BALTIMORE — June 22, 2022, has become the saddest and longest day in Ravens history.
Early Wednesday morning, the team announced that fourth-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson died at age 26 after authorities found him unresponsive late Tuesday in a North Baltimore home.
Early in the evening, a team spokesman confirmed that former Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa died at age 55. The cause of death was not immediately known.
The impact of the news was felt throughout the organization.
“Just a tough, tough day,” said former Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware, a one-time teammate of Siragusa’s on the 2000 team that won the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
“We’ll get through it. My prayers are with this team and this organization. That’s who we are.”
Only a few guys in the Ravens’ 26-year history exemplified toughness better than the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Siragusa. At the same time, he became a voice for a team in search of leadership.
Some of the old Baltimore Colts fans compared Siragusa with late Hall of Fame defensive tackle Art Donovan, but Donovan was the happy-go-lucky type.
Siragusa could be loud, obnoxious, vicious, pleasant and humorous, but he was a great teammate. If you took a cheap shot at any of the Ravens, you had to answer to Siragusa or his top henchman, defensive end Rob Burnett.
“First of all, my deepest condolences to his family,” Marvin Lewis, the architect and coordinator of the 2000 Ravens’ record-setting defense, said in a statement. “With Tony as a friend and teammate, you needed no other. He played and lived life to the fullest. He always reminded me to have fun.”
That was Siragusa’s nature. He had a larger-than-life personality and he could light up any room. The locker room was his domain. If you were a reporter and your clothes didn’t match, Siragusa was going to poke fun.
If you didn’t comb your hair, Siragusa was going to get you. If your shirt was too tight, he’d ask why you had on your little brother’s T-shirt.
No one was spared the wrath or jokes. Not the media, not his teammates, not coach Brian Billick.
“If he stared at you, something was going to come out of his mouth,” Boulware said. “The stare was deadly.”
I’d get into these exchanges with Siragusa, Burnett, defensive end Michael McCrary and safety Bennie Thompson maybe two or three times a week. Siragusa was relentless in tracking people down. He once called me at home on his radio show to tell me I was an idiot. The next day we’d fight and then the next day we’d be in the locker room goofing around again.
Players back then liked to banter, and they respected you if you talked as much trash as they did. The wisecracks and outgoing personality led Siragusa to become a TV commentator and later a sideline reporter for Fox’s NFL coverage.
But here’s a side of Siragusa few got to see.
“When I was a rookie and got to Baltimore, I was fortunate enough to live on same street with Tony, so he’d take me home and his wife would cook me dinner,” former Ravens weakside linebacker Jamie Sharper said. “Tony was a fun-filled guy, and everybody loved and looked up to him — the media and his teammates — but I got to see him as a good family man.”
Sharper hadn’t seen Siragusa in nearly three years, but they reconnected at a reunion for the 2000 Super Bowl team on May 23. He said that occasion allowed him to hug Siragusa and take a picture with him one last time.
“When we were done playing, Tony would open up his businesses to us,” Sharper said, fighting back tears. “He didn’t care what color you were, where you lived, what profession you were in, he treated everyone the same. And yes, he made fun of everyone.”
But Siragusa came to Baltimore for a specific reason. At the end of the 1996 season, then-Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome walked into the shed at the old complex on the other side of Owings Mills and delivered a message.
“Mike,” Newsome said, “during the offseason, I am going to bring me in a big-ass lineman to anchor the middle of the defense. Write it down, and remember I told you that.”
Enter Tony Siragusa.
The Ravens finished 6-9-1 that season, but they were just beginning to build a great defense with three young promising linebackers in Boulware, Sharpe and Ray Lewis in the middle.
That trio will go down in history as one of the best ever in the NFL. Lewis is the greatest linebacker of all time, but that defensive line ran the team in 2000.
Talk about tough guys?
McCrary and Burnett on the ends, and Siragusa and Sam Adams, the two sumo wrestlers, at tackle. No one ran on this defense, which gave up only 165 points in 16 games that season.
Adams could disrupt running plays and put pressure on a quarterback with an explosive first step. Siragusa, meanwhile, could occupy two or three offensive linemen to keep them off Lewis.
Forget Siragusa’s stats.
He had 159 total tackles in his five seasons in Baltimore while Lewis had 768 during that span. Siragusa’s signature moment came when he drove Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon into the turf in the 2000 AFC Championship game.
Gannon suffered a shoulder injury and Siragusa was eventually fined $10,000 for an illegal hit, which he said shortly after the Ravens’ victory was not done on purpose.
But about a month later, when I asked him if it was an intentional slam, he winked, laughed and replied: “What do you think?”
That was vintage Siragusa. He played hard and he lived that way, too. He was an extremely athletic and mobile big guy who could talk a lot of smack and back it up.
He “played like a Raven,” a term first used by former coach Ted Marchibroda. Few players have been as fierce and competitive.
And no Raven has laughed as much.
“I can’t believe Goose is gone. He was more than a teammate, he was my brother,” McCrary said. “There was Goose, Burnett and me, we were the D-line, but so much more. We were always there for one another and he always managed to bring a smile to my face, no matter how bad things may have seemed.
“There are so many memories. I will never think of him without smiling, and I will miss him. Watch out heaven’s gatekeepers, Goose in on the way and heaven will never be the same.”