Reusse: Meals at the Siragusas, ahead of the Super Bowl in 2001

Editor’s note: Patrick Reusse was among the witnesses to Giants 41, Vikings 0, on Jan. 14, 2001 in New Jersey. Baltimore would be the Giants’ Super Bowl opponent. Tony Siragusa, the Ravens’ bombastic giant, was from down the road in Kenilworth, NJ On Monday morning, Reusse was able to get a number for Tony’s mom, Rosemarie, in Kenilworth and wrangled an invitation for a visit. Mom was something else. After Tony’s death on Wednesday at age 55, we republish this column.

KENILWORTH, NJ – Pete and Rosemarie Siragusa had three sons – Peter, Tony and Elio. Once they reached the age of reason, Pete issued this warning: “Root for the Giants or go homeless.”

The Siragusa sons never defied their father on this issue. They sneaked into Giants Stadium to see games. They reveled in the hard-nosed Giants of the ’80s – coached by Bill Parcells, led by Lawrence Taylor.

“Pete coached the boys all the way up in youth football,” Rosemarie said. “They were wrestlers, too. Tony was a state champion, and Elio would have been a state champion, too, but he went into the final match with an injury.”

Tony earned a football scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.

His college career ended in the fall of 1989. His father died of a heart attack that year.

Tony, a nose tackle, made it to the NFL the next summer with the Indianapolis Colts. He was there for eight seasons, and then signed with Baltimore.

That means Tony – groomed from birth to be a fan of the New York Giants – will be playing against the Giants in the 35th Super Bowl.

“I’ve been a Giants fan, but I was hoping they didn’t make it to the Super Bowl this time,” Sal Crisitello said. “The people in this little town love Tony, but there are also plenty of huge Giants fans. It’s going to be tough for them to root for any team against the Giants, even Tony’s team.”

Pete?

“If Tony’s dad was alive, he would be like me – all for Tony, the heck with the Giants,” Rosemarie said. “Pete never had a chance to see Tony play in the NFL. He would’ve been so proud, so excited, to see that.”

There is some family tree business to take care of here: Rosemarie, Joanie and Marty Sica come from nearby Garwood.

Rosemarie and Joanie live next door to one another on North 22nd St. Marty and his wife, Patty, live two streets over. Rose Sica, the 89-year-old matriarch of this group, lives on the street between.

“We built these four houses together in 1974,” Rosemarie said. “My father [now deceased] and my brother were the contractors. “

If you’re getting the impression that Tony grew up in a tight-knit Italian family, you’re on the right track.

A reporter was standing in the Crisitellos’ driveway, talking to Joanie, when Rosemarie’s car appeared. She entered her driveway, stepped out and asked her sister: “You want lunch?”

As it turned out, this could have been the question Rosemarie has asked most often in her life. She spent 15 years or so feeding the hollow-legged youth of Kenilworth.

“We had 10 or 12 boys over here all the time,” Rosemarie said. “It never occurred to Tony or my other sons that some day they might open the refrigerator and there wouldn’t be enough food in there to feed all their friends.

“Once in a while I would say to their friends,` What are youse hoodlums doing here? Go home and eat. ‘ They would laugh, walk over and open the refrigerator. “

Kenilworth is 2 miles square. It’s located 20 miles from Giants Stadium. It’s Italian and Roman Catholic in every way.

For instance: Tony and high school sweetheart Kathy Giacalone dated for 11 years before they were married. When Tony was off playing football, Kathy stayed in Kenilworth and went with the Siragusas to watch the games.

“None of that living together before marriage,” Rosemarie said. “Not with this mother.”

Siragusa’s size (6-5 and 330 pounds), talent and his knack for the quip have made him a popular figure with the NFL media. Sunday, after knocking Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon out of the AFC Championship Game, Siragusa said:

“I saw Rich’s eyes roll back. He got every ounce of my fat on him.”

Rosemarie said her son always has been willing to poke fun at himself, but not at other people.

“Some of the nerdiest kids in school were Tony’s buddies,” she said. “He would get upset if he heard people making fun of another kid. He always said,` They have feelings, too. ‘ “

Siragusa’s nickname – “Goose” – dates to his early teens. Rosemarie said: “I started hearing that and told his buddies,` I don’t mind you calling my son Goose. On the other hand, if I ever hear one of you call me `Mother Goose, ‘you’ve been in this house for the last time. “

Rosemarie never heard that. Tony’s friends weren’t willing to risk being cut off from the Siragusa refrigerator.

Postscript: During Monday’s conversation in the Siragusa kitchen, a young woman entered through the back sliding door, went to the refrigerator, took out a whole, home-roasted turkey and started thinly slicing white meat for sandwiches. Rosemarie seemed to know her.

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