|The late Mark Sobel Jr., whose kidney was donated|
to a former football player at the University of Maryland,
where his father, Middletown resident Dr. Mark Sobel,
played. / DOUG HOOD/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
If it were simply a game, the ties that bound the Sobels to Frank Romano — from the first meeting at former Maryland coach Jerry Caliborne’s National Football Foundation Hall of Fame induction at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1999, to the phone call from “Big Paul” Vellano, father of current Terrapins captain Joe Vellano, asking Romano to pull to the side of the road and just listen on that fateful night — wouldn’t have existed.
“Being on a football team, that’s the biggest fraternity there is,” said Romano. “The friendships will always come to the top. You went through a lot together and you always remember that. It follows you around after you leave school. You talk to guys from other schools and the stories tend to be the same.”
It was July 16, and Sobel, a Monmouth County orthopedic surgeon and former walk-on defensive end at Maryland, and his wife had just lost their 17-year-old son, Mark Jr., who had played football at both Middletown High School South and North, due to complications from acute myocarditis, an infection of the heart.