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Mangini survives appearance on 'The Sopranos'

NEW YORK -- Eric Mangini had a surprise sit-down with Tony
Soprano.

The New York Jets coach made a cameo on HBO's "The Sopranos"
on Sunday night -- and was lucky to not get caught up in all the
bloodshed on the violent mob drama.

Eric Mangini

Mangini

"I think 'star' would be a little bit too strong a word,"
Mangini said Monday with a chuckle. "It was just nice to be a part
of a show that I've followed for so long. 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."

The scene took place at the fictional restaurant Nuovo Vesuvio,
owned by Soprano's childhood friend, Artie Bucco. Soprano, played
by James Gandolfini, is having dinner with his wife, Carmella (Edie
Falco), when Bucco (John Ventimiglia) and his wife approach the
couple to catch up on family matters.

"Tone, you know who's in tonight?" Bucco then asks Soprano.
"Mangenius."

The camera pans to a table where Mangini, looking dapper in a
suit instead of his usual black Jets warmup top and shorts, and his
wife, Julie, are enjoying dinner.

"They had food out there, but we didn't eat the food," Mangini
said. "We just pretended we were."

Soprano turns to his puzzled wife and says: "It's the Jets
coach, sweetie. I should go say hello."

Soprano and Bucco walk over to the table and are seen in the
back of the restaurant talking with Mangini.

"It took me a long time to get into character," said Mangini,
who watched the episode Sunday night. "Playing me eating dinner is
a real stretch, but I worked with an acting coach and I think I
really nailed it."

The Jets coach did not speak in the brief appearance on the hit
show that will air its series finale next Sunday. The show's
casting group e-mailed the Jets a few months ago to see if Mangini
would be interested in appearing on the show.

"I was traveling at the time, and I thought it was somebody
playing a joke, but I researched it and they were doing the shoot
two days later," said Mangini, who told just a few friends about
the appearance before it aired. "I called Julie up and we decided
to do it."

Despite Sunday night's particularly violent episode, Mangini
wasn't afraid of getting whacked.

"I knew the context of what we were doing prior to getting into
it and felt very comfortable with being at the restaurant," he
said with a laugh. "It's not like Tony and I had any previous
affiliation or subsequent affiliation. It was more or less just
meeting another person at a restaurant who happened to be a fan of
the Jets."

Mangini said Gandolfini and the rest of the cast made him and
his wife feel comfortable on the set, but he has no plans to move
from the gridiron to the small screen on a regular basis.

"I've always respected TV and the creative part of both TV and
film and it's amazing what they're able to do in both of those
areas," he said. "But I'm very happy doing what I'm doing."