Recalling an icon of local sports scene

Published on May 10, 2011 by

It’s been about four years now, but I still think about Bill Gonillo. Y’know, the guy with the camera.

Once upon a time, a couple of friends and I traveled to New Haven to attend a staged play reading of “The Odd Couple” at the Shubert Theatre. And in what turned out to be the final time they would perform the play together, this version starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

As you might guess, the performance was great. Klugman and Randall immediately went “off book” as the duo had long ago committed the entire show to memory.

They were absolutely outstanding.

After the show, we were lucky enough to have passes to a reception with the cast. Afterwards, I stupidly tried to interview Klugman, who is a throat cancer survivor and now talks in a barely audible rasp. He was pleasant, but after better than two hours of dialogue, Oscar was not in the mood for an interview.

I had a humorous exchange with Tony Randall and I actually got Felix to rise out of his chair for a brief bit of improvisation. That night is a great memory for me. And here’s to the great Tony Randall.

Another reason I often think about that night at the Odd Couple, is that every time I attended a local sports event around here, it seems I was constantly reminded of Klugman and Randall’s performance.

You see, Bill Gonillo was also at that event and so I was greeted with cries of that famed Odd Couple line “Oscar, Oscar, Oscar,” every time I saw Bill for the next several years, and I saw him a lot.

That night in New Haven was the first time I realized that we both loved the Odd Couple and we’d discuss the show at high school football games, Bluefish games and Sound Tiger games. Those discussions have been silenced now.

As most readers know, Bill Gonillo died four years ago at his home in Woodbridge. They say it was natural causes, perhaps resulting complications of diabetes.

That word natural seems out of place to me, because there really is nothing natural about it. What could be natural about a young guy dying at 44 years old?

For his last dozen years Bill was the sports anchor at News 12 Connecticut in Norwalk . He has also been the voice of Yale University football, the host of Inside Yankee Baseball on Radio 1300-AM and a host of many other gigs in Connecticut sports. More than that, he was a fixture on the local sports scene.

There have a lot of eulogies for Bill in the past few days and deservedly so.
This column probably can’t add a great deal to these eloquent tributes from the sports world, but it is cathartic.

The most important thing to know about Bill Gonillo is that he was a great guy.
He was warm, funny and he seemed like he had a thousand close friends. Bill would love to goof around. One of his running gags was a supposed feud with Captain L.I.Sounder, one of the Bridgeport Bluefish mascots. Bill would feign fury whenever he caught the sight of Sounder.

A couple of friends of mine ran into him at a Bluefish game once and said, “Hey, Bill, we know Rob Sullivan. He just deadpanned, “And you guys admit to that?”

Bill Gonillo absolutely loved what he did for a living. It seemed like he was grinning at every game he covered. He was roundly cheered at events like high school basketball games, because the fans knew their team would be on Channel 12 that night.

There have been stories in the press about Bill’s love for the buffet line and that was certainly no myth. I used to love seeing Bill at press conferences and the like, because he’d lead the way to the chow and I would follow right behind him.

I covered a game with Bill a few weeks before he died at Kennedy Stadium, and he I and Tim Parry of the FCIAC Football Blog had a great time yukking it up on the sideline. Bridgeport Central was hosting Greenwich and in the third quarter Bill was fretting about leaving to take footage of a game between Norwalk and Ludlowe. The Central game was a good one, so he kept delaying his departure, but he finally left, albeit unwillingly. After all, this was two top FCIAC teams playing in Bridgeport that night.

He looked great. No one could ever guess that he would be dead within days.
Those of us who cover sports lost a dear friend and the sports world in general has lost a consummate professional who truly cared about his job and delivered the goods every night. And we were all shocked and stunned when it happened. But remember that his spirit lives on on this anniversary.

As we parted Kennedy Stadium that night, about 90 minutes or so after being greeted with Oscar, Oscar, Oscar, Bill called out to me, “Five dollars for socks!” If you know the Odd Couple, you know that line. Attaway, Bill. Always leave ’em laughing.