Naturally, Bavaro was a target for the media during Super Bowl week. They had heard he didn't talk, and they wanted to see for themselves. The Giants beat writers found Bavaro friendly with the guys he trusted, shy with the others. But he never had been given to chitchat. The things he said that week made sense, almost too much sense for a week given to elaboration and whimsy.
Perhaps the most meaningful quote to come out of Super Bowl week was Bavaro's answer to why he didn't like being called Rambo.
"Rambo exploited the Vietnam veteran," he said. "I have a lot of respect for the people in my family who were in Vietnam, my uncle Donald Bavaro and my cousin Bobby Rossi."
When he would try a joke, it blew by people. "He called me up," his mother, Christine, says, "and he said, 'People don't understand my humor, Ma. I said something funny and nobody laughed.' I asked him what he'd said. He told me after the first day of interviews he asked some people if there was another session tomorrow, and they said yes, and he said, "Oh, if I'd have known that, I wouldn't have used all my good stuff.' They just stared at him.
"I've had people come up to me and say, 'Are you Mark's mother?' and when I said yes, they'd say, 'Does he really talk?' and I'd say, 'Of course he talks.' "
"Why," says Smith, "can the press accept the loud and obnoxious, but have trouble with a quiet person?"
It is early April in Danvers. Bavaro's wedding is three weeks away. He is shuttling back and forth between the Sheraton in New Jersey and his parents' home. Bavaro and his dad, who stands 6'5" and weighs 270, are in the living room, which suddenly seems small. Wally was a two-way tackle for Holy Cross in the late 1950s and a sixth-round draft choice of the 49ers. He never played for them; he had broken his leg in his senior year, and he was on crutches when they drafted him. He sat out the year, tried again in '60, wrecked a knee and retired to coaching. He dropped football when Mark was a high school freshman. "I couldn't coach on a Saturday when my kid was playing somewhere else," says Wally.
People describe Wally as a gentle giant. "I've never heard him raise his voice to a kid," says Tony Tiro, an old Holy Cross teammate who coached with him at Chelsea. Christine is the dynamo of the family. She works as a marriage and family therapist and directs Project Rap, an adolescent shelter in Beverly, Mass. She got her bachelor's and master's degrees when the Bavaro kids, Mark and his older sister, Robin, and his younger brother, David, were in grade school and junior high. "I arranged my classes around the children," she says. "If they were sick they'd come with me."
Christine is in the kitchen when Uncle Donald comes in. Uncle Donald is almost as big as his brother, Wally, and now the living room is definitely crowded. Uncle Donald lives by the shore. Persistent rains have weakened the sandy subsoil, and that morning as he walked outside, the ground gave way under him, and he found himself in a hole up to his neck.
"I'm thinking, I come out of Vietnam without a scratch," he says, "only to die in a foxhole in my own backyard."