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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the spring of 2001, the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens held their first minicamp with one notable absence.
Tony Siragusa — a.k.a. “the Goose” — wasn’t in the defensive line meeting room. But, teammates heard he was planning to make a big splash. Then, a loud noise was heard throughout the team facility. Everyone ran out to the practice field.
Siragusa arrived in a helicopter, which landed squarely on the 50-yard line. The boisterous 350-pound defensive tackle hopped out and hammed it up in front of his teammates, pointing at his flexed right biceps.
“That was classic,” former Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams said. “And [coach Brian] Billick was just sitting there with his mouth open like, ‘Why me?’”
Siragusa, who died at the age of 55 on Wednesday, may not have made any Pro Bowls or the Ravens’ Ring of Honor during or after his 12 seasons in the NFL, but teammates attest to his irrepressible and irreplaceable legacy: Siragusa was a Hall of Fame character.
As much as Siragusa was overlooked for his run-stuffing prowess on the field, he made sure everyone saw and heard him in the locker room and in front of cameras. And, as much as the Ravens organization mourns his death, teammates know Siragusa would want them to remember him with a smile.
“He would expect a roast to go on right now at his funeral,” said former Ravens kicker Matt Stover, who was Siragusa’s teammate for five seasons. “He would love it.”
No holds-barred humor
Stover was one of the most dependable kickers in the NFL. He was also one of the most thick-skinned, thanks in part to Siragusa.
The Ravens would send out Stover for a winning kick, and he would hear Siragusa curse at him, yell at him and even threaten him from the sideline.
“Listen, you [expletive], if you miss this kick, don’t come back to this sideline because I will hurt you,” Siragusa would say.
Kevin Byrne, the Ravens’ longtime head of public relations, asked Stover if the trash talk helped. “No, but it does make me smile,” Stover responded.
Stover said he enjoyed the added pressure that Siragusa provided. At one practice, Stover asked Siragusa to go all-out on him.
So, the Goose pulled down his pants and mooned him.
Siragusa’s no-holds-barred sense of humor helped with more than field goals. During that 2000 championship season, the Ravens didn’t score a touchdown for the whole month of October. It could have been a divisive situation with the offense failing to reach the end zone in five straight games and the defense surrendering just four touchdowns over that span.
“Without him, we would not have won that Super Bowl because that locker room could have turned so easily,” Stover said. “He kept it loose. He’d break the ice in the room. The guy was a tremendous force in the locker room.”
Everyone was a target
Entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie, Siragusa prided himself on making the NFL the hard way, which is why big-name rookies rubbed him the wrong way. He told them not to park their expensive car near his because he would open his door wildly and put dents in them.
Siragusa, who hated weigh-ins, also made rookies fill in the chart above the scale for him.
“Put whatever you want,” Siragusa said on the inaugural season of HBO’s Hard Knocks. “Put 215 [pounds]. Let’s freak them out a little bit. Lost 900 pounds — today!”
Siragusa endeared himself to teammates because he joked about everyone, including coaches. When then-defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis lost out on the Bills’ head coaching job, Siragusa asked him, “What are you going to do with all the snowblowers you bought?”
No one was safe from Siragusa. In 2001, he brought paint guns to training camp to harass rookies. After Billick had threatened Siragusa and asked him to stop, the ornery defensive lineman shot a paintball at a custodian, who was on a ladder trying to clean up a paint splotch on a second story wall.
When the hotel worker angrily came down the ladder, Siragusa took out a roll of bills from his wallet and handed it over. The custodian smiled.
“He was just the life of every room he came into,” former Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware said.
Not fine with it
Siragusa didn’t get penalized when he drove Rich Gannon into the turf, forcing the Raiders quarterback out of the 2000 AFC championship game. He did get a $15,000 fine, though, which he blamed on TV analyst Phil Simms.
During the telecast of the game, Simms was emphatic that Siragusa should’ve been flagged because, in Simms’ view, he was trying to hurt Gannon — a claim Siragusa believed prompted the league to punish him.
Two weeks later, Siragusa stood over Simms at a Super Bowl production meeting and told him that he owed him $15,000. When Simms said he wasn’t going to be intimidated, Siragusa asked Simms about the progress of his home being built in New Jersey.
“How do you know that?,” Simms asked.
Siragusa, who is from New Jersey, responded: “Let me tell you this: When you’re missing $15,000 worth of shrubs, you’ll know where they are.”
In October 2000, Siragusa was carted off the field in a game against the Tennessee Titans and went to the local hospital with a bruised spinal cord.
“We picked him up and put him in the stretcher,” Adams said. “I’m having tears in my eyes when they wheel him off the field. Then, I see him come back in the game and I’m thinking to myself: ‘What the hell is going on?’”
Siragusa was advised not to go back in the game, but he decided to ignore the advice because he didn’t want to let down his teammates. That commitment to his fellow players didn’t get as much attention as his wise-cracking barbs.
On Christmas Eve in 1999, an accidental fire burned down the apartment of Ravens defensive end Fernando Smith. Siragusa showed up with $10,000 worth of clothes and a car filled with toys for the children.
“He took care of teammates,” Byrne said. “He had a generous heart.”
When Siragusa came into the NFL, he spent his entire $1,000 signing bonus from the Indianapolis Colts at a bar. When he announced his retirement 12 years later, he did so at a watering hole during his weekly radio show.
“I’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of memories,” Siragusa said in January 2002. “I feel like I’m going to have to wake up and pinch myself because I’ve had so much fun in my career. If anyone has as much fun in one year that I’ve had in 12, they’ll be very happy.”