June 22, 2022 was the saddest and longest day in Ravens history.
Early Wednesday, the team announced that fourth-year linebacker Jaylon Ferguson had died at the age of 26 after authorities found him unconscious in a North Baltimore home late Tuesday night.
Early in the evening, a team spokesman confirmed that former Ravens guard Tony Siragusa had passed away at the age of 55. The cause of death was not immediately known.
The impact of the news was felt throughout the organization.
“Just a tough, tough day,” said former Ravens linebacker Peter Bulvar, a former teammate of Syragusa on the 2000 team that won the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
“We will manage. My prayers are with this team and this organization. That’s who we are.”
Few guys in the Ravens’ 26-year history have demonstrated better endurance than Siragusa, who is 6ft 4in and weighs 330lbs. At the same time, he became the voice of the team in search of leadership.
Some of the old Baltimore Colts fans compared Syragusa to the late Hall of Famer defensive tackle Art Donovan, but Donovan was the nonchalant type.
Siragusa could be loud, obnoxious, spiteful, sweet and humorous, but he was a great teammate. If you landed a cheap shot on any of the Ravens, you had to answer to Syragusa or his main henchman, defender Rob Burnett.
“First of all, my deepest condolences to his family,” Marvin Lewis, architect and coordinator of the 2000 Ravens record defense, said in a statement. “With Tony as a friend and teammate, you didn’t need anything else. He played and lived life to the fullest. He always reminded me to have fun.”
Such was the nature of Syragusa. He had an incredible personality and could light up any room. The locker room was his territory. If you were a reporter and your clothes didn’t match, Siragusa was ridiculed.
If you don’t brush your hair, Syragusa will get you. If your shirt was too tight, he would ask why you were wearing your little brother’s shirt.
No one was spared anger or jokes. Not the media, not his teammates, not coach Brian Billick.
“If he stared at you, something would come out of his mouth,” Boulver said. “The look was deadly.”
I could exchange views with Syragusa, Burnett, defenseman Michael McCrary and defenseman Benny Thompson maybe two or three times a week. Siragusa ruthlessly hunted down people. One day he called me at home during his radio show and said I was an idiot. The next day we fought, and the next day we were fooling around again in the locker room.
At that time, the players liked to joke around and they respected you if you carried as much trash as they did. The one-liners and outgoing nature led Syragusa to become a television commentator and later a sideline reporter for Fox’s NFL coverage.
But here’s a side of Syragusa that few have seen.
“When I was a rookie and got to Baltimore, I was lucky enough to live on the same street as Tony, so he drove me home and his wife cooked me dinner,” said former Ravens weak linebacker Jamie Sharper. “Tony was a fun guy and everyone loved and respected him – the media and his teammates – but I saw him as a good family man.”
Sharper did not see Syragusa for nearly three years, but they were reunited at the 2000 Super Bowl team reunion on May 23. He said that this incident allowed him to hug Syragusa and take a photo with him for the last time.
“When we were done playing, Tony opened up his business to us,” Sharper said, holding back tears. “He didn’t care what color you are, where you live, what profession you do, he treated everyone the same. And yes, he made fun of everyone.”
But Syragusa came to Baltimore for a reason. At the end of the 1996 season, then-Ravens general manager Ozzy Newsom entered a barn in the old complex on the other side of Owings Mills and relayed a message.
“Mike,” Newsom said, “I’m going to hire a hefty lineman this offseason to anchor the middle of the defense. Write it down and remember that I told you this.”
Tony Siragusa enters.
The Ravens finished 6-9-1 that season, but they were just beginning to build a solid defense with three promising young linebackers in Bulwer, Sharpe and Ray Lewis in the center.
This trio will go down in history as one of the best in NFL history. Lewis is the greatest midfielder of all time, but in 2000 it was this defensive line that ruled the team.
Let’s talk about cool guys?
McCrary and Burnett are at the ends, while Siragusa and Sam Adams, two sumo wrestlers, are in tackles. This defense, which lost only 165 points in 16 games that season, was not run by anyone.
Adams could disrupt the game and pressure the quarterback with an explosive first pitch. In the meantime, Siragusa could have occupied two or three offensive linemen to keep them away from Lewis.
Forget the Syragusa statistics.
In just five seasons in Baltimore, he had 159 tackles while Lewis had 768 tackles during that period. Syragusa’s iconic moment came when he pinned Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon to the pitch in the 2000 AFC Championship game.
Gannon suffered a shoulder injury, and Siragusa was ultimately fined $10,000 for an illegal hit that he said was not intentional shortly after the Ravens’ victory.
But about a month later, when I asked him if it was a deliberate slam, he winked, laughed and replied: “What do you think?”
It was a vintage Syragusa. He played a lot and lived in the same way. He was an extremely athletic and agile big guy who could talk a lot of nasty things and back them up.
He “played like a Raven,” a term first used by former coach Ted Marchibroda. Few players have been so fierce and competitive.
And no Raven laughed that much.
“I can’t believe that Goose is no more. He was more than a teammate, he was my brother,” McCrary said. “There was Goose, Burnett and I, we were D-lines, but a lot more. We were always there for each other and he always managed to make me smile no matter how bad things seemed.
“So many memories. I will never think of him without smiling and I will miss him. Beware of the gatekeepers of paradise, the Goose is on its way, and paradise will never be the same again.