By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun
3:01 PM EST, February 3, 2013
Tony Siragusa isn't the prettiest of men. The former Baltimore Raven played the thankless role of a 6-foot-3, 330-pound steel drum, crashing the line over and over, so teammates could sack the quarterback — and reap the glory.
But "Goose" was a member of the team that won Super Bowl XXXV, and the gregarious giant's profile has grown exponentially since that January day in 2001. He's a Fox-TV sideline reporter, host of a home improvement show and has been cast in "The Sopranos" and the film "25th Hour."
In that same Super Bowl, Greenbelt native and University of Maryland star Jermaine Lewis was the spark that lit victory cigars, returning a kickoff for a momentous touchdown. But he only played one more season for the Ravens and was out of the NFL a few years later. Today, having had some brushes with the law, he regrets not being able to fully capitalize on the big victory.
Winning the Super Bowl is a huge achievement — a championship in the nation's most popular sport, on television's most-watched program. As Siragusa and other members of the Ravens 2000-2001 team can attest, winning at such a relatively young age can set up a player for life. Nearly the entire team, except for Ray Lewis and at least one other player, has retired and moved on to other ventures, in some cases helped by championship credentials.
But a Super Bowl ring is no guarantee of success beyond football. Some players say the championship can be unsatisfying because it's hard to follow and drains the satisfaction from other accomplishments. Others, including Jermaine Lewis and Jamal Lewis, have battled through years of business failures and legal problems.
"I'll tell you this," said former Raven Peter Boulware, a linebacker for the Super Bowl champions, "it ruins you for anything else in football. Anything less than that is a disappointing season."
With a victory Sunday, the current group of Ravens will face similar challenges. From star quarterback Joe Flacco to little-known players, they will forever have "Super Bowl Champion" precede their names during introductions. Some will be offered transcendent opportunities in business deals, television commercials and media careers.
"The Super Bowl is something you always dream of as a youngster," Boulware said. "It's kind of like winning the lottery."
What happens next is up to the player.
Boulware, 38, lives in Tallahassee, Fla., where he was a standout at Florida State University. In 2007, he ran for a seat in the Florida legislature but lost by a few hundred votes. He went on to serve on the state school board and now runs a nonprofit K-8 school. He also co-owns a Toyota dealership.
During his political campaign, many of his commercials referred to his successes on the field, underscoring how he believed he could lead government. But name recognition wasn't the only thing a Super Bowl gave him.
He learned that hard work alone cannot bring great success. Outside forces are also in play, he said. Teammates have to be in sync. Everything has to click. Knowing that helps him deal with disappointments.
"It just represents the way life is," Boulware said. "To make it on top, you have to have a lot of fortune and a lot of things go right with you, coupled with a lot of work and dedication."
Sam Gash, the former Ravens fullback, pulls out his championship ring from a drawer to look at more often as the years pass. Gash, 43, was not re-signed as a Detroit Lions assistant coach this year, and the ring reminds him that he had the qualities needed to reach the highest top.
"It validates you as a player because you know that you are championship-worthy," Gash said, "and you understand what it takes to prepare."
The win was an important piece in tackle Jonathan Ogden's illustrious career, which the Pro Football Hall of Fame was expected to recognize on Saturday with the announcement of his induction.
But outside of football, the championship hasn't changed his life.
"I can't say it made a big difference either way. I mean, it doesn't hurt," said Ogden, 38. "I'm not a big put-myself-out-there kind of guy. It definitely opened some doors as far as just being known outside of Baltimore."
Still, for a charismatic player like Siragusa, Super Bowl media day gave him the exposure that helped him launch a successful career. "Tony was a pretty well-known guy but not like he was after the Super Bowl," said Matt Stover, the kicker on the 2000-2001 team.
Stover, 45, said being a champion doesn't necessarily translate into financial security. He worked as an NFL ambassador this fall, traveling around the country, telling collegiate players that they need to plan for life after football.
Even a Super Bowl victory can ring hollow, he noted.
"It's not a completely satisfying thing," said Stover, who won another ring with the New York Giants in 1991. "Completely satisfying is my salvation in my Lord and savior. Winning a Super Bowl is fleeting because it took one week before someone asked me if we could win the next year.
"The reality of our world is they always want more."
Being complacent can spell doom on and off the field, Stover said, as evidenced by the Super Bowl rings that retired players have sold in auctions over the years.
"I do know some guys whose identities were in football," he said. "That's not a healthy place, because your football career is coming to an end. It's not if, it's when."
