Albert "Tank" Passuello, who at Hofstra University anchored the football team's line as well as performed on stage in a theater department he would later direct, has died. He was 76.
The restaurateur and tavern owner was a confidante of pro football great Joe Namath and friends with Jets coach Wilbur Charles "Weeb" Ewbank during the team's first heyday, as well as a force in Long Island theater. He died Oct. 1 of complications from diabetes in Bonita Springs, Florida, where he had moved from Merrick about five years ago.
Born in Brooklyn and raised by his grandfather, Passuello attended vocational school and served in the U.S. Marine Corps before attending Hofstra, with which he would have a lifelong relationship.
At 6 foot, 2 inches and more than 320 pounds, No. 77 was the biggest football player Hofstra had ever fielded at the time, prompting the nickname "Tank." He was a standout center and defensive lineman from 1960 to 1963, when Hofstra lost just four games in four seasons.
Off the field, Passuello was involved in more than a dozen performances at Hofstra. He would return to the Hofstra stage in 1974 to start The Gray Wig theatrical company with three other alumni. Film director Francis Ford Coppola, who graduated from Hofstra, wrote a play for the troupe, according to a 1999 New York Times article on theater on Long Island.
Passuello produced and starred in more than 100 productions through Gray Wig, including "Guys and Dolls" and, in 1976, "Fiddler on the Roof," in which he played Tevye.
The Hofstra president at the time, James Shuart, a close friend, appointed Passuello director of theater services at the university. He held the job until his retirement in 1999 from the university, where he also worked full time at the campus pub, Hofstra USA.
After graduating from Hofstra in 1963, Passuello for 10 years ran Bill Kusivich's popular bar/restaurant called Meadowbrook near the campus and began producing serious theater in the basement, including Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," according to a New York Times article. Passuello played Estragon.
When the New York Jets practiced across the street at Hofstra, Passuello became friends with Namath, the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, and Ewbank, who is also in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Some of the Jets' stars from those years, during which the team scored its Super Bowl upset in 1969, were friends of Passuello. Namath joked that the popular Passuello was the reason the Jets were attracting such big crowds.
In the 2005 biography "Namath" by Mark Kriegel, Passuello is mentioned several times as a confidante of the great and brash quarterback.
One night, the biography states, Namath was drinking heavily at Passuello's bar in part as a painkiller for his knees, ankle and elbows. When Namath ordered another glass of Johnnie Walker Red, Passuello is quoted as telling him, "Joe, you've got a game tomorrow."
In 1972 Passuello opened The Treehouse with Hofstra alum Bill Dineen in Merrick and operated the tavern-restaurant for three years before going to work at Hofstra.
A memorial event open to the public is planned at Hofstra's University Club on campus from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, said his son, Christian, of Oceanside.
In addition to his son, Passuello is survived by his wife of 47 years, the former Vivian Gustufson; children Michael, of Sea Cliff, and Dana, of Seaford; and nine grandchildren.
A private family service was held in Florida.