Giving Tarzan His Own Turf

On TV's Man Caves, ex-NFL star Tony Siragusa builds palatial playpens for hubbies pushed to the home decor sidelines.

Florham Park resident and Man Caves co-host Tony Siragusa.
Photo by Steven Freeman.

The Giants’ upset victory in last February’s Super Bowl made Brian Tulloch and his friends deliriously happy. But the next morning, appalled at the state of the living room in their West Orange home, Tulloch’s fiancée, Stacy Settembrino, threw him for a loss.

“I had chili dip on the couch,” says Stacy, 27, a Lyndhurst science teacher. “Now I have a stain on the rug that won’t come up. I was like, I cannot do this anymore!”

Stacy Settembrino is now Stacy Tulloch, so things worked out all right for her and Brian, a 27-year-old financial analyst. Luckily, a week or two after the Super Bowl, Stacy was hunting for horticultural tips on the website of the DIY (Do It Yourself) cable channel when she came across the perfect solution.

Man Caves, a reality show in which a team of hammer-and-saw types builds dream hangouts for harried husbands, was soliciting applicants in New Jersey. With Stacy’s encouragement, Brian asked the show to turn his unfinished basement into a clubhouse themed for his favorite team, the Mets, so his friends would have a place to hoot and holler and let the chili dip fall where it may.

Intrigued by the dramatic potential of the living-room conflict, the producers set up a screen test for Brian and Stacy. They were chosen from among 3,000 applicants to be one of thirteen subjects for the show’s second season. (New episodes run through March.)

While Virginia Woolf famously argued that a woman needs a room of her own to pursue independent thought, Man Caves is based on the premise that today the tables are turned.

“I can understand a 50-50 relationship,” says cohost Tony “the Goose” Siragusa, the New Jersey restaurateur (Tiffany’s) and leather-lunged clown prince of NFL TV analysts who won a Super Bowl ring eight years ago hauling down opposing quarterbacks for the Baltimore Ravens. “But some of these guys­—whew, they got, like, 5-95. They work all day, they bring home the money, and man, them women just completely take over the situation.”

Or, as DIY director of programming Michael Winter puts it, “Most wives tend to dominate the decorating pattern of the house to the exclusion of the husband and father. Wife, kids, dog, husband—that’s the ranking. That’s how it is in my house.” 

Last season, Man Caves shot about half its episodes in New Jersey homes. This season, eleven of the thirteen were shot here.One reason is that the hosts are local boys. Jason Cameron—licensed contractor, veteran carpenter, bodybuilder, and personal trainer—lives in Hoboken. Siragusa, who grew up in Kenilworth, lives in Florham Park with his wife, Kathy, whom he met in high school, and their three children. Another reason for the Garden State bias, according to the 6-foot-3-inch, 340-pound former defensive tackle, is that “New Jersey wives are a little tougher than the other wives in the country.”

That seems unfair to Stacy, without whom Brian wouldn’t be lounging in his mostly free man cave now. (He had to pay to have the space drywalled before the TV crew arrived.) But she did have something to gain besides a clean rug. The show requires cave recipients and their friends to work alongside Cameron’s crew.

Back in April, when the episode was shot, Stacy had fingers crossed. “I pray, I really pray, that he will become more handy,” she said, noting that Brian owned just a single tool—a Mets hammer she bought him as a joke gift last Christmas.

While Cameron sawed and sweated, the only lumber Siragusa was seen with during the shoot was the toothpick poking from his mouth when he returned from lunch. “Tony’s got the best gig,” says Cameron. “He gets to show up and razz people.”

At Kenilworth’s David Brearley High School in the mid-1980s, Siragusa was a standout on the defensive and offensive lines and also punted. He liked to make up his own plays, and “once he decided he was going to do something, it was too late to stop him,” says Carl Peterson, one of the coaches.

“We’d call a play, and Tony would say, ‘Forget that. Just run behind me. We’ll make the first down.’ He was a man playing with boys,” Peterson says. Siragusa was state heavyweight wrestling champion his senior year, defeating future NFL offensive lineman Dave Szott in the finals.

