Tony Siragusa, the wispy wall of flesh known as “Goose” who anchored the middle of the record-setting Ravens defense during the team’s first Super Bowl run, died Wednesday, a spokesman for the team said. He was 55 years old.
The cause of death could not be immediately ascertained.
The New Jersey native was a free agent who began his 12-year NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts before becoming a fan for five seasons with the Ravens from 1997 to 2001. He was a classic nose tackle, with tons of blockers and clearings. Location for Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis as the Ravens set a record in 2000 by allowing just 165 points in a 16-game season.
But the 330-pound veteran was known as much for his friendly personality as for his prowess on the field. He was a star of the first season of HBO’s documentary series “Hard Knocks”, wearing shirts that said “Big Daddy” on the chest and cracking jokes about how he would torture bullies. This paved the way for an acting career and a 13-year run as a pregame and sideline personality on Fox’s NFL coverage.
“He was just a huge personality,” recalled his teammate, linebacker Peter Boulware. “When he came into the room, he owned it. He was the life of the room, the life of the party. He was just the life of everything.”
“This is a tough one,” Mr Lewis said in a statement provided by the Ravens. “I love ‘Hans’ 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 one of a kind was the person who made you feel important and special. You can never take the place of such a man.”
Ravens owner Steve Biscotti said he was heartbroken, calling Mr Siragusa “a special person and clearly one of the most popular players in Ravens history”.
Mr. Siragusa loved to spin stories about his Italian roots, reinforced in his hometown of Kenilworth, New Jersey, where there was a street, Via Vitale, named after his grandparents and an endless supply of sausages, ravioli, and cannoli. He had friends with nicknames such as “Big Nose” and “Hacksaw” when he developed into a defensive force at David Brearley High and then the University of Pittsburgh.
The father of three (Samantha, 25; Anthony Jr., 23; and Ava, 20) began dating his wife, Cathy, in high school, and he later told friends in Baltimore, “I knew the whole package from the start “
Mr. Siragusa was a free spirit when he wasn’t kicking back while running, riding Harley-Davidsons, fishing for marlin from his 30-foot boat, and donning 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.
The team’s longtime spokesman, Kevin Byrne, saw Mr Siragusa dance a sack during the Ravens’ defeat at the hands of the Colts last 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 despised the famous training camp. One year, he stayed out only to reach the team’s training site in Westminster via helicopter. He had starved himself for days to meet coach Brian Bilick’s weight requirement and when Mr Bilick said he didn’t really want to weigh, Mr Siragusa was furious.
Another summer, he showed up with a paintball gun and used it to torment the team’s rookies and the sweepers at Best Western, where the Ravens had stayed. After being told to bite him by coach Ted Marchibroda, he fired one last shot a few feet from a patron who was cleaning an upper floor. “You missed one!” Mr. Siragusa spoke.
When the man got down to brag on him, Mr. Siragusa peeled off a roll of bills and handed them over, finally inducing a smile. “At least he paid for his mistakes,” said Mr Byrne.
In 1997 Mr Boulware was selected in the first round of the team. “If you were a rookie, he would tell you you were a rookie. He would let you take it,” he said. “Once you graduated from it, he welcomed you.”
Mr. Siragusa was a full-time starter and leading voice as the Ravens’ defense slowly morphed into one of the most formidable in NFL history. He and defensive tackle Sam Adams were the immovable forces up front.
Ozzy Newsom, former Ravens general manager, said, “‘Goose’ was quite the character, but he was one of our leaders on the 2000 Super Bowl team.” “He was probably one of the best run-stoppers to play for our defense in years.”
His influence went beyond internal warfare in which he specialized on the field.
“Some of us were immature and didn’t really know how to be professionals, and having people like ‘Goose’ sitting with you, being these kind of anchors around the locker room, was huge to our success,” Mr Boulware said. “Siragusa, he was always lightening the atmosphere, training camp, or just easing up on tough times. He will laugh at himself, laugh at us.
During the 2000 AFC Championship Game, he ran Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon off ground shoulder-first, a crucial game as the Ravens scored a high-flying offense to three points. Although Sirragusa always said he had no intention of hurting Gannon, the hit went down in the Super Bowl as a prime example of the Ravens’ punishment style.
“We wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl without him,” said Mr. Bilick in a flat tone.
Once he reached the biggest stage in sports, Mr. Siragusa hogged the limelight. A reporter asked what job he would hate to do. “I would hate to be a plumber if I had sewer backup,” he said.
As he went on to star in the Spike Lee movie “25th Hour” or “The Sopranos” and to appear in Fox’s NFL broadcast, teammates smiled at the character they all remembered. “People saw him and they assumed, ‘He’s theater or he’s just trying to act,’ but that was just him,” Mr Boulware said. “Camera or no camera, he’s a ‘swan.’ That’s why we loved him so much.”
Mr Siragusa’s actions obscured his gentle side, Mr Byron said. When a teammate’s apartment caught fire a few days before Christmas, Mr. Siragusa brought a car full of gifts for the player’s displaced 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 doing okay,” he’d say.
When key players from the 2000 team recently gathered at the Meyerhof Symphony Hall to film scenes for an upcoming ESPN documentary, Mr. Siragusa cracked the coolest jokes but also took the time to check in with everyone, Mr. Byrne. he said. He was never just a class clown.
The Ravens did not release details on the services and said in a statement “The Siragusa family asks that everyone respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
Mr Siragusa said he always tried to maintain his 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 gasping for air as he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Mr Stern asked Mr Siragusa, who was 21 when his father died, whether he was concerned about suffering a similar fate. “If I die tomorrow,” he replied, “I told my wife, just put a smile on my face, put on a little Sinatra.”