UPDATE: Tony Siragusa passed away on June 22, 2022 at the age of 55.
Tony Siragusa ruined Hard Knocks. Twenty years ago this summer, The Goose was one of the main characters of the very first season of the show. Heading into his final season in the NFL, coming off a Super Bowl victory, Siragusa introduced the public to a genuinely entertaining football player. HBO has tried to replicate the magic of the first season, but they've never quite been able to find the right mix of characters-- and they've never found anyone as good as Siragusa.
The Goose arrived in Baltimore as a fan favorite. After going undrafted out of Pittsburgh, Siragusa made a name for himself in Indianapolis. This sit-down with Steve Sabol looks back at some of his more colorful moments. [The video is, of course, gone.]
That first season of Hard Knocks was filled out with the usual boring collection of no-name rookies trying to make the team, but mostly leaned on a lineup of personalities and future media members, with Siragusa carrying the show. Right behind Goose was future Skip Bayless foil Shannon Sharpe. Looking at that duo on Hard Knocks, their future media careers were so obvious. That's why every Hard Knocks since has been a disappointment.
In addition to Sharpe and Goose, the team was coached by future NFL studio guy Brian Billick. Marvin Lewis was the defensive coordinator. And while they were rarely, if ever, featured on the show, the 2001 Ravens also employed future head coaches Rex Ryan, Mike Nolan, Mike Smith, and Jack Del Rio.
The on-field star of the team was future Hall of Famer and ESPN/FS1 personality Ray Lewis. In addition to this show filming months after the Ravens' Super Bowl victory, it also took place less than two years removed from the Lewis incident from the previous Super Bowl. During the third episode, after Jamal Lewis has been lost for the season with a knee injury, Ray says he told Jamal to come to his house... where it sounds like he forgave him for getting hurt.
In the very first episode of Hard Knocks, Lewis, after saying he wanted people to think of his name and how he changed the way the position was played when they heard the word "linebacker," said, "I'm probably the most humblest person you'll ever know." That was 15 years before Popstar.
Siragusa's Hard Knocks intro is of him on a boat, wearing what we would soon realize was a recurring outfit of a BIG DADDY baseball jersey with a bucket hat, saying he would dent the cars of rookies because he didn't respect them until they made the team.
This was also Todd Heap's rookie year. Walking through an airport with people taking their picture and just two weeks married, he says people think his wife is Britney Spears. That's not what dates the show, though. Heap and his wife are shown buying cell phones and the saleswoman explains that the phones can communicate with each other with something called "text messaging."
You wouldn't know any of this from the Wikipedia description of the season which touts the central storyline as, "The quarterback competition between Elvis Grbac and Randall Cunningham." Between that and text messaging, 2001 was truly a time to be alive.
In addition to blowing off daily weigh-ins, Goose also paid a team employee to keep his fridge stocked with water and beer. He jams the tight end meeting room door shut with a table, often wears other shirts that say "BIG DADDY" and is almost always wearing some sort of bucket hat, whether he's on a boat in his home state of New Jersey or just walking around the team hotel.
While Goose retired after that season, he only became a bigger part of the lives of football fans. He was a longtime sideline reporter for FOX. Siragusa had a short but notable acting career, appearing in Spike Lee's The 25th Hour and multiple episodes of The Sopranos. Then he hosted the DIY Network show, Man Caves. Oh, and he also endorsed Depends.
Siragusa still pops up now and then, but for the most part, he's fun to remember. He was an old-school, fat guy nose tackle who helped a team win a Super Bowl. He was a fixture on NFL Sundays for more than a decade after he retired. He made it OK for dudes to remodel their houses the way they liked. Most importantly, he ruined Hard Knocks forever by being himself.