Tony Siragusa, the wise wall of flesh known as “Goose” who anchored in the middle of a record Ravens defense during the team’s first Super Bowl run, died Wednesday, a team spokesperson said. He was 55 years old.
The cause of death was not immediately known.
The New Jersey native was an undrafted free agent who began his 12-year NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts before becoming a fan favorite over five seasons with the Ravens from 1997 to 2001. He was a nose tackle. classic, taking up multiple blockers and clearing space for Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis as the Ravens set a record by allowing just 165 points in a 16-game season in 2000.
But the 330-pound giant was known as much for his affable personality as his power on the field. He was a star of the first season of the HBO documentary series “Hard Knocks”, wearing shirts that said “Big Daddy” on his chest and making jokes about how he tortured rookies. This paved the way for an acting career and a 13-year run as a pre-game personality and sideline on Fox’s NFL coverage.
“He was just a big personality,” recalled his teammate, linebacker Peter Boulware. “When he entered the room, he was the owner. He was the life of the room, the life of the party. He was just the life of everything.”
“This one is tough,” Lewis said in a statement provided by the Ravens. “I love ‘Goose’ like a brother. From the first day we met, I knew life was different. I knew he was someone who would change my life forever. He was a unique person who made you feel important and special. You can never replace a man like that.”
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he was heartbroken, calling Siragusa “a special person and clearly one of the most popular players in Ravens history”.
Siragusa loved to tell stories about her Italian roots, reinforced in her hometown of Kenilworth, New Jersey, where there was a road, Via Vitale, named after her grandparents and a seemingly endless supply of sausages, ravioli and cannoli. He had friends with nicknames like “Big Nose” and “Hacksaw” when he became a defensive force at David Brearley High and later at the University of Pittsburgh.
The father of three (Samantha, 25; Anthony Jr., 23; and Ava, 20) started dating his wife, Kathy, in high school, and she later told friends in Baltimore, “I knew the whole package from the beginning”.
Siragusa was a free spirit who, when he wasn’t crushing running backs, rode a Harley-Davidson, fished for marlin in his 30-foot boat, and donned scuba gear for diving trips in the Bahamas.
He came to the Ravens in 1997, when the team was still struggling in its second season after moving from Cleveland.
Kevin Byrne, the team’s longtime spokesman, had seen Sir Siragusa do a sack dance during the Ravens’ loss to the Colts the previous year, so he assumed a prima donna was entering his world.
Instead, he met “one of the greatest and most popular characters in Ravens history.”
Mr. Siragusa has notoriously despised the training ground. One year, he resisted, only to arrive at the team’s Westminster training site by helicopter. He starved for days to meet coach Brian Billick’s weight requirement, and when Billick said he didn’t need to weigh in, Siragusa fumed.
The other summer, he showed up with a paintball gun and used it to torment the team’s rookies and the cleaning crew at the Best Western where the Ravens stayed. After coach Ted Marchibroda told him to stop, he fired one last shot just feet away from a janitor who was cleaning an upper floor. “You missed one!” Mr. Siragusa shouted.
When the man went downstairs to complain to him, Mr. Siragusa took out a wad of bills and handed them over, finally inspiring a smile. “At least he paid for his mistakes,” Byrne said.
Boulware was the team’s first-round pick in 1997. “If you were a rookie, he would let you know you were a rookie. He would let you have it,” he said. “Once you graduated from this, he welcomed you.”
Mr. Siragusa was a full-time starter and main voice as the Ravens’ defense gradually developed into one of the most fearsome in NFL history. He and defensive tackle Sam Adams were the unmoved forces up front.
“‘Goose’ was quite a character, but he was one of our leaders on the 2000 Super Bowl team,” said Ozzie Newsome, former general manager of the Ravens. “He was probably one of the best defenders to play for our defense over the years.”
His impact went beyond the indoor combat that he specialized in on the field.
“Some of us were immature and just didn’t know how to be pro, and having guys like ‘Goose’ kind of sit you down, having anchors like that all over the locker room, was huge for the success we’ve had,” he said. said Mr. Boulware. “Siragusa, he was always lighting up the atmosphere, making training camp, or just hard times, easier. He laughed at himself, he laughed at us.”
During the 2000 AFC championship game, he took Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon to the ground shoulder first, a crucial play as the Ravens held a three-point offense. Although Siragusa has always stated that he had no intention of harming Gannon, the blow was a prime example of the Ravens’ punitive style when they reached the Super Bowl.
“We wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl without him,” Billick said flatly.
Once he reached the biggest stage in the sport, Mr. Siragusa reveled in the spotlight. A reporter asked what job he would hate to have. “I would hate to be a plumber if my sewer clogged up,” he said.
As he moved on to act in Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” or “The Sopranos” and to appear on Fox’s NFL broadcasts, teammates smiled at the character they all remembered. “People saw him and thought, ‘Is this theater or is he just trying to act,’ but it was just him,” Boulware said. “Camera or no camera, this is ‘Goose’. That’s why we loved him so much.”
Siragusa’s antics have obscured his tender side, Byrne said. When a fire destroyed a teammate’s apartment a few days before Christmas, Siragusa showed up with a car full of gifts for the player’s homeless family. Over the years, he would alert the Ravens when a former teammate was down on his luck and needed support.
“Let’s just make sure he’s okay,” he’d say.
When key players from the 2000 team recently gathered at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to film scenes for an upcoming ESPN documentary, Siragusa told the best jokes but also had time to chat with everyone, Byrne said. He was never just the class clown.
The Ravens did not release details about the services and said in a statement that “the Siragusa family asks that everyone respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
Mr. Siragusa said she has always tried to maintain her sense of humor and optimism, even in the face of tragedy. In a 2012 appearance with radio host Howard Stern, he recalled the night he held his father, Peter, who was short of breath when he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Mr. Stern asked Mr. Siragusa, who was 21 years old when his father died, if he worried about suffering a similar fate. “If I die tomorrow,” he replied, “I told my wife, just put a smile on my face, put some Sinatra on.”