The college choices were narrowed to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Purdue, all of which he visited, plus Michigan, Stanford and Oregon. He picked Notre Dame, where he got into two games as a freshman. He sat out his sophomore year after cutting a muscle in his right hand on a window pane. "I still don't have much feeling in my thumb," he says. "I can't palm a basketball."
The next year he was the starting tight end, and the team finished 6-5 and went to the Liberty Bowl. The players voted to turn down the invitation. In an interview with the
(Mass.) Evening News, Bavaro said, "We don't deserve to go to a bowl." The athletic department said the vote was merely a "recommendation." Sentiment against coach Gerry Faust was bubbling. Before the game, the
did a major piece on the dissatisfaction. The only underclassman who was outspoken was Bavaro.
"I can't see it getting any better," he told the Sun-Times. "There is not room for mistakes with Gerry Faust. If you make a mistake he calls you a lousy football player. He doesn't let you play. I don't think he realizes what he's doing in the things he says."
"The coaching staff was kind of cold to me after that," Bavaro says. "Gerry wasn't a bad guy. He was just in a tough situation. I looked at Notre Dame this past season, and they were always in it in the fourth quarter. In my years, we'd be a touchdown down and something would always go wrong. O.K., we'll do it another time. It seemed like we'd always fall apart in the fourth quarter."
As a senior Bavaro led the Irish with 32 catches ("Tells you something about our passing game, doesn't it?" he says) and made first-team All-America. "I never even knew it," he says. "I just wanted the coaches to tell the NFL that I was a graduating senior, even though I had a year of eligibility left."
Grudges die hard. The coaching staff didn't help him with the pro scouts. "We'd had bad reports from his coaches," says Giants coach Bill Parcells. "Then there were problems with injuries—two bad shoulders and a bad knee. Our scout, Jerry Angelo, went out to look at him. He said, 'Take this guy, you're going to love him.' I said, 'Is he tough?' He said, 'Hell, yeah, he's tough. As tough as they come.' "
Giants general manager George Young checked him out with Notre Dame sports information director Roger Valdiserri, an old friend. "He gave him an A-1 rating," Young says. "A tremendously honest, hard-working kid."
His high school buddy Bedrosian had rekindled Bavaro's Catholic faith. The swagger, the leather hat and the bandanna had been replaced by humility. " Orlando of the USFL picked me in the 15th round and offered me a $30,000 contract," says Bavaro. "Susie said, 'Wow, what are you going to do?' I said, 'I'd better buy that garbage truck.' "
The Giants got him in the fourth round. His contract—$85,000 up front and three years at $90,000, $120,000 and $160,000—was nothing to retire on, but it was a lot better than what the USFL had in mind. "Maybe if the coaches at Notre Dame had pushed me more, I would have gotten drafted higher and made more money," he says, "but then I wouldn't have gotten on the Giants and gone to the Super Bowl. That's one thing I wouldn't trade, no matter how much they paid me."
This spring Bavaro and Susie moved into a new home in Chatham, N.J. Over the summer he worked as the national chairman for a 10-city tour for the March of Dimes. While his agent, Jack Mills, tried to upgrade the $160,000 on the third year of Bavaro's contract, Bavaro hit the weights and got ready for what he expects to be the year of his life.