It was the passing of the mantle. On 21 November, as the final whistle was blown at the Juventus Stadium, one Gianluigi sought out another.
The master embraced the prodigy, handing him his shirt, desperate for one in return. Only Buffon would end the evening with a clean sheet, as his Juve side beat Milan 1-0 in Turin. But it was a moment that signified a new beginning.
Just a month after becoming the youngest goalkeeper ever to appear in Italy’s top flight, at 16 years and eight months, Gianluigi Donnarumma had been officially anointed as the future. As the successor to Italy’s greatest ever. As the new hero. The new Super Gigi.
“Donnarumma is a chosen one,” says Buffon, the most expensive goalkeeper in football history, an eight-time Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year, seven-time league champion, and World Cup-winner.
“He's on the right track to becoming Italy's best goalkeeper. That is his destiny,” said former Azzurri ‘keeper Marco Amelia. "He is incredible,” said Diego Lopez, the man Donnarumma ousted from the Milan team. “He is extremely young but seems ten years older than his actual age. He can make history.”
He already has. 6ft 5in Donnarumma, born 484 days after Buffon made his international debut, later became the youngest goalkeeper ever to represent Italy.
And the records have continued to fall. The teenager, who first grabbed the world’s attention by stopping three penalties in preseason (including one from Real Madrid's Toni Kroos), became the youngest penalty-stopper in Serie A history in August when his stoppage-time save secured a 3-2 win for his side over Torino.
“It was an unbelievable night,” said the youngster, who has spent a short life defying belief. It was little more than five years ago that Mrs Donnarumma was forced to bring her son’s birth certificate to a youth team game to prove he was playing in the right age group.
Born in the ‘goalkeeper factory’ of Castellammare di Stabia, some 35km down the coast from the Metropolitan City of Naples, Donnarumma always stood out, towering above even his older brother, Antonio, who also began a career between the sticks at Milan before stints at Genoa and Bari.
Tradition, then, has been the backdrop against which the Donnarumma story has played out its opening chapter. And the precocious young man is now penning his own tale.
He is a jewel for Milan and the future of Italian football,” said Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, who handed the precocious teenager his debut. He is fast-becoming the present.
Milan have the tenth worst defensive record in Serie A this season, but nobody has kept more clean sheets than Donnarumma, who also ranks in the top five for saves made so far this season.
He's also featured in the FIFA Ultimate Team of the Week twice this season since the game’s release. The mantle has been passed, and Gianluigi Donnarumma is clutching onto it just as tightly he did his hero’s jersey that November evening.