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Speaking of mythmaking and brutality, Tony Siragusa was on Howard Stern’s satellite-radio program last week, promoting his new book. The subject of the Saints’ bounty program came up, and the Ravens defensive tackle turned football commentator took the high ground: “You don’t mess with guys’ livelihoods,” he said. “You don’t go out and say, ‘Listen, we’re going to try to hurt this guy.’ Like, you know. You don’t play the game of football to try and hurt somebody.”
This is what NFL player safety comes down to: a string of words being dutifully, sanctimoniously, hypocritically jabbered out by someone whose life is dedicated to the exact opposite of what the words pretend to mean. You don’t play the game of football to try and hurt somebody. Here, for the record, is a video clip of how Tony Siragusa played The Game of Football, and to what end:
Siragusa’s purpose on that play was to hurt somebody—to hurt somebody in the most blatant, cowardly, premeditated way possible. The hit on Rich Gannon, in the AFC championship game in 2001, was the defining play of his professional career. He even brought it up with Howard Stern, after his host expressed skepticism about this gospel of harmlessness.
“When you go in and take out a quarterback, you’re doing everything you can to slam that motherfucker as hard as you can,” Stern said.
“Oh, yeah, absolute—I mean, you want to go,” Siragusa said. “Do you want to hurt him? Noo.
“Like when I hit Rich Gannon in the AFC championship game against the Raiders, and I, you know, and, I, you know, whatever, hurt his shoulder, dislocated, whatever, whatever it was.”
Should Siragusa wish to remind himself of the specifics, it was a separated left shoulder, Gannon’s non-throwing side.
“You weren’t happy about it,” Stern said.
“I wasn’t, like, trying to hurt the guy,” Siragusa said. “Yeah, did I want him to know that I was there? Yeah. Did I want to get him out of the game? Yeah. Did I want to hurt him? No.”
It’s a remarkable feat of self-bullshitting, and one he’s been doing for more than a decade. (“It’s not like I was trying to hurt him, but I was definitely trying to go after him,” he said after the incident, while yukking it up on media row before the Super Bowl.) He wanted to get Gannon out of the game, but not to hurt him, oh, no. Maybe he was hoping that while Gannon lay on the grass, the quarterback might look over at the sideline, spy a fetching cheerleader, and run off to elope with her.
But the video leaves no doubt at all. Perhaps the most telling fact is that the live broadcast doesn’t show you what happens to the quarterback. The hit on Gannon is so far from being part of the game action that the camera and the announcers totally miss it. They watch the pass go incomplete, then notice Gannon mysteriously crumpled on the field. Maybe he hit his arm on something on his follow-through?
Oh, nope. On replay, Siragusa comes through the line with his arms up—because Gannon is already throwing the ball—and steps into Gannon as the quarterback follows through. He takes three steps, knocking Gannon down and shoving him backward.
By now, with the ball long gone, the play is already dirty. Siragusa, though, is only getting started. With Gannon lying on the ground, Siragusa clearly pauses, aims, hitches himself in the air—and drives his full body weight into the fallen player. “That is absolutely illegal,” the announcer says.
Siragusa’s listed weight was 342 pounds, though he was almost certainly fatter than that. Gannon was listed at 210. And, lest we forget, was already lying defenseless on the ground when Siragusa delivered the decisive blow.
Siragusa has, with considerable success, branded himself in retirement as a football Falstaff, a loudmouthed, straight-talking, regular guy who happened to be big and tough enough to play football. It’s a crude, Fox Sports-ready copy of the infinitely more agile-footed Artie Donovan’s routine. (The distance between Donovan and Siragusa is more or less the distance between the Baltimore Colts and the Baltimore Ravens.)
But here’s the genuine Tony Siragusa, in one concise video clip. He was a dirty player and a bully. And he won a championship by being one. In that game, Gannon was forced to give way to Bobby Hoying. He made it back on the field, but went 6 for 13 passing the rest of the way. The Ravens won the game, 16-3, and moved on.
At that Super Bowl press session, Siragusa complained about being fined $10,000 for the hit: “All year long they train us to go in there and hit people, beat people. Half the T-shirts you see say, ‘Sack Master’ or ‘Quarterback Killer,’ but all of a sudden you hit the quarterback and knock him out of the game, they want to fine you.” Siragusa cared about someone messing with his own livelihood. He didn’t care about Rich Gannon’s.