Before hundreds of fans howling "Goooose," Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa began to say his gooodbyes.
At a packed Cockeysville sports bar last night, Siragusa opened his weekly radio show by announcing his retirement effective at the end of the season. It has been an unlikely 12-year NFL career, which began with him drinking away his $1,000 signing bonus as an undrafted free agent and culminated with him emerging as a celebrity.
"I'm going to be retiring after this year," Siragusa said. "I don't like to look at it as hanging it up. I made a decision that I came into this league as a free agent and on my terms. I want to leave on my terms.
"I don't want to be a selfish player that's just hanging on. I think it's my time to go, and I'm ready to go."
Known more for his crude, charismatic personality than for his punishing labor on one of the best defenses of all time, the 6-foot-3, 340-pound tough guy from New Jersey has been embraced by this city for his blue-collar style and regarded by many as the modern incarnation of Artie Donovan.
Clawing out a selfless personal mission each game, Siragusa has willingly accepted the job of occupying double teams so All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis can roam free and clean up tackles. Siragusa has been the rock-solid foundation for a run defense that has ranked in the top five for the past five seasons.
But injuries from countless operations on both knees have taken their toll and ultimately weighed heavy in his decision to retire two weeks ago. Monday night's game at PSINet Stadium against the Minnesota Vikings could mark Siragusa's last home game.
"I thought to myself, 'Could I come back and play the way I wanted to play? Probably not,' " said Siragusa, 34, who had his most recent knee surgery four months ago. "That's when I knew."
While he never garnered the highlights on the field, Siragusa never strayed from the spotlight off it as one of the league's legendary practical jokers.
His most famous prank came during his six years with the Indianapolis Colts. Some of the younger players made a big pot of cocoa before practice and Siragusa saw an opportunity to spike it with laxative.
But Siragusa will be remembered for more than laughs.
Two years ago, then-Raven Fernando Smith's apartment burned down around Christmas. Siragusa was the first teammate to bring clothes and gifts for Smith's family, grabbing presents from under his tree.
"I have never encountered anyone like him," said Ravens defensive end Peter Boulware. "I doubt that I'll ever encounter anyone like him."
During the dog days of training camp, his teammates recall the numerous times when he could pick up spirits with one of his jokes.
"He would make things a little better just for that five minutes," said defensive tackle Lional Dalton, a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent who could inherit Siragusa's starting job next season.
Using last year's Super Bowl title as his national springboard, Siragusa has already begun making in-roads to his new career in the entertainment field.
He has done a screen test for the HBO series, The Sopranos, and has received an offer for a hunting and fishing show. Besides the national pre-game shows courting him in the off-season, there is speculation that a network sitcom could be in the works.
"There's a lot of interest," said Jim Ornstein, Siragusa's agent for the William Morris talent agency. "The guy is a franchise because he is so talented."
It has been an interesting road for Siragusa, who was not taken in the 12-round league draft in 1990. Now he's a national celebrity.
"It's the culmination of a career that could have easily not have been," said defensive end Rob Burnett, one of Siragusa's closest friends. "He's definitely lived the American dream."
Toward the end of the radio show, Siragusa grabbed his beer and toasted his fans.
"I've had a lot of fun, a lot of memories," Siragusa said. "I feel like I'm going to have to wake up and pinch myself because I've had so much fun in my career. If anyone has as much fun in one year that I've had in 12, then they'll be very happy."