main character would just be offed like that, I turned to Rich in disbelief and he looked at me and said, “that happens ALL THE TIME!” Of course, he knew what was coming at Season 2’s end, but when Big Pussy met the fishes, let’s just say I was the one who had trouble sleeping for a few days.
And I was forever hooked.
It wasn’t the violence that intrigued me about “The Sopranos,” however, it was the performances. They were unlike anything on television, and the actors, writers and producers knew that as much as we did. (I couldn’t even begin to tell you what else I was watching on television at this point outside of “SportsCenter.” Probably “Survivor” or Craig Kilborn.) ‘Sopranos’ was edgy. Gratuitous with its swearing and excess, and hilarious with its rough dialogue. These guys were gangsters but real people with surprisingly normal problems. They argued with their wives, their kids were a pain in the ass, and their troubles on the job always came home with them. Sure, they talked funny and dressed gaudy but we kinda liked them, even though we hated them.
At the center of it all was Tony, played to perfection by James Gandolfini, whom the world was shocked to learn died Wednesday at age 51 while on vacation in Italy. Larger than life, commanding of your undivided attention whenever he appeared on screen, and surprisingly sympathetic as the ruthless and murderous lead of the show, Galdolfini consumed the role, swallowed it whole and spit out pure gold. He made you root for the bad guy and almost had you feeling guilty when you didn’t. (One of the best illustrations of this is in the show itself, when Agent Harris, a longtime nemesis of Tony, cheered out after learning of Phil Leotardo’s death, “we’re gonna win this thing!”) Gandolfini made wanting evil to triumph cool. Make no mistake, Tony Soprano is one of the baddest men in television history, yet because of Gandolfini’s weekly performance, you wanted him to come out on top. You wanted him to finally find peace and that loving relationship with his family, to get past the panic attacks, to defeat New York. You wanted those things and you looked coldly the other way when he stepped out of bounds from time to time.
Certainly no one looked like him on television, which was another part of his appeal – he was big and balding, not exactly leading man looks – and no one could cuss like him. I’d argue he brought back creative cursing. What fun it must’ve been to write those scenes in which he went off the deep end with Carmela or Christopher or Paulie or the poor bartender at the Bada Bing, and then watch Gandolfini flawlessly execute them.
All this paved the way for characters like Don Draper and Walter White and Vic Mackey and Dexter Morgan and all the rest of our cable anti-heroes who lead questionable lives but whom we all want to see come out squeaky clean in the end. The power of the individual performance allowed not only “The Sopranos” but the rest to take big chances and change how we consumed television. It allowed Showtime to take a chance on an anti-hero, and FX and AMC and Netflix to do the same. It made Sunday nights the must-see TV night. Think about all your favorite shows… they all air on Sunday nights. That’s because of the power and the emotion and the rage and the ability of James Gandolfini, of what he did every Sunday night on HBO for 86 episodes.
He was truly amazing.
So much was written Wednesday about the man and it was all incredibly moving and tugged at your heart strings. By all accounts Gandolfini was a gentle giant who never forgot a face or an encounter, no matter how small, and made everyone feel as if they were the most important person in the room. These reflections couldn’t have been more refreshing to read. Someone who achieved his level of fame could’ve easily acted differently and no one would look the other way. Just goes shows the type of man he was and the legacy he leaves behind.
I spent any free time Wednesday watching old ‘Sopranos’ clips, thinking about his other flawless cinematic performances, and reading countless lists and reflections about the man, A co-worker and I even went and ate Italian for dinner at a place called “Godfathers,” which even had a painting on the wall inside of Tony and his crew. Just seemed like the right thing to do. And who could forget my old 1999 Chevy Tahoe, which I aptly called “Stugots” after Tony’s boat on the show. I told my buddy, Jay, that it was a night like Wednesday night I wish I still had Stugots, so I could just take a drive and pretend I was Tony Soprano huffing up the driveway one last time.
Rest In Peace, James.