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THE CHECK arrived in a fancy envelope, and Tony Siragusa shuddered at his good fortune. It was a gift from the football gods, so Siragusa took the $1,000 signing bonus ($674 after taxes) he received from the Indianapolis Colts in the spring of 1990-his first NFL paycheck-and went straight to a bank in his hometown of Kenilworth, N.J. Though the bank had closed for the day, his aunt was the manager, and when he asked her to give him the entire sum in small bills, she happily obliged. Then, with a wallet nearly as thick as his midsection, Siragusa barged into Ross Brothers' Tavern and slapped the wad of cash on the bar. "Then," he recalls, "we drank it. Every last dollar bill."
If there's one story that captures the essence of Siragusa, the Baltimore Ravens' wide-bodied, wisecracking, potbellied, potty-mouthed, bighearted, large-living defensive tackle, then scores of others serve the same purpose. The signing-bonus saga just happens to be the tale he's telling at the moment, but Siragusa, 33, has more material than he has bulk in his 6'3", 342-pound body. When the Ravens face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, the Goose will be the biggest personality in the ultimate game, a man revered by teammates, reviled by some opponents and unrepentant about any feelings—or quarterbacks—he has injured along the way.
One evening last week in Pine Brook, N.J., Siragusa took center stage as he and his paisans-including some who 11 years earlier had helped him drink away his signing bonus—had another celebration at another boisterous bar. Partying at Tiffany's, however, required no wad of cash. Siragusa is a co-owner of the eatery and sports bar, which he and two partners opened in November. Thanks to a contract holdout last summer, Siragusa has earned more than $2 million this season, a salary he views as a validation of his lunch-bucket approach to football.
"My abilities were overlooked for a long time, but people are starting to see that I'm a piece of the puzzle," Siragusa said, his voice booming above the din. "When I was in college, people told me, 'Sure, you can stop the run, but anyone can do that. If you want to make money in the NFL, you've got to rush the passer.' That's bull——. It's like all the people who tell you you've got to be in computers to make money. Yeah? You know what—you still need a f——-plumber to fix your toilet, and the scarcer they are, the more money they'll make. 'Cause what are you gonna do, call a f———computer guy to fix your f———crapper?"
Everybody at the table—heck, everyone at the surrounding tables—burst into laughter, a common response when the Goose is on the loose. Siragusa is a salt-of-the-earth sage who can insult you in the loudest, most embarrassing manner and still get you to laugh along with the crowd.
Giants fans, beware. True, Siragusa was one of you once, growing up 20 miles from Giants Stadium, and his restaurant will be full of Ravens bashers come Super Sunday. Mindful of this quirk of fate, Siragusa went behind the Tiffany's bar, mixed roughly 30 shots of a pink liquid he identified only as Goose Juice and passed them around the bar before raising his glass of beer. "Hey, here's to the Giants...," he said, pausing long enough for patrons to exchange puzzled glances before he delivered the kicker, "... kissing my ass!"
Siragusa doesn't suck up to anyone. Just ask Mike Gottfried, who in 1987, his second year as Pitt's coach, passed out copies of the school's fight song at a team meeting. Siragusa, then a sophomore, crumpled his sheet and shouted, "If I wanted to learn a school song, I would've gone to Notre Dame or Penn State. I want to kill people on the football field. That's why I came to Pitt."
Siragusa has nothing good to say about Gottfried and has even less regard for former Colts director of football operations Bill Tobin, who ran the franchise during the last three of Siragusa's seven years in Indianapolis (1990 to '96). Siragusa detests Tobin for driving out Indy coach Ted Marchibroda with a low-ball contract offer after the team's run to the '95 AFC title game. "We had a great thing going, and the guy dismantled it," Siragusa says of Tobin, who is out of football. "Then he had the balls to refer to himself in the third person constantly. He's horrible."
Nor is Siragusa a fan of former Colts coach Lindy Infante, Tobin's choice to succeed Marchibroda. "A d—-head loser," Siragusa says.
The Goose is far more complimentary toward Ravens coach Brian Billick, though Siragusa's relationship with team management became strained during last summer's four-week holdout. Siragusa, due to make $1.5 million in 2000, wanted a raise and a contract extension, but the front office didn't budge. Word of a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum by the Ravens broke in the Baltimore papers on an August day on which Siragusa was relaxing with his wife, Kathy. four-year-old daughter, Samantha, and 17-month-old son, Anthony, at their beach house on the Jersey shore. When Billick called to smooth things over, Siragusa asked whether he was prepared to begin the Season with an inexperienced starter (Lional Dalton) and a free-agent pickup (Sam Adams) at the tackle positions. "Oh, I see," Billick said. "It's all about leverage now?"