OXFORD - Donning their dark blue home jerseys and clutching flowers at their waists, Oxford High School football players stood shoulder-to-shoulder outside here Friday before they said a final goodbye to a teammate taken too soon.
Had this been a funeral for someone else, 15-year-old OHS sophomore Brandon Giordano would have been ready with a bear hug for mourners, and he undoubtedly would have found a way to lighten the mood with a joke when the time was right.
That’s the way he was described by friends and family members who spoke at Giordano’s funeral Friday morning, a week after he was killed in a car accident close to his home.
Inside the church, more than 300 people crammed into two floors – they filled the main foyer and they lined the walls – to pay their respects to a teen described by his assistant coach as “the funniest kid at Oxford High School.”
Gerard Carbonaro, an Oxford Board of Education member, coaches the offensive line known as the “tank squad," and Giordano was a proud member of that distinct club which the coach describes as a “family within a family.”
To describe Giordano's humor, Carbonaro told a story about a grueling football practice in the heat and how he thought Giordano was on the verge of getting sick. Instead, the offensive tackle who weighed more than 250 pounds and bench pressed about 300, ripped his helmet off and yelled something to the effect of, “Holy Hume! That sucked!” The rest of the team was in pain from the workout, too, but couldn’t help breaking out into laughter, Carbonaro said.
Carbonaro and all others laughed during Friday's service when funny stories of Giordano were shared. Carbonaro said he knew people were hurting, even though Giordano's mother, Angella Borrelli, has been "inspirational in the way she has handled the situation."
“Just know that Brandon is in a place full of love and humor, and he fits right in,” Carbonaro said.
Carbonaro's advice for young people in the audience was "don't blink," a saying to encourage them to live life to the fullest.
That is exactly what Giordano did in his young life, said the Rev. Alfred D. Watts, the officiating minister of the service.
“The length of years does not dictate the value of life in those years,” he said. “Brandon lived his entire life.”
Speakers at the service said Giordano did that by being someone who was not afraid to show affection when necessary or to crack a joke in class that would have even the teacher laughing.
Giordano’s sense of humor frequently lifted the spirits of those around him, Watts said.
“There are two types of people in this world: those who lift and those who lean," Watts said. "Brandon was a lifter, making life a little better for others. Reflect upon Brandon’s life and allow him to continue to lift you up.”
‘The Great Brandino’
Giordano’s grandfather, Jerry Borrelli, is a man whom Giordano called "papa" and whom Giordano wasn’t afraid to wrap in a bear hug, even as he became a teenager.
Borrelli said he knew God had made his grandson special when he looked into his baby blue eyes for the first time 15 years ago. Since then, Giordano added laughter and affection to Borrelli’s life, the grandfather said. He said he's learned lessons from his young grandson.
“Life is a precious gift," he said. "I want to live it with passion like Brandon did."
Borrelli gave his grandson the nickname “the Great Brandino” after his grandchildren were watching The Sandlot, a movie featuring Dennis Leary and James Earl Jones in which children actors discuss the great ballplayer Babe Ruth and refer to him as “the Great Bambino.”
In Italian, Borrelli explained, the suffix “ino” refers to something that is “little and dear.”
“To me, Brandon was little and dear,” Borrelli said while tearing up. “He was such a loving kid.”
Borrelli said he always knew the immense impact his grandson had on their family, but he didn’t know until this week just how much of an affect he had on the Oxford community.
Borrelli said he's seen dozens of stories about his grandson in the media and on social media sites like Facebook.
“He’s been a busy kid,” Borrelli said, adding that if mourners “truly believe what we profess to believe, then we know he’s in a better place.”
‘We are young’
Those words played over and over again Friday morning in a rotating photo collage/video that displayed hundreds of photos of Giordano. The words came from the chorus of a song with the same name by the band “Fun.” featuring Janelle Monae.
As photos of Giordano and his football teammates from high school were shown, the lyics echoed throughout the church.
“To - night...we are young. So let’s set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun. …The angels never arrived, but I can hear the choir. So will someone come and carry me home?”
Several other photos were shown that proved Giordano’s spirit, indeed, burned bright. They captured him making funny faces, fishing with friends and family, hugging family members – including his mother – in a recent wedding party, playing as a boy with his siblings, clutching a Boogie Board on a beach…
Behind those images were the lyrics of Coldplay’s “Paradise.”
“Life goes on it gets so heavy….every tear a waterfall…I dream of para-para-paradise.”
Fellow football player and “tank squad” lineman Fred Widmer, who was shown with Giordano in several of the photos, eloquently summed up Giordano as someone who was willing to take the fall to protect his friends, while simultaneously cracking harmless jokes at their expense.
“I encourage you to take his spirit and embody it every day,” Widmer said. “I know I am, and I know he’d want us to.”