Sam Stellatella, All American
As many of my friends and family already know, a giant amongst us has gone on to his eternal reward. Saverio “Sam” F. Stellatella died suddenly on March 26, 2017. One of my closest friends as well as one of my Belleville High School football heroes, Roger Caruso, has so sensitively and compassionately shared this news on his Facebook account with some wonderful pictures of Sam. With it having taken a couple of days to process Roger’s loving reverie of Sam, I have finally put together a few thoughts about our departed Sammy Stellatella. (For those not on Facebook, they can go to my blog at www.joecervasio.typepad.com as well.)
It would be redundant to recount all of Sam’s achievements in his 78 plus years on earth. But for those of you who did not have the “experience” of Sammy, his legend began on the grassy tundra of the fabled Park Oval in Nutley. There he was named High School All American in football in the mid-fifties as a ferocious linebacker for the Maroon Raiders.
As I sat in the cold stands of the concrete football edifice of Belleville Stadium at what would be Belleville Hall of Famer Tony Greco’s last Belleville-Nutley football game, I asked the founder of the Nutley Recreational Football Feeder Program who were the greatest in BHS and NHS history to put on the pads. With his Belleville selection he did not hesitate, … it was Richard Luzzi, my former teammate and high school and college football legend. But with Nutley, Tony took a deep breath. Since Nutley was his adopted town, and he still bled Belleville Blue and Gold, he did not want to offend. But then he eloquently detailed the panther-like skill, grace, speed, ferocity, and athletic brilliance of Sammy Stellatella. “From sideline to sideline he would roam, that mean lean with shoulder pads squared, and with what appeared to be a controlled sense of violence, he would engage the opposition.”
Also being named All State in baseball at Nutley High, Sam went on to Penn State where he lettered as a lineman and placekicker. His proud wearing of #62 for the Nittany Lions was just the beginning of his life-long loyalty to Linebacker University, their coaches, his teammates, the fans and all things Penn State.
After his graduation, he served time in the military, married the love of his life, Belleville’s own Lucille Fazio, became a teacher/coach, father of two daughters, sold some insurance, … and became as his daughter Carolyn informed us in her touching eulogy, the self-proclaimed “best” at whatever he did. And if you did not know him, at times you might find him cocky, zany, assertive, and certainly always doing “something”. In fact, some things that just might take you by surprise!
However, WHY will Sam Stellatella be so missed by so many? His personal achievements were behind him. What did he have to do with the men, women, and children who to this day are lamenting his passing? How did he become a best friend to countless, a father-figure, and the big brother many of us never had?
As some of us realize, Sam was not a “Baby Boomer”, nor of the “Me” or any other generation since the post-war years. He was actually part of the Greatest Generation to whom loyalty and traditions meant everything. In fact, he was an “old soul” as many of us refer to those among us who seem to bring to the present moment a profound respect for those who have gone on before us, their ways of thinking, values, beliefs, sacrifices, achievements, and failures. His blind loyalty and respect for the foundations of days gone by made a voyager like Sam rare. His Italian roots were grounded in the examples of his devoted parents and his older siblings who suffered during the Depression, only to humbly survive and prosper, … and to cheer for Sammy on the gridirons from Nutley to Penn State. He could not forget those who gave so much and their beliefs that were fast becoming outdated in today’s society of political correctness, duality, suspicion, self-centeredness, and judgmental attitudes.
In addition, Sammy Stell was a classic expressive behavioral type, always chasing the dream for himself and others, so enchanted by ideas of championships on other fields, success of those around him, and while creating a horde of friends, he didn’t mind followers as well. He gathered people together to experience the excitement of life, love, loyalty, and the lessons that can be learned each day. In the end, he was unique, … not a round, square, triangular, or even octagon peg, … He was made so differently he cannot be replaced.
But, maybe he can be.
You see, hundreds of us have dozens of pictures in our homes, CD’s, devotional candles, books, DVD’s, and precious and priceless memories Sammy captured and fashioned for us, … at his own expense of time and money. He celebrated us, because he appreciated us, loved us, and knew his blessings were so many he had to bless others.
Yes, that extreme loyalty, love, and old-school thinking sometimes made him different to those who have been too busy to wonder “why” Sammy did all that he did—“It’s so Sammy; God, that’s Sammy Stellatella for sure.” But in the end, it’s what’s on the Scoreboard of life, and he did all he could do to make us score in life.
Some wise people of days gone by must be considered: “That man is a success to the extent he makes others feel better about themselves after they have been with him.” Anonymous; “I have heard very little about the resolutions of the Apostles, but so much about their Acts,” Horace Mann; “By appreciation, we make excellence in others our own property,” Voltaire.
Ah yes, we felt so good about ourselves after Sam served us; it was not about words with Sam, it was his acts of kindness to all; and his appreciation even of the least of us provided him with a heavenly gift in return.
In the end, at his wake, funeral, and repass celebration, I learned more about Sam Stellatella. I observed a handsome, distinguished, well-dressed gentleman leaning over in the first pew of the church with tears literally dropping to the floor as the pallbearers escorted his dear friend to his rest; I heard stories of children who cried when they heard Mr. Stellatella was now with the Lord; and I saw a platoon of friends wearing their Sammy-like berets on the trek to the cemetery in a rain storm.
Indeed, those kids are still in mourning. They are little boys, … two brothers and a cousin, lamenting that Sam could not complete the story he had been telling them that would conclude with an Easter morning puppet show. Their grandfather, Joe Marra, did not have a solution, with his old Belleville wrestling coach now gone. But the oldest little guy had the answer for his crying buddies: “Don’t worry, I will do it from now on. I will be your Sam Stellatella. That’s what I will always do when I grow up.”
Sammy, job well done, thou good and faithful servant. You are not replaceable, but so many of us will now try to do for others what you did for us. You were more than an All American, … you were, and will always be are our friend.