There is a section early on in Will Leitch’s God Save The Fan that asserts that if the average fan had a chance to get to know a professional athlete on their favorite team, there is a good chance they wouldn’t have anything in common and they probably wouldn’t like each other too much.
I disagreed with the sentiment then (disclosure: I gave GSTF a moderately good review back in 2008) because I thought the reason fans and athletes were considered such different beings was due in part to the gatekeeper/journalistic wall built up between the two groups. In the years since the book’s release, we’ve seen the rise of Twitter and some great interaction between athletes and their fans. There are now plenty of athletes fans have unfiltered access to and for the most part, it’s been rather endearing to see them being regular people who live-Tweet TV shows, post pictures of their cats and complain about the bad turkey sandwiches they had for lunch. Just the other day one of my friends was talking politics with Chris Kluwe like two regular people would and it didn’t seem weird at all. Of course the other side of the coin is that fans can insult players and their families nonstop and occasionally we find out yeah, that guy playing ball is really a jerk.
I couldn’t help but think of Leitch’s point while reading Tony Siragusa’s new book, Goose: The Outrageous Life and Times of a Football Guy. As a football fan, Siragusa had always been to me one of those larger-than-life caricatures with a voice and ego to match his impressive size. I only faintly remember his Pitt years, mostly just the trial he and a bunch of other players were involved in for a fight in Oakland — a topic he mentions only briefly in the book, and his time playing in the NFL is a blur of the Rich Gannon hit and the 2000 Super Bowl in my mind. Another loud Raven in a murder of loud Ravens. His retirement from the game has given us a clearer picture from the dude’s dude of Man Cave construction and sideline reporting about what he’s seeing on the field as a former player, but clearly not an analyst, a role Siragusa rejects. Harmless, if a bit of a meathead. As an author telling supposedly hilarious stories about growing up, becoming a Super Bowl champion and a media personality, all I could think while reading Goose was, “Christ, what an asshole.”
Siragusa started working as radio personality early in career as an Indianapolis Colt, so telling stories in a jocular, conversational style is a natural for him, but unfortunately what works on radio and television doesn’t read very well in print.
Anyway, back when I was at Pitt, Crazy Mike came up to visit me and stayed for a while because he was able to hook us up with some good stuff. Mike needed a place to stay for a while, and I had this weird roommate at the time. He was a burnout, smoking marijuana all the time in the room. So I told this guy, “Look, I can’t have you smoking dope around me when I’m on the team, and I have my friend Mike who needs a place to stay, so you have to get out.” The guy looked at me and said, “What are you taking about? I’m not going anywhere.” We were up on the twentieth floor or something like that, so I grabbed his big TV and tossed it out the window. It was one of those old TVs with the tube in it, so it made this really loud sound when it landed. Then I looked at him and said, “You’re next.” Crazy Mike had a place to stay. It was great, he got to the point where I got him a student ID and everything. He started going to classes, even though he wasn’t really a student. Not only going, but he was participating. He’s a character.
“Good stuff” by the way was Siragusa and his buddy Mike selling knock-off Gucci sweatshirts.
Most of the book is Siragusa telling similar tales of being loud and antagonistic in the manner of a bar conversation where storyteller keeps starting a story to tell you another story and then eventually telling you a third story before remembering what the first topic was all about. The timeline flashes back and forth and a couple of lines and stories are repeated as they are in any meandering conversation, tying his Italian-American upbringing in a tight-knit New Jersey town (with the related mob stories) to the camaraderie of his teammates. There is an overgrown frat boy thread that runs through many of his anecdotes, from the untimely death of a pet lizard, shooting AK-47s in the woods while bird hunting, racing cars with his teammates, partying in Miami, mooning a team executive, telling off Al Davis and how much he hates kickers. It as if we’re getting an autobiography out of Ogre from REVENGE OF THE NERDS thirty years later, complete with the requisite amount of calling people pussies and saying how much bigger your dick gets after winning a Super Bowl.
As for as football content, Siragusa is light on describing planning and strategy, stating he’s not a stat guy and even he gets confused when commentators describe different zones and blitzes. (He does ride Marvin Lewis in the book about making too many complicated defensive schemes in Baltimore.) He lets loose a few rants about the league going soft on too many rules protecting the quarterback, too many rules in general, the bounty scandal in New Orleans, how no one has strong necks these days and the poshness of the fans in the stadia. In particular fans eating sushi and,
… all these hot chicks in really cute outfits who start complaining, “Oh, it’s so loud.” No shit it’s loud, this is football you dumb-ass.
Siragusa is at his best when he’s at his most humble in Goose, describing crying alone after he was temporarily paralyzed during a game and wondering if he’ll ever play again. It’s a humanizing moment in a book full of bravado, the moment of fear and “what’s next” most people can relate to when dealing with tragedy.
Intermixed with Siragusa’s stories are a few personal vignettes about Tony from his mother, Rex Ryan, Eddie Toner and Ted Marchibroda among others, all sort of telling the same variation of he’s crazy and loud, but if you knew him, you’d love him. Siragusa himself ends the book with talking about how he was a loud man that threw TVs out of windows, but just look at him now, he’s responsible, he has a charitable foundation, starring in Spike Lee movies and acclaimed HBO shows, spending his down time taking the family he loves to Italy. That he just had to get the wild stuff out of the way first.
Goose is a quick — and ultimately an unsatisfying — read. Siragusa’s co-writer Don Yaeger worked on the great Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton and I wish he could have steered this book in not only a clearer direction, but a funnier one. Too many of the half-told tales had they been related to you over a beer would have ended with a strained laugh and a “I guess you had to be there.”
Goose: The Outrageous Life and Times of a Football Guy is available now from Crown Archetype. Review copy provided by Random House.