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Belly Laughs Tony Siragusa, the Ravens' massive, gap-plugging, run-stopping, life-loving defensive tackle, could end up as the toast of the town in Tampa

Jan. 29, 2001
Jan. 29, 2001

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Jan. 29, 2001

Belly Laughs Tony Siragusa, the Ravens' massive, gap-plugging, run-stopping, life-loving defensive tackle, could end up as the toast of the town in Tampa

The check arrived in a fancy envelope, and Tony Siragusa
shuddered at his good fortune. It was a gift from the football
gods, so Siragusa took the $1,000 signing bonus ($674 after
taxes) he received from the Indianapolis Colts in the spring of
1990--his first NFL paycheck--and went straight to a bank in his
hometown of Kenilworth, N.J. Though the bank had closed for the
day, his aunt was the manager, and when he asked her to give him
the entire sum in small bills, she happily obliged. Then, with a
wallet nearly as thick as his midsection, Siragusa barged into
Ross Brothers' Tavern and slapped the wad of cash on the bar.
"Then," he recalls, "we drank it. Every last dollar bill."

This is an article from the Jan. 29, 2001 issue Original Layout

If there's one story that captures the essence of Siragusa, the
Baltimore Ravens' wide-bodied, wisecracking, potbellied,
potty-mouthed, bighearted, large-living defensive tackle, then
scores of others serve the same purpose. The signing-bonus saga
just happens to be the tale he's telling at the moment, but
Siragusa, 33, has more material than he has bulk in his 6'3",
342-pound body. When the Ravens face the New York Giants in Super
Bowl XXXV, the Goose will be the biggest personality in the
ultimate game, a man revered by teammates, reviled by some
opponents and unrepentant about any feelings--or quarterbacks--he
has injured along the way.

One evening last week in Pine Brook, N.J., Siragusa took center
stage as he and his paisans--including some who 11 years earlier
had helped him drink away his signing bonus--had another
celebration at another boisterous bar. Partying at Tiffany's,
however, required no wad of cash. Siragusa is a co-owner of the
eatery and sports bar, which he and two partners opened in
November. Thanks to a contract holdout last summer, Siragusa has
earned more than $2 million this season, a salary he views as a
validation of his lunch-bucket approach to football.

"My abilities were overlooked for a long time, but people are
starting to see that I'm a piece of the puzzle," Siragusa said,
his voice booming above the din. "When I was in college, people
told me, 'Sure, you can stop the run, but anyone can do that. If
you want to make money in the NFL, you've got to rush the
passer.' That's bull----. It's like all the people who tell you
you've got to be in computers to make money. Yeah? You know
what--you still need a f------ plumber to fix your toilet, and the
scarcer they are, the more money they'll make. 'Cause what are
you gonna do, call a f------ computer guy to fix your f------
crapper?"

Everybody at the table--heck, everyone at the surrounding
tables--burst into laughter, a common response when the Goose is
on the loose. Siragusa is a salt-of-the-earth sage who can insult
you in the loudest, most embarrassing manner and still get you to
laugh along with the crowd.

Giants fans, beware. True, Siragusa was one of you once, growing
up 20 miles from Giants Stadium, and his restaurant will be full
of Ravens bashers come Super Sunday. Mindful of this quirk of
fate, Siragusa went behind the Tiffany's bar, mixed roughly 30
shots of a pink liquid he identified only as Goose Juice and
passed them around the bar before raising his glass of beer.
"Hey, here's to the Giants...," he said, pausing long enough for
patrons to exchange puzzled glances before he delivered the
kicker, "...kissing my ass!"

Siragusa doesn't suck up to anyone. Just ask Mike Gottfried, who
in 1987, his second year as Pitt's coach, passed out copies of
the school's fight song at a team meeting. Siragusa, then a
sophomore, crumpled his sheet and shouted, "If I wanted to learn
a school song, I would've gone to Notre Dame or Penn State. I
want to kill people on the football field. That's why I came to
Pitt."

Siragusa has nothing good to say about Gottfried and has even
less regard for former Colts director of football operations
Bill Tobin, who ran the franchise during the last three of
Siragusa's seven years in Indianapolis (1990 to '96). Siragusa
detests Tobin for driving out Indy coach Ted Marchibroda with a
low-ball contract offer after the team's run to the '95 AFC title
game. "We had a great thing going, and the guy dismantled it,"
Siragusa says of Tobin, who is out of football. "Then he had the
balls to refer to himself in the third person constantly. He's
horrible."

Nor is Siragusa a fan of former Colts coach Lindy Infante,
Tobin's choice to succeed Marchibroda. "A d---head loser,"
Siragusa says.

The Goose is far more complimentary toward Ravens coach Brian
Billick, though Siragusa's relationship with team management
became strained during last summer's four-week holdout. Siragusa,
due to make $1.5 million in 2000, wanted a raise and a contract
extension, but the front office didn't budge. Word of a
take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum by the Ravens broke in the
Baltimore papers on an August day on which Siragusa was relaxing
with his wife, Kathy, four-year-old daughter, Samantha, and
17-month-old son, Anthony, at their beach house on the Jersey
shore. When Billick called to smooth things over, Siragusa asked
whether he was prepared to begin the season with an inexperienced
starter (Lional Dalton) and a free-agent pickup (Sam Adams) at
the tackle positions. "Oh, I see," Billick said. "It's all about
leverage now?"

