A blue-collar 'Goose'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Tony Siragusa could be the Ravens' secret weapon ... with a muzzle.

The irrepressible and nearly irreplaceable defensive tackle dominates the spotlight off the field and sacrifices any chance of it on the field. Statistics cannot prove his worth, and words cannot justly describe his character.

Across the NFL, he's known more for his nickname, "Goose," than for his punishing labor as the run-stopping foundation of the league's premier defense. The reward so far has been countless knee operations during his 11-year career. He wasn't drafted and has never been invited to a Pro Bowl.

But glitz and glamour don't fit this grizzled 6-foot-3, 340-pound tough guy, capiche? Growing up in the cozy north-central New Jersey town of Kenilworth, Siragusa picked up a truck driver's foul mouth and a "Sopranos" attitude.

He hunts, fishes and rides Harleys. He's host of a weekly radio show where he's rude, lewd and charismatic all in the same hour.

Siragusa, though, swallows that ego when he snaps on the helmet. Ravens fans, teammates and sometimes coaches have taken Siragusa's presence for granted the past four seasons.

Even defensive end Rob Burnett, who is one player removed from Siragusa on the line of scrimmage, has had his doubts. When Siragusa held out during training camp, Burnett wondered why he was asking for more money and sat down to watch video clips of Siragusa.

"He was killing people. They did not move him an inch," Burnett said. "That's the first time I realized how effective he was. I was like, if you guys [the Ravens' front office] don't get him in here, you are absolutely out of your mind. He's invaluable. He really provides a security factor inside."

Siragusa, 33, claws and scratches out a selfless personal mission each game.

He willingly accepts the job of occupying double teams so All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis has the freedom to roam and clean up the tackles. A high school state wrestling champion, Siragusa understands how to use leverage to take on the blocks as well as fight through them for the tackle when teams try to block him with one lineman.

"It never really bothered me to get respect from people other than the people that I played with," said Siragusa, who is sixth on the Ravens with 66 tackles. "I consider myself the ultimate team player. I hope to be remembered as a guy that everybody wished had to have an opportunity to play by my side."

Undrafted, frustrated

The NFL forced Siragusa to become a team player from the start.

Sitting on his couch to watch the 12-round league draft in 1990, Siragusa got frustrated halfway through when he wasn't selected and headed out alone to hit some golf balls.

"I started thinking, what am I going to do with my life?" Siragusa said. "I never thought I would get a shot to play in the NFL."

Siragusa landed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent with minimal expectations, especially when he had to sign a release that allowed the Colts to void his contract if he got hurt. But Siragusa beat those odds by taking desperate measures, making the Colts primarily as the backup long-snapper.

Then it was time for Siragusa to reinvent himself as a player. As a pass-rushing tackle at the University of Pittsburgh, Siragusa blew out both knees. His left knee still doesn't have an anterior cruciate ligament, and his right one was reconstructed with a cadaver ligament.

With decreased mobility, Siragusa switched styles in the NFL to concentrate on stuffing running backs instead of sacking quarterbacks. In his rookie season, Siragusa went from the Colts' third-string nose tackle to starting six games that year. He was a full-time starter within two years.

"I decided that there's no sense in having all these pass-rush guys if you can't get to third-and-long," Siragusa said. "So I'm going to pride myself in being a first- and second-down player and pride myself in stopping the run. Every coach that goes and plays against me is going to say: 'Listen, we got to run the ball, but we got to block this guy.'

"I took it personal whenever I played somebody else. My motivation was these guys didn't want to draft me, they don't think I'm any good. So, I got to prove myself today. That was my motivation still after 11 years in the league."

Personality to spare

It didn't take long for Siragusa to make himself at home in the locker room.

His pranks can be cruel but memorable.

In Indianapolis, some of the younger players made a big pot of cocoa in the training room and Siragusa saw an opportunity to spike it with laxative before practice. It didn't take long to see his trickery go to work, as players continually rushed off the field.

"They say there is a person like you everywhere, but I believe God made one Goose with that personality," Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster said. "Goose says what's on his mind. He's a fun guy to be around. He doesn't hold any punches. So if you take it the wrong way, you take it the wrong way."

For his radio show on WJFK (1300 AM), Siragusa once asked receiver Patrick Johnson and fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo to be guests. There was an ulterior motive.

