- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa brings a lot to the table: meatloaf, chicken, omelets, pizza, beer …

Siragusa sings Frank Sinatra tunes, wants to be television mobster Tony Soprano and grew up a New York Giants fan. His weekly radio show requires a six-second delay for profanity. The comments are pure New York wise guy.

Siragusa is a blue-collar working stiff from a tightly knit Italian neighborhood in the New Jersey suburbs, where he jokes that 35 kids would come running from stickball games whenever a mother called, "Anthony . . " Everyone knew the beat cop and worried more about him telling their parents of misdeeds than taking them to jail.

The family lived just 20 minutes from Giants Stadium, and Siragusa's dad bought a big-screen television before New York played Denver in Super Bowl XXI. Siragusa's father was a cement truck driver who died of a heart attack at 48. The son still remembers him in a prayer before each game, writes "Dad" on his cleats and spends his offseasons in the old neighborhood. He even bought a local restaurant where many Giants players come to eat and arm wrestle the owner on the bar for drinks. He would have spent much of his time there anyway.

"The summer wind is blowing in from across the sea," Siragusa sings from a Sinatra tune. "[If you want to hear] any more, you have to pay."

Siragusa doesn't just talk to the media, he holds court. While linebacker Ray Lewis was trying to say nothing to a crowd nearby and tight end Shannon Sharpe was pressing to show how smart he could sound, Siragusa kept the media in stitches.

It all begins with the weight. The roster says Siragusa weighs 340; he says it's 342. It's probably 365. The man's wrists could hide a cueball. Giants center Dusty Zeigler calls Siragusa a "white avalanche of jersey."

One teammate recalled Siragusa eating an entire meatloaf, several pieces of chicken and a mountainous pile of mashed potatoes for lunch. Another said Siragusa ate two large omelets for breakfast. After meals, his tablemates check their fingers.

Sharpe said Siragusa's offseason conditioning program is eating pizza. He claims to lift a weight or two, but it's probably a Quarter-Pounder.

"I'm a little upset about having to wear white," Siragusa said about his uniform for Sunday's Super Bowl XXXV against New York. "I wish we were the home team so we could wear purple and I'd look a little thinner. This shirt's doing nothing for my abs."

Asked what his occupation would be if he were a woman, Siragusa said "stripper." Belly dancer would be more appropriate. Hey, Soprano owns a strip club. Siragusa wonders what all the fuss is about local dancers having to stay six feet from patrons.

"I was looking to make a few extra dollars," he said jokingly. "Everybody's got to make a buck. I have a job to do. They have a job to do. If that's what they do, God bless them."

Siragusa claimed the NFL is weight-biased, citing his $10,000 fine for belly-flopping on Oakland's Rich Gannon and knocking the quarterback out of the AFC Championship game Jan. 14.

"If I was 280 pounds, I don't think I would have been fined if he wasn't hurt, if it wasn't the Raiders and a high-profile game," he said. "They train us all year to hit people, be aggressive and kill the quarterback. Every hat you see says 'Sackmaster' or 'Quarterback Killer.' All of a sudden, you hit the quarterback and knock him out of the game, and they want to fine you. It's a bunch of bull. How do you stop 342 pounds running full speed and the guy doesn't move? It's as much his blame as mine. I'll appeal it. It's baloney."

You don't last 11 years in the NFL after going undrafted and undergoing nine knee surgeries without using those smarts gleamed from the streets of Pinebrook, N.J. One surgery cost Siragusa an anterior cruciate ligament. Another required implanting a ligament from a cadaver.

Obviously, Siragusa is a tough guy. just like his street-tough role models. He opted to play at the University of Pittsburgh after getting into a fight on a recruiting visit. Taken from a game to the hospital with a bruised spinal cord that left him momentarily paralyzed earlier this season, he returned for the second half. If Gannon was dinged on the hit, big deal. The cheerleaders are the ones in the skirts, not the players.

"I tried to hit him with everything I had and disrupt his timing," Siragusa said. "You don't try to be nice to quarterbacks, especially when you're my size and don't get as many hits as you want to. The next thing I knew, he was down and hurt, but it's not like I was trying to hurt him."

No, Siragusa is a nice guy underneath that wise-guy exterior. When his neighborhood friends say they can play in the NFL if he can, he just buys them a drink. When opponents question his hygiene (one said rubbing against Siragusa would start a grease fire), he offers to hit the showers before the game.

Siragusa's hometown has switched allegiances to the Ravens for this game. "Uncle Louie" and his friends made sure of it. The "Goose" doesn't have too many years left before returning full time to the neighborhood, and he wants to return in style.

"I've reached both ends of the spectrum, from being a total zero to hero," he said. "We better win this game because I like being a hero better."

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