Giants Rumors & News
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We all know about the great athletes in New York sports history – Babe Ruth, Tom Seaver, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Namath, Mark Messier, Walt Frazier – and even the busts – Ed Whitson, Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Stephon Marbury, Scott Gomez. But what about the slightly-to-highly-above-average athlete? The kind-of-great but not all-timer? They may not have been Hall-of-Famers, but they were All-Stars, fan favorites, cogs on a championship team or maybe even just pretty darn good. They’re the little brother that didn’t hog all the attention. But they’re certainly worth talking about and remembering. So when do they get their due? Well, now they will. Here is a series of the not-quite-legendary in New York sports history.

Mark Bavaro was tough. He was probably the toughest player in the NFL during his era. He played through a broken jaw for six weeks (while sipping food through a straw), he played through broken toes, he played through sprained ankles and he would have played headless, legless or armless if the opportunity arose. He was that tough. His signature play was the one-handed catch over the middle, which would be followed by defensemen being knocked over like bowling pins. He was a humble, blue collar worker, and Giants fan didn’t just love him, they wanted to be like him.

The Winthrop, Massachusetts, native was a high school All-American at Danvers High School, and garnered All-America honors during his senior year at Notre Dame. The Giants made him their fourth-round draft pick (100th overall pick in the draft) in 1985. He was penciled in as a blocking tight end, but due to a Zeke Mowatt injury, he was thrust into the starting lineup his rookie season. And all he did was set a team record for single-game receptions with 12 (while Phil Simms was throwing for 513 yards vs. the Bengals – a game the Giants lost), caught 37 passes, for 511 yards, and scored four touchdowns for the season, and was named to the All-Rookie team. And his teammates nicknamed him Rambo. But he was just warming for his sophomore season.

In 1986, Bavaro broke Bob Tucker’s franchise record for receptions by a tight end when he hauled in 66 passes (good for 1,001 yards, and four touchdowns). He made the Pro Bowl and was named to the All-Pro team, and the Giants, of course, won the Super Bowl. He caught four passes for 51 yards and scored a TD in the romp over Denver. But the play of the year, and the one he’s remembered for to this day, occurred during the regular season on Monday Night Football against archrival San Francisco. With the Giants losing to the 49ers, Bavaro caught a routine catch over the middle, but the rest of the play was anything but routine. With as many as seven defenders trying to drag him down (some witnesses claim there were as many as 14, but they were just completely hammered and seeing double), Bavaro carried them all on his back 20 yards down field until he finally keeled over. The play inspired his teammates to a come-from-behind victory, and went down in NFL lore. He was so respected (and a little feared) by his teammates, that when he started his second season with the team he announced that he didn’t want to be called Rambo anymore, because he thought it was a slight to Vietnam veterans. Instead of razzing him or calling him that more than ever, they respected his wishes and never referred to him by that name again.

Number 89 went on to win one more Super Bowl with the Giants (catching five passes for 50 yards in the nail-biting win over Buffalo) with another Pro Bowl appearance and All-Pro selection (both in ’87). In his first four seasons, Bavaro was an iron man, never missing a game, but knee problems limited him to seven games in 1989, and after playing in 15 games in ’90, he sat out all of the ’91 season because of his knees. During that year he was got a job as the tight end coach at an East Boston high school. He returned to the NFL the following season, playing in Cleveland for one year, and then Philadelphia for two more before retiring.

A weight-lifting fanatic since high school, Bavaro was stronger than strong and tougher than tough. He played nine seasons in the NFL, catching 351 passes, for 4,733 yards, and scored 39 touchdowns. Besides being an outstanding pass catcher, he was a phenomenal blocker. He was quiet, he played through pain, he was humble and he was a true Christian (his touchdown celebration entailed genuflecting and then giving the sign of the cross). Even though he was a man of many words, he wrote a novel in 2008, called Rough & Tumble. But more than anything, he was just a regular Joe who was as grounded as any average fan, as epitomized by this quote: “I try not to worry about money. I mean, how many pairs of pants can you wear at one time?”

(Click on the names to read the other bios in the series: Steve Vickers, John Olerud, Al Toon, Brad Van Pelt, Dick Barnett, Mickey Rivers, Butch Goring/Ron Duguay/Ken Daneyko, Rusty Staub, Buck Williams and Matt Snell/Emerson Boozer.)

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