Former Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa was the epitome of survival of the fittest.
He was cut from his Kenilworth, NJ Little League All-Star baseball squad when he was just 12.
When Siragusa played college football for the Pitt Panthers, he tore his left ACL during a scrimmage game. He had to sit out the entire 1988 NCAA season.
Consequently, many NFL teams passed up on him in the 1990 NFL Draft.
Siragusa didn’t let those setbacks deter him. He wanted to prove his naysayers wrong each and every time.
Siragusa eventually enjoyed a memorable 12-year NFL career punctuated by a Super Bowl ring he earned in 2001.
Sadly, Tony Siragusa passed away in the summer of 2022.
Nonetheless, the fond memories of the man they call “Goose” will live on forever.
Anthony “Tony” Siragusa, Sr. was born to parents Pete and Rose in Kenilworth, NJ on May 14, 1967.
He had an older brother who is their father’s namesake. They had a younger brother named Elio.
The patriarch, Pete Siragusa, was a tool and die maker for General Dynamics who drove a cement truck from Monday to Friday and a limo on weekends. He sang rock songs and played the guitar on the side.
He met Rose when he played for a band that traveled around New Jersey. She was one of the dancers the band hired.
Siragusa and his wife eventually opened an Italian restaurant in the Kenilworth area. It wasn’t surprising when their middle son, Tony, opened his own restaurant chain in New Jersey many years later.
I just got dinner ! pic.twitter.com/TSZvNsM4K7
— Tony Siragusa (@TonySiragusa) November 12, 2015
Tony Siragusa fondly recalled eating pasta at every meal in their household. He chalked it up to his Italian roots. He and his two brothers spent their free time at home playing air hockey and with potato launchers.
Tony Siragusa played Little League baseball during his formative years in New Jersey.
According to his autobiography, he didn’t make the cut for the Little League All-Star team when he was twelve years old.
A distraught Siragusa went home, washed his face in the family’s backyard swimming pool, and told the story to his mother.
The coaches called him several days later and told him he made the All-Star squad after another player got injured.
When it was Siragusa’s turn to bat in the second game of the All-Star series, he hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning.
It was a defining moment in Tony Siragusa’s life.
“Right then and there, that became the theme of my life,” Siragusa wrote in his 2012 autobiography. “I know I can do this.”
Siragusa attended David Brearley High School in his hometown.
He excelled on the gridiron, golf course, baseball field, and wrestling mat for the Brearley Bears.
He finished his high school wrestling career with an outstanding 97-1 win-loss record. To nobody’s surprise, Siragusa became the New Jersey state wrestling champion.
Siragusa was a kicker, punter, and defensive lineman for the Brearley Bears football team.
Siragusa, who grew to 6’3″ and 340 pounds during his pro football playing days, dated 5’1″, 105-lb. Kathy Giacalone in high school.
“I was scared to death of him,” Giacalone told Sports Illustrated’s Michael Silver in 2001. “I really didn’t like him, but he kept coming back and saying, ‘What do you mean you won’t go out with me again?'”
She said Siragusa couldn’t come to grips with the fact somebody didn’t like him. He persisted and they eventually became a couple.
#BREAKING: NFL legend and NJ native @TonySiragusa has died at age 55, the @Ravens have confirmed. He attended David Brearley HS in Kenilworth, where a parade was held in his honor after the Ravens' historic Super Bowl win. #RIPGoose More coming up on @News12NJ pic.twitter.com/VCBWx1E4DS
— News 12 NJ NewsDesk (@News12NJDesk) June 22, 2022
Tony Siragusa could also belt out a tune in high school—he was a member of the David Brearley Chorale.
Siragusa received a football scholarship from the Pitt Panthers during his senior year at David Brearley High.
He eventually became one of the most decorated defensive linemen in Pitt football history.
College Days With the Pitt Panthers
Tony Siragusa attended the University of Pittsburgh from 1986 to 1989.
Siragusa played defensive tackle for Mike Gottfried’s Pitt Panthers during that time.
Siragusa made a lasting impression on Gottfried in his sophomore season in 1987.
Gottfried gave out copies of the Pitt fight song to his players during a team meeting that year. An incensed Siragusa tore his copy and ranted in front of the entire squad.
“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 shouted (via Sports Illustrated).
While Siragusa gained notoriety for his play on the college gridiron, his inner circle told him that stopping the run was great; however, rushing the passer was where the big bucks lay in the professional ranks.
