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Remembering when Tony Soprano met 'Mangenius'

Tony Soprano and the NFL crossed paths for only a moment.

It happened -- as many things did on "The Sopranos" -- inside the walls of a restaurant operated (but maybe not quite owned) by Artie Bucco.

"Tone, you know who's in tonight?" Bucco asked with a giddy smile. "Mangenius."

Tony looked over and there he was -- Eric Mangini, then the coach of the upstart New York Jets, dining with his wife, Julie.

"It's the Jets coach, sweetie," Tony explained to Carmela, his long-suffering wife. "I should go say hello."

I always loved that last line. I should go say hello. As if some type of heinous social faux pas would be committed if the mob boss and Jets coach didn't commiserate over the gabagool.

I thought of that scene after word spread through Twitter on Wednesday that James Gandolfini -- the actor who played Tony Soprano -- passed away suddenly while on vacation with his family in Italy. He was just 51.

It's hard to explain just how popular "The Sopranos" became during its 1999 to 2007 run on HBO. It was cultural touchstone stuff, the type of entertainment that comes around once in a generation. Think of the Monday morning buzz of "The Walking Dead" or "Game of Thrones," then multiply by 10.

"It was just nice to be a part of a show that I've followed for so long," Mangini told The Associated Press in 2007. "I've liked the show since it started and to have the opportunity to be part of it, especially here at the end, it was just a great opportunity."

It goes without saying you should watch this show if you haven't already. Guaranteed binge-watching ecstasy. Gandolfini's brilliant portrayal of a powerful and deeply conflicted mob boss was a major reason why.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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