If McMahonian outrageousness is In around the NFL, Giants tight end Mark Bavaro is very much Out. So sparing is his speech, in fact, that hardly anyone around the team noticed he had his jaw wired shut last month to protect a tooth that had been cracked in a game against New Orleans Sept. 28.
Fortunately for the Giants, Bavaro's reticence hasn't hurt his play. Going into Sunday's last-minute 22-20 win over Minnesota, Bavaro was sixth in the NFC with 595 yards on 42 receptions. He added 81 yards on 4 catches against the Vikings. In a season in which the Giants have struggled to find a consistent passing game, Bavaro, in spite of a foot injury, has been one of the few constants. Ask Bavaro about the possibility of winding up the season among the conference receiving leaders and you get a typically terse response: "I don't know and I don't care." There's nothing malicious here. Bavaro just doesn't have much to say, particularly about himself. "He's talkative with family and friends," says his father, Anthony, a high school teacher in Maiden, Mass., "but he shies away from the attention. He's just not comfortable in the limelight."
Bavaro grew up in Danvers, Mass., a working-class suburb just north of Boston. An avid Bruins fan, as a teenager he spent as much time playing street hockey as he did on a football field. He also was a track and field star, high-jumping 6'6" as a high school junior in spite of his 248 pounds. These other pursuits never kept him from football, though, and he won a scholarship to Notre Dame, where he learned pro-type pressure firsthand under coach Gerry Faust. In South Bend in the '80s, you were supposed to win not only because demanding Irish eyes were, as usual, upon you, but also because your coach's job was in constant jeopardy.
The Giants drafted him in the fourth round in 1985 after G.M. George Young had a quick consultation with coach Bill Parcells and player personnel director Tom Boisture. "I remember it well," says Young. "We were about to draft him, and Bill says to Tom, 'We want a tough guy. Is this guy really tough?' Tom just started laughing. 'Bill,' he said, 'that's the last thing you need to worry about with this kid.' " Boisture's comment proved to be prophetic when Bavaro became one of the iron men of the Giant squad, starting all 18 of its games after a preseason injury felled projected starter Zeke Mowatt. "The first four or five games we just couldn't get him the ball," says quarterback Phil Simms. "Then we get to Cincinnati and he catches 12 passes [a team record]. They weren't donkey-dinkers, either. There were some long ones in there, too. It's just gone on from there."
What opponents most fear about Bavaro is his steamrolling running style after he gets the football. Would-be tacklers seem to just bounce off his 6'4", 245-pound frame (yep, he has lost three pounds since his high school days), and it's not unusual for the welcoming party to grow to four or five defenders before Bavaro will go down. Now the word is out and the defenses will be ready. Bavaro may even see a double team or two. But he'll plow ahead, regardless—just don't expect him to brag about it.