Siragusa was having none of it—he told Silver in 2001 that solely focusing on the pass rush for a heftier paycheck was similar to somebody pursuing a career in computers simply to make it big. He likened the idea to plumbers, as their demand grew, making more money down the line.
Siragusa had 78 tackles and seven sacks in his sophomore season at Pitt. He had 17 tackles and four tackles for losses in a win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights that year.
Tony Siragusa suffered a serious setback on the college gridiron in the spring of 1988.
He tore his left ACL during practice, underwent surgery, and had to sit out the entire 1988 NCAA season.
Siragusa spent the summer of 1989 at his parents’ house in Kenilworth, NJ recovering from his ACL injury.
Little did he know he was about to experience a life-changing moment.
Rose Siragusa’s shrieks awakened Tony and his older brother Pete at 4 a.m. one day in July 1989. The two boys rushed to their parents’ room and discovered their dad Pete had succumbed to a heart attack.
Pete Siragusa, Sr. was 48 years old.
“We were crushed,” Tony Siragusa told Sports Illustrated almost twelve years later. “It changed my approach to life. From then on I was going to blaze a trail through the brush and go as hard and as fast as I could.”
Even during his college days, Siragusa knew he had to earn his keep. He hustled students at Pitt’s pool hall so he could earn some cash.
Following Siragusa’s setbacks on and off the gridiron, he had 60 tackles, 13 tackles for losses, and 5.5 sacks as a senior in 1989.
The Panthers won eight games that year and beat the Texas A&M Aggies in the 1989 Sun Bowl, 31-28.
Many NFL teams passed on Tony Siragusa in the 1990 NFL Draft. However, he didn’t let that stop him.
Through sheer guts and determination, “The Goose” became a respected defensive tackle during his 12-year pro football career.
Pro Football Career
The Indianapolis Colts signed Tony Siragusa as an undrafted free agent in 1990.
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, who tried to recruit Siragusa when he was in high school in New Jersey, called him during the 1990 NFL Draft.
Johnson called him because he thought Siragusa had called him previously. Siragusa wrote in his 2012 autobiography that one of his buddies pranked him and called Johnson.
Siragusa got so fed up not hearing NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue call his name during the draft that he went out to play golf and basketball to blow off some steam.
Siragusa and his brothers called their home basketball court their “office” because they went there to sort their problems out.
Once the draft festivities concluded, Siragusa’s brother Pete told him to hit the weights. Pete encouraged him to prepare himself for when he finally made it to the National Football League.
Tony wasn’t so sure, though—the thought of becoming a construction worker even crossed his mind at that point.
It appeared Siragusa’s draft stock plummeted sharply because of the ACL injury he sustained in college two years earlier.
“I didn’t just get red-flagged,” Siragusa wrote in his autobiography 22 years later. “I got black-flagged.”
Siragusa’s agent Gus Sunseri received a phone call from Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan after the draft.
Although there was mutual interest, Siragusa thought the presence of Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, and Mike Golic on the Eagles’ defensive line would relegate him to second status in Philly.
He turned the Eagles down. Siragusa eventually played for Ryan’s son, Rex, in the second half of his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens.
— Peyton2Luck™️ (@Peyton2L) June 22, 2022
Fortunately, the man who would be known as “Goose” in the National Football League received a second lease on life with the Indianapolis Colts.
Sunseri received a call from the Colts, who wanted to sure their line up after a mediocre 8-8 win-loss campaign.
Sunseri reached out to Siragusa and told him about Indianapolis’ interest.
Siragusa, who had never been west of New Jersey since his visit to Iowa State just before his college days, thought Sunseri had said “Annapolis.”
Sunseri had to explain to Siragusa where Indianapolis was. Siragusa then reached out to Colts tackle Randy Dixon, who told him he could replace Mitch Benson or Harvey Armstrong in the defensive line.
According to Silver, Siragusa made the team after he lied to Colts head coach Ron “Slick” Meyer about having experience playing long snapper. For some reason, Meyer fell for Siragusa’s ruse.
Tony Siragusa went on to spend the first seven years of his twelve-year pro football career in Indianapolis.
Siragusa had no shame in taking the undrafted route. He pointed out in his autobiography that higher Colts draft picks such as Jeff George, Steve Emtman, and Quentin Coryatt never panned out in the pro ranks.
On the other hand, guys like Tony Romo and Kurt Warner were also undrafted.
The New England Patriots drafted eventual seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady in the sixth round in 2000. The Pittsburgh Steelers snagged Johnny Unitas in the ninth round in 1955.
