"Three of us were close friends who'd go everywhere together—me and Mark Bedrosian, who played center and linebacker for Danvers, and George Myers, who played tackle and middle guard. Sometimes a fourth or fifth guy would be allowed in the circle, but usually it was us three. We sort of closed off the world around us."
Mike Landers, a sophomore fullback and linebacker when Bavaro was a senior, remembers the Bavaro group as "scary. They'd be by themselves, always by themselves. They'd go to a party or a dance and sit there staring at people and wouldn't socialize. People would be frightened by them."
People who know Bavaro say his personality improved when he went away to Notre Dame. "He became more human," says Paul Coleman, who quarterbacked the Danvers High team. Bavaro says he didn't really change until he became deeply involved in religion as a junior in South Bend.
"Everything took on so much more meaning," Bavaro says. "The stuff I'd been doing just seemed stupid. I used to wear this leather hat and bandanna all the time. When I visited Ohio State out of high school, I was dressed in a T-shirt and leather hat. The guy who met me said, 'You're not wearing that, are you?' and I said, 'Why not?' At the time it seemed cool. Now it seems silly."
Football was the constant in his life, the refuge. Football and the weight room. In Danvers they take great pride in showing visitors the four 250-pound manhole covers that Ernie Smith, the football coach, commandeered from the highway department so Bavaro would have enough weight for his squats. "No one's been able to get them out of there," Smith says.
In the June following Bavaro's rookie year with the Giants, his training program took on another dimension when he began working out with Bud Magee, a martial-arts expert from South Bend. He learned breathing, conservation of energy, the ability to control his flow of adrenaline, to absorb and repel blows. For Bavaro, who had always been attracted to the introverted, almost dreamy nature of weightlifting, it was a perfect regimen, and when he began his second year, he was ready to make his mark on the NFL.
The animal act Bavaro put on every week made him a darling of the fans. New Yorkers appreciate fancy football, but they have always reserved a special place in their hearts for the big bull rusher who can make tacklers bounce. "The sale of number 89 shirts was amazing last season," says Susie Downes, who on May 2 became Mrs. Mark Bavaro. "At first none, then a trickle, and by the end of the season they were all over the place."
Within a space of two weeks he got the ankle, toe and jaw injuries. He went back to his hotel like a wounded animal. He didn't eat. He lost weight. Susie took time off from her job as a receptionist in a Boston law firm and came down to take care of him.
His pass catching fell off in that stretch, but he could sure block. In a Monday night game against the Redskins, he was assigned the job of handling the defensive end. The Giants rushed for 202 yards. "Best job of blocking I've ever seen by a tight end," CBS's John Madden said.
Joe Morris, who has put together two Pro Bowl years behind Bavaro's blocking, smiles when the kid's name is mentioned. "In the St. Louis game he's facing Niko Noga, their strongside linebacker," says Morris. "Real tough guy. Hates to be blocked. On one play Niko got so frustrated he spit at him. So Mark went after him. Nothing illegal; he just blocked the hell out of him."