Stover points to former Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer as someone who used the Super Bowl win to build a career. Viewed as one of the least-recognized quarterbacks ever to win a Super Bowl, Dilfer, now 40, is a top ESPN football analyst, and his championship provides him more credibility to make his points.
"He can go in there and say, 'Look, I may not have the numbers that prove that I'm the best, but I did go in there and win a Super Bowl,' " Stover said.
For Dilfer, Siragusa and other players, a championship can burnish careers and raise profiles, said Adam Naylor, a Boston University sports psychology professor who has worked with several professional athletes. Just look at Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints' quarterback, who is featured on Pepsi ads.
"Drew Brees was always good, but winning the Super Bowl made him amazing," Naylor said.
After Flacco had two strong playoff performances, including a dramatic double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos, late-night TV talk shows and national advertisers began asking to feature him. Contract adviser and marketing agent Thomas Kleine expects that demand to grow if his client wins the Super Bowl.
"It'd be silly to think other doors and future doors won't open during a Super Bowl win," said Kleine of JL Sports. Though Flacco isn't the type to seek the limelight, he understands the value of the marketing opportunities that might come his way, Kleine said.
So does 36-year-old Raven Matt Birk, who plays the glamorless position of center and is at an age when many NFL athletes consider retirement.
"Every time Matt gets in front of the media now, it's going to open up opportunities for Matt," said Kleine, who represents the Harvard University graduate. "Matt is a CEO playing center. Whatever Matt puts his mind to, he's going to be successful whenever he hangs up his cleats."
Super Bowl exposure can even help little-known players. Al Packer's White Marsh Ford recently used backup offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski in a Super Bowl promotion, and the 24-year-old is garnering more interest from companies who also want to use him, Kleine said.
But not every Raven who wears a Super Bowl ring has prospered.
Jamal Lewis was just a rookie running back when he played a central role in the Super Bowl in Tampa. He played eight more strong years, breaking NFL records and earning a spot in the Ravens Ring of Honor.
But he also served four months in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to using a cellphone to facilitate a cocaine deal. Last April, he filed for bankruptcy in Georgia.
He acknowledges mistakes to fans on his website and says his football accomplishments remind him that he can succeed again. The son of a Marine, Lewis, 33, said he is creating a lifestyle brand, retail business and a program to help youths stay on track.
"I do have a Super Bowl win," he said. "I have won. People know I can succeed. It's instilled in me."
Jermaine Lewis, 38, another former Raven who has struggled outside of football, said he never really had an opportunity to celebrate the Super Bowl win. Mourning the loss of his stillborn son, Geronimo, Lewis played the latter half of the 2000 season in a daze even though he was a catalyst in the team's playoff push.
"In the Super Bowl, I was just numb," he said.
He said he did not receive any promotional or advertising opportunities afterward, other than a few autograph-signing events. And he didn't get much time to reap the benefits of being a local sports hero, either.
At the Pro Bowl in Hawaii the next year, he said, his agent called to tell him that the Houston Texans had selected him in an expansion draft after the Ravens left him on a list of unprotected players.
"I'm a Maryland guy. I went to the University of Maryland. Once I left Maryland, my heart just dropped. I was on top of the world. Then, boom, go to Texas," said Jermaine Lewis, who was out of the NFL three years after the Super Bowl.
In August 2011, a Baltimore County police officer tased him, saying he was resisting arrest, after police allege he had been swerving and had run over a volunteer fire company sign. He was charged with resisting arrest and driving recklessly. Maryland court records show he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge: failure to stop after an accident that included unattended property damage.
In February 2012, he was arrested after police said he was driving with his 4-year-old son unrestrained in the front seat. He was charged with driving with a suspended and revoked license, and failing to secure a child under 8 with a seat belt. He pleaded guilty in August to driving a motor vehicle with a revoked license and was not prosecuted on the other two charges, court records show.
He was ordered to serve 30 days in jail, according to court records.
Jermaine Lewis now lives in a two-story Reisterstown home with his wife and children, relying on savings. He hopes to get back into the workforce, he said, and be a part of a team again surrounded by co-workers.He thinks back to what could have been.
"I wish I would've been building businesses instead of always focusing on football," he said. "I wish I could have had something that I could fall back on that was already in place. That's the only regret I have."
Last week, for the first time, he watched his famous kick return replayed on television as part of the buildup to Sunday's Super Bowl. He saw himself shuffle behind his blocker, find a hole and explode to the end zone. That magical moment is something the Super Bowl gave him — and will stay with him.
"That's the main thing you hoped for when you're playing football is to win the ultimate prize," he said. "That's an accomplishment I'm proud of for my kids. I want them to be proud of something. They can say, 'My dad did this.' "
Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.
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