Peterson says Siragusa once threw the vice principal over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and paraded him around the crowded cafeteria. “Bob [Taylor, the head football coach] said to him, ‘Tony, what are you doing? You don’t just put the vice principal on your shoulders and carry him around,’” Peterson recalls. “And Tony said, ‘Yeah, but coach, he likes it.’”

At the University of Pittsburgh, Siragusa and his roommate, future San Diego Chargers defensive lineman Burt Grossman, turned their dorm room into a sort of zoological man cave, stocking it with cages that held a python, a boa constrictor, an alligator, and a tarantula. Grossman describes Siragusa as a “North Jersey Casanova” who used the exotic menagerie to woo freshman girls. “He’d be sitting there in his underwear, like 300 pounds, feeding the snake a rat, drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon,” Grossman says, “and you’re like, Wow, chivalry is not dead.”

Knee injuries sidelined Goose his junior year. The injuries were slow to heal, scaring scouts away. Finally, in 1990 he joined the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent for a signing bonus of only $1,000. By his third season he had risen to starter. In 1997 he moved to the Ravens and was a bulwark of the defense that smothered the Giants in the 2001 Super Bowl, 34–7.

Ken Murray, a Baltimore Sun reporter who covered the Ravens that year, says Siragusa was a bruiser on the field and a colorful “master of insult” in the locker room. When the team visited the White House after the Super Bowl, most of the players wore suits and ties. Siragusa, showed up in an untucked black T-shirt and interrupted President Bush’s remarks with a plea for food.

Siragusa played one more season with the Ravens, but he was already looking ahead. Jim Ornstein, Siragusa’s agent at the William Morris Agency, signed him after seeing Hard Knocks, an HBO series about the Ravens’ 2001 training camp. Before Man Caves, Siragusa hosted Mega Machines, a TLC series on earthmovers, cranes, and monster trucks.

He has since appeared in Spike Lee’s film 25th Hour as a Russian mobster and had a recurring role on The Sopranos as a bodyguard. Football fans know him as a sideline analyst for Fox’s NFL coverage. “When he talks about a football game, I will listen because he knows what he’s talking about,” says Murray.

Man Caves was a DIY idea. But, says program chief Winter, “When we were talking about the type of host we needed, the first thing out of our mouths was, ‘We need a Tony Siragusa type.’ And then we said, ‘What about the man himself?’”

Last April, when Siragusa arrived at Brian and Stacy’s West Orange house, he latched onto the abundance of candles and framed photos in the living room as evidence of Brian’s oppression. Stacy wasn’t buying. “I was like, ‘Listen, this is what my house looks like,’” she says. “‘If you don’t like it, go in your trailer.’” On the whole, though, Stacy found Siragusa’s shtick amusing. “He just speaks his mind, and I feel that is the attitude of most people from New Jersey,” she says. “They’re going to tell you how it is and they’re going to call you out and that’s that.”

As Cameron and the crew hustled to finish five days’ worth of construction in the allotted day and a half, Siragusa retreated to his trailer, which was parked in front of the house, to watch a movie. He jacked up the sound so high that it was audible in the driveway, where Cameron was trying to tape a scene. Later, Siragusa settled into the couch in the living room—apparently having made his peace with the candles and photos—and gobbled Mike & Ikes and popcorn while watching another movie, which he ordered on pay-per-view.

The Friday after his man cave was completed, Brian invited friends over to watch a game. “I had ten of my buddies downstairs hanging out and drinking until two in the morning, and Stacy was upstairs,” he says. “I asked her the next day, ‘Could you even hear us?’ and she said, ‘No.’ It’s perfect. It gives us that area where boys can still be boys.”

At his Florham Park home, Siragusa recently completed his own man cave, which fills the entire basement and features a theater, bar, full kitchen, outdoor grilling area, casino with slot machines and a craps table. Kathy calls the plays for the rest of the home’s decor. The onetime quarterback crusher has learned to take his lumps good-naturedly.

“Just like everyone else,” he says, “there are 45 pillows on my bed.”

Contributing writer Daniel Weiss doesn’t yet need a man cave. He’s still a bachelor.

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