All of them had successful careers in the NFL. Although Tony Siragusa was never a Pro Bowler, he was successful in his own right.
When Siragusa first went to Indianapolis, people compared him to Chicago Bears defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry.
Siragusa told The Baltimore Sun’s Mike Preston in 1997 that he loved opening a fridge, not being compared to one.
Siragusa received a $1,000 signing bonus from the Colts in the spring of 1990. His net total was $674 after taxes, per Silver.
Siragusa promptly rushed to a bank in his hometown of Kenilworth, NJ. Although the bank was closed for the day, he asked his aunt—the bank manager—to break the cash into smaller bills.
She happily obliged and he went to the local Ross Brothers Tavern.
“We drank it,” Siragusa fondly recalled to Sports Illustrated in 2001. “Every last dollar bill.”
In his 2012 book, Siragusa recalled Meyer being so fond of Colts running back Eric Dickerson that he called off practice whenever Dickerson sustained a minor injury.
Meyer and Dickerson had a long history that dated back to their days with the SMU Mustangs.
For the most part, the Colts were a mediocre squad during Siragusa’s seven-year tenure in Indy. They averaged just seven wins per year during his time there.
Nonetheless, they made the postseason twice in his last two years with the team.
It took 6 seasons for Tony Siragusa to make it to the postseason with the #Colts.
The Goose reacts after clinching that berth following a 10-7 victory over the Patriots on Dec 23rd, 1995. pic.twitter.com/xayyShiryG
— Brett Bensley (@brettbensley) June 22, 2022
Despite the Colts’ mediocrity, Siragusa’s fire raged within his soul—he wanted to prove his detractors and naysayers wrong.
He kept track of every coach who passed him up in the 1990 NFL Draft. He approached them after games, shook their hands, and asked them if they remembered him.
Whenever Siragusa made a game-changing play, he flapped his arms like a goose flapped its wings. After all, he wasn’t known in the NFL as “Goose” for nothing.
Siragusa married his high school sweetheart Kathy Giacalone on April 22, 1995. He was about to enter his sixth year in the NFL when they exchanged vows.
As Siragusa’s time in Indianapolis wound down, he began to develop a grudge against Colts director of football operations Bill Tobin.
Siragusa felt Tobin’s contract offer to Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda prompted him to bolt for the NFL’s newest franchise, the Baltimore Ravens, in 1996.
Siragusa thought Marchibroda’s new contract wasn’t commensurate with the head coach’s performance considering the Colts were coming off an appearance in the 1995 AFC Championship Game.
“We had a great thing going, and the guy dismantled it,” Siragusa told Silver some five years later.
Siragusa wasn’t particularly fond of Marchibroda’s successor, Lindy Infante, either. He described Infante as a “d—head loser,” per Sports Illustrated.
I will miss u more then u know buddy thank u for all u have done for me ! Love u !!RIP COACH Ted ! pic.twitter.com/aU9SjXlNre
— Tony Siragusa (@TonySiragusa) January 16, 2016
Siragusa signed a four-year, $6 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens on April 25, 1997. He reunited with Marchibroda, a man he respected and who called the shots for the Ravens.
Siragusa formed an impenetrable wall playing defensive line with Sam Adams. The pride of Kenilworth, NJ was the most outspoken voice in the Raven’s locker room, overshadowing the likes of Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson, and Ray Lewis.
Baltimore was a mediocre team in its first three years of existence from 1996 to 1998. The Ravens averaged just seven wins per year during that stretch.
However, when Buddy Ryan’s son Rex joined the team as defensive line coach in 1999, the Ravens steadily improved.
Baltimore won an impressive twelve games in 2000 and solidified its status as a Super Bowl contender that year.
During the pinnacle of Siragusa’s career with the Baltimore Ravens, opponents paid homage to him.
Pittsburgh Steelers guard Rich Tylski told Silver that Siragusa was an immovable force, saying that the best thing that offensive linemen could do was neutralize him and have Siragusa execute an arm tackle.
Tylski’s teammate, running back Jerome Bettis, concurred. Offensive line coaches needed two players to block Siragusa. The double team allowed Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis to wreak havoc wherever he pleased.
Siragusa was tough as nails, too. He bruised his spine after a head-on collision with Tennessee Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal in October 2000.
Siragusa thought he was paralyzed from the head down. His mother Rose ran down from the stands.
A golf cart carried Siragusa to the locker room where his brothers Pete Jr. and Elio consoled him.
“From my head down, I couldn’t move,” Siragusa told ESPN years later. “It was the scariest thing that’s happened to me in my life.”