"Brian," Siragusa howled, "it's always been about leverage!" (Two
weeks later he signed a three-year, $9-million contract.)

On the field Siragusa, a state wrestling champion in high school,
has turned leverage into an art form. "He's a load," says
Pittsburgh Steelers guard Rich Tylski. "You're not going to move
him. The best thing to do is get into him and have a stalemate
and have him try an arm tackle."

Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger says
Siragusa "plays a lot better than his appearance would suggest."

To Steelers halfback Jerome (the Bus) Bettis, Siragusa is "the
immovable object, the key to what they do. You need two guys to
block him, and that allows Ray Lewis to run free, which is why
Ray is so good."

As tough as Siragusa is as a gap-plugger and run-stopper, he's
surprisingly adept at collapsing the pocket. His bull rush of
Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was a pivotal play in the
AFC Championship Game on Jan. 14. Early in the second quarter
Siragusa broke through the middle and drove Gannon into the turf
after Gannon had released the ball. Gannon was forced to leave
the game with a separated left shoulder. Though Siragusa was not
penalized on the play, the NFL fined him $10,000 for an illegal
hit. "Listen, when you hit a quarterback, you hit him to rattle
him up. That's how you get him out of his rhythm," says Siragusa,
who says he will appeal the fine. "It wasn't a cheap shot."

Siragusa has a mean streak. Asked to name his dirtiest opponent,
he says, "Without a doubt [Cincinnati Bengals guard Matt]
O'Dwyer. The last time we played them, I finally got fed up. I
said, 'Listen, we're destined to get an interception, and when
we do, I'm gonna take out your knee.' After that, the bull----
stopped."

Still, most of Siragusa's on-field banter takes on a comedic
tone. Anyone who has heard Siragusa's bawdy, unpredictable weekly
radio show on Baltimore's WJFK-AM knows that. He is the city's
modern incarnation of Artie Donovan, the Hall of Fame Baltimore
Colts lineman whose devil-may-care humor cracks up David
Letterman. In December, when Donovan joined Siragusa for a live
radio broadcast in a crowded restaurant, the censors needed all
of 13 seconds to hit the bleep button for the first time.

The Goose's life hasn't been entirely golden. In July 1989, while
recovering from a pair of blown-out knees he had suffered in his
sophomore season at Pitt, Tony was staying at his parents' house
in Kenilworth when the screams of his mother, Rose, awakened him
at 4 a.m. Tony and his older brother, Pete, rushed to their
parents' room. Their father, also named Pete, a 48-year-old
cement mixer and part-time rock singer and guitarist, had had a
heart attack. The boys attempted CPR, but to no avail. "We were
crushed," Tony says. "It changed my approach to life. From then
on I was going to blaze a trail through the brush and go as hard
and as fast as I could."

Siragusa has had to fight for everything he's gotten. At Pitt he
earned spending money by hustling students at the campus pool
hall. Signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent, Siragusa
made the team only after his lies convinced coach Ron Meyer that
he was an experienced long-snapper. He still has that scrapper's
mentality. In October, following a first-quarter head-on
collision with Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal, Siragusa was rushed
to a Maryland hospital and found to have a bruised spinal cord.
Within the hour, he shocked teammates by rushing back to the
stadium, and soon after that he was back in the game.

Even Kathy, his 5'1'', 105-pound high school girlfriend and
eventual wife, wasn't easy to win over. "I was scared to death of
him," she recalls. "I was a nice girl, and I wanted to stay that
way. I really didn't like him, but he kept coming back and
saying, 'What do you mean you won't go out with me again?' He
couldn't fathom the idea that somebody didn't like him.
Eventually, I got caught up in his whirlwind like everybody else.
His objective in life is to enjoy every moment without regrets,
and who can stop him?"

Three days after the AFC Championship Game, Siragusa stopped in
for breakfast at Anthony's, a hangout a few blocks from his
childhood home in Kenilworth. The blue-collar, northern New
Jersey town has 7,500 residents packed into two square miles.
Some of the locals--Angelo, Pete, Junior, Sally, Preacher, Artie
the Undertaker, Tony's uncle Marty and a dozen others--were there
to watch the Goose eat several sandwiches stuffed with what they
call Taylor ham ("More like pork roast, but you don't want to
know what's really in it," one diner said) and ham it up as only
he can.

"Who you gonna go for in the Super Bowl?" Siragusa asked Angelo,
a Giants season-ticket holder for 41 years. "Don't ask stupid
questions," Angelo responded. The Goose feigned indignation, then
raised his left fist. "You're lucky you have heart trouble,"
Siragusa said, and Angelo and everyone else started laughing.

But the town clown was just getting warmed up. "Hey," Siragusa
said, "I used to go to Giants games. Back then you were happy if
you got a flat beer and a hot dog without a vein running down the
middle."

Take cover, America: Super Bowl week may never be the same.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARK PETERSON/SABA HAPPY-GO-LUCKY Whether tending bar at his restaurant or polishing off a meal with friends, Siragusa is the life of the party.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO IT TAKES TWO At 6'3", 342 pounds, Siragusa draws constant double teams, leaving at least one Raven free to roam.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER WHAT'S THE RUSH? Siragusa has come up big in the playoffs, stopping the Titans' Eddie George cold.
"He's a load. You're not going to move him," says Tylski. "The
best thing to do is get a stalemate and have him try an arm
tackle."
Siragusa was taken to a hospital and found to have a bruised
spinal cord. Within the hour, he was back on the field.