Siragusa apparently thought his teammates needed help on their touchdown dances and had some strippers appear to show them some moves.

"He gets on every one of them, but he would have any one of their backs," defensive line coach Rex Ryan said. "They know they can count on Goose. No matter what the situation, that they can look over and say, 'I want Tony Siragusa in my corner.' And he'd be there."

He was there last year, when then-Raven Fernando Smith's apartment burned down. Siragusa was the first teammate to bring clothes and gifts for Smith's family.

"He definitely runs his mouth a lot," Burnett said. "He talks a lot of crap, and he gets on a lot of people. But he's got a heart as big as the city of Baltimore."

Father Goose

The softer side of Goose comes out more often at home.

With his 3-year-old daughter, Samantha Rose, and 15-month-old son, Anthony Jr., usually waiting at the window, Siragusa walks through the door and the party begins.

They start throwing pillows, and everyone gets thrown onto the couch. Kids are getting tossed in the air and flipped upside down.

It's basically as loud as many would expect the Goose's nest to be.

"He is who you see - absolutely, without a doubt," said Kathy Siragusa, his wife of five years. "When he interviews on television or makes a statement to someone, he comes home and he's in that same mode. He's on a very even base. There's really nothing too different about him except that when he comes home, it's personal and private. It's toned down. He's not using so many four-lettered words."

The two worlds do collide occasionally. His daughter listens to Siragusa's radio show every week, and he says hello to her at the beginning. Siragusa, however, has been known to take his show into R-rated territory.

"She loves to listen to him," Kathy said. "Sometimes it's, 'Why did he say that, Mommy?' So I have to explain."

Kathy is Siragusa's high school sweetheart. They've known each other for 17 years.

Siragusa was the same then, always the center of attention. Besides playing sports, he sang in the chorus and acted in plays.

Kathy, who is 5 feet 1, was a little frightened by Siragusa's monstrous size at first. She only went out with him as a favor. It was a double date set up because one of his friends wanted to go out with one of hers.

"I kind of got trapped into it," Kathy said. "I really didn't want to go out with him. But as everybody knows, his charm, his humor and his unbelievable personality win you over immediately. The rest is history."

A scare, then a return

Humor turned to eerie silence two months ago.

Siragusa's head was jolted back in a collision with Tennessee Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal. Calling it the scariest moment of his life, he lay motionless as thoughts of his family flashed in front of him.

After being shuttled to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, Siragusa was found to have a mild bruise on his spinal cord.

Kathy, who was watching the game at her mother-in-law's house in New Jersey, started to panic and cry when Siragusa was carted off the field. She was relieved when Siragusa called her from the hospital, but he conveniently forgot to tell her that he was returning to the game within the hour.

"You can try to tell him, 'Don't worry about us, worry about you,' in that situation. But that's not Tony," Kathy said. "He's the protector, the caretaker, and wants everybody else around him to be OK. That's his nature, really."

The Ravens were equally shocked when Siragusa returned to the game.

"Man, you're nuts, you're not going out there," Ryan said to Siragusa. "This game is important, but you're talking about your livelihood and you're family."

Siragusa responded, "I'm thinking about your family, too."

Life after football

Leaving the game doesn't scare Siragusa.

During his four-week holdout during training camp - he eventually agreed to an extension that could be worth as much as $5 million this season and next - he was prepared to accept that he had played his last game. In addition to his restaurant, Tiffany's, in Pine Brook, N.J., Siragusa may venture into television broadcasting after retiring.

Siragusa is seeking just one reward before calling it quits. He wants a Super Bowl ring.

"That's the only reason why I'm here right now. I need to win," Siragusa said. "No matter what I do, I need to win. Just ask my wife. If my wife wants to have a snowball fight with me, I'm going for her head. That's just the way it is."

For Goose, winning is the prize for his sacrifice on the field.

He's the life of the locker room, the overlooked part of this defense's soul.

"Everybody has a Goose on their team. ... Well, that's not fair because he is a unique individual," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think people appreciate what Tony does, but I don't think anybody loves him as much as we do. We know what he brings. I think that would be hard for somebody on the outside to really appreciate."

Tony Siragusa file

Age: 33

Height: 6 feet 3

Weight: 340

Hometown: Kenilworth, N.J.

College: Pittsburgh

Joined Ravens: Unrestricted free agent, 1997

Experience: 11 years

Games played: 154

Total tackles: 704

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