After spending an hour at a nearby Maryland hospital, Tony Siragusa promptly checked back into the game, per Silver.
Siragusa could also collapse the pocket with ease. His signature moment came in the 2000 AFC Championship Game against Rich Gannon’s Oakland Raiders.
Siragusa broke loose, went over the middle, and pummeled Gannon as soon as he released the ball in the second quarter.
° 2000 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP °
Underdog #Ravens roll into the "Black Hole" and leave with a convincing 16-3 W over the Raiders.
Trent Dilfer's 96-yard TD pass to Shannon Sharpe is the longest play from scrimmage in NFL postseason history.
Tony Siragusa crushes Rich Gannon. pic.twitter.com/p6dLpS0IHS
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 15, 2022
Gannon lay on the Network Associates Coliseum floor in agony. It turned out Siragusa had separated his shoulder.
“I saw Rich’s eyes roll back,” Siragusa told ESPN after the game. “He got every pound of my fat a– on him.”
The Ravens beat the Raiders 16-3 to advance to Super Bowl XXXV against the New York Giants.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue promptly fined Siragusa $10,000 for his late hit on Gannon.
Siragusa’s Ravens dismantled the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, 34-7. He finally earned a Super Bowl ring.
Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan remembered Siragusa driving back from New Jersey in the aftermath of their Super Bowl victory.
Ryan told Siragusa he planned to buy a big-screen television for his basement with his playoff bonus money in one of their team meetings.
Lo and behold, Siragusa’s truck had a big-screen television loaded in the back when he visited Ryan.
It was vintage Tony Siragusa.
Siragusa’s claim to fame was the 2001 edition of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
Talent agent Jim Ornstein told The Star-Ledger’s Andrew Mills seven years later that Siragusa’s honesty and charisma made him stand out on “Hard Knocks.”
Tony Siragusa retired following the 2001 NFL season. He had 564 combined tackles, five forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, and 22.0 sacks in 169 career games in the NFL.
Siragusa always had a soft spot for kids during his NFL career. He established the Tony Siragusa Foundation—an organization that assisted underprivileged children—in Indianapolis and later moved it to Baltimore.
Siragusa and his brothers Peter Jr. and Elio started the American Italian Association which helped raise funds for needy children.
Siragusa singled out Cincinnati Bengals guard Matt O’Dwyer as the dirtiest player he faced in his 12-year pro football career.
After O’Dwyer made a hit on him during the 2000 NFL season, a fed-up Siragusa told him he’d take out his knees after the Ravens got an interception, per Silver.
O’Dwyer discontinued his tactics from there on out.
Siragusa credited his success in the National Football League to his foundation—his family, inner circle, and everybody who supported him during his 12-year pro gridiron journey.
Tony Siragusa aptly summed up his life on and off the gridiron in his 2012 autobiography.
“If there’s a natural disaster, come to my house because I will survive,” Siragusa wrote in his book. “I’m just a survivor.”
Post-Football Life and Death
Tony Siragusa and his wife Kathy have two daughters, Samantha and Ava, and a son named Anthony Jr.
Family vacation! pic.twitter.com/suboqTArqv
— Tony Siragusa (@TonySiragusa) June 21, 2016
Siragusa became a FOX Sports NFL sideline analyst from 2003 to 2015. He also hosted a weekly radio show on Baltimore’s WJFK-AM.
He had his own show on the DIY Network. Siragusa appeared in the Spike Lee movie “25th Hour” and the HBO television series “The Sopranos.”
Siragusa owned several Tiffany’s bars and restaurants across his home state of New Jersey. He had a food product line that included “Goose’s Baby Back Ribs.”
Siragusa’s hobbies included hunting, fishing, listening to music, riding motorcycles, and camping. He used his 30-foot boat in Florida for fishing and frequently went scuba diving in the Bahamas, per The Baltimore Sun.
During his playing days, he had a yellow Labrador retriever he named Sambuca. At one point, he also had a boa constrictor, a tarantula, and a pet alligator.
Siragusa became a member of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Hall of Fame in March 2022.
Sadly, Tony Siragusa passed away on June 22, 2022 at the age of 55.
Retired former Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa died in his sleep at age 55. Former Ravens teammate Brad Jackson: 'He was the leader, he was our captain. He meant everything to everyone. It's a sad day. I just talked to him on Sunday. It's terrible.'
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) June 22, 2022
According to Pro Football Network, Siragusa died in his sleep. The cause of his death is currently unknown.