Mark Bavaro was born, raised and still lives in New England Patriots’ country, but he played most of his nine-year NFL career with the New York Giants, winning two Super Bowls with them in 1986 and 1990.
The hard-nosed tight end, a 1985 Notre Dame graduate, finished his career, which included stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, with 351 receptions and 39 touchdowns. He was known for the end-zone ritual that followed his touchdowns: a simple genuflection and Sign of the Cross.
Bavaro is also a man committed to the pro-life cause: In 1988, he was arrested along with almost 600 others during a pro-life protest at an abortion business, and he is currently a member of the board of directors of Life Athletes, an organization of men and women who follow a philosophy of virtue, abstinence and respect for life. Bavaro’s former teammate Chris Godfrey is the group’s president.
On the eve of Super Bowl XLII, pitting the New York Giants (13-6) against the heavily favored New England Patriots (18-0), the Register’s Tom Wehner spoke with Bavaro from his home in Massachusetts.
Okay, right off the bat: Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?
I’m not going to predict, but during the regular season, the Patriots gave the Giants their best shot, and the Giants took it and almost ran away with it.
If [quarterback] Eli Manning played then the way he’s playing now, I think the Giants would have come out on top.
But it’s going to take a lot to beat the Patriots. They are the best team in the league. To beat them is going to take a monumental effort.
The Giants seem to have hit their stride at the right time, and the right time was the third to the last game of the season. If you hit your stride then, you usually don’t go very far. If you get on a roll, you can take that as far as that hot streak will take you.
They made it to the playoffs, and now they’re looking very good. And they have a shot at winning the Super Bowl.
Do you see any similarities between your team and this Giants team?
Not really. I mean, this is 20 years later. There’s a whole different group of players and coaches. It’s a different game today.
When they started out this year, they didn’t look like they could fight their way out of a paper bag. In the old days, that usually was a pretty good sign of what kind of a team you were going to have. Things didn’t turn around that quickly back in the ’80s. But today, it really is a week-to-week type of thing.
Against the Bills [in Super Bowl XXV], there was a little trepidation because they had beaten the Raiders 51-3 to reach the Super Bowl. But we had Bill Belichick, and we knew they weren’t going to score 50 points against our defense. The question was, “Would we score?” We were a ball-control team that didn’t score a lot of points.
But this is different: The Giants are going to have to score points. It’s going to be hard to keep [Pats’ quarterback Tom] Brady and his offense down to that many points. The Giants are going to have to put up some touchdowns, and they’re going to have to do that pretty regularly. I think they’re capable of doing it.
Are your kids — Grace, 19, Dominic, 17, and Lucas, 13 — Giants’ fans?
No, they’re huge Patriots’ fans. If it wasn’t the Patriots, they would be. But if it’s between the Giants and the Patriots, it’s the Patriots all the way. The Giants are their second-favorite team.
What part did your faith play in your football career?
It’s hard to say. I mean, my faith has an impact in my life. It filters into every aspect of my life. It defines me as a person.
Professional athletes are very superstitious and ritualistic. Did you have any rituals you adhered to with the Giants?
There were about eight or 10 of us who would attend Mass with Father [Edward] Moore, who was our team priest. He was always around in the locker room during the week. He was an old friend of Vince Lombardi’s. It was kind of neat having him around; he would tell us Vince Lombardi stories. He was an old-time priest. He was hard-nosed. He probably could have played for us (laughs).
When I was there, the group was pretty devoted. Chris Godfrey, who was our right guard, was our Catholic leader. And he’s still going strong.
Phil Simms used to be one of the guys who went to Mass with us. He is a good Catholic; he told me his family would say nightly Rosaries when he was growing up.
Bill Ard, Phil McConkey, who I still keep in touch with. … And, of course, the Maras [the family that owns the Giants] — Mr. [Wellington] Mara was always there at Mass with his wife and their kids.
When I was at Notre Dame, we would go as a team, and when you have 150-200 men, all on the football team, we would pack the church. It was very powerful. It was pretty cool.
And then, when I was with the Giants, and you have five or six guys having Mass in some hotel room. ... I came to appreciate it even more. It became more of a personal event.
In the last 30 years or so, when players score a touchdown, they follow it up with a dance routine. When you scored a touchdown, you would take a knee, bow your head and make the Sign of the Cross.
I did that because I was grateful. Those don’t come easy. I had a profound sense of thanks to God. I believe he’s involved in all of our lives. He wasn’t making the plays for us, but I believe everything is determined by God, who has a purpose and plan for everything, and when those things happen and still happen, I give thanks.
A lot of people didn’t like that but I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me from doing what I would do in my home.
Who were some of the influences on your faith?
My uncle is a priest, and, being Italian, the Church was always a big focus of our family. I wasn’t an inspirational person growing up; I went this way and that. It wasn’t until college when I met a few “born again” Christians, who sparked my faith. They helped me look at Jesus in a more personal way — that “personal savior” thing — so I kind of learned from that perspective rather than the institutional one. I was influenced by them for a while, but in my searching, they reignited my faith, which led me straight back to the Catholic Church. I never left the Church, but it helped me to understand a lot of things I grew up with in a faith perspective, not just a routine.
Do you still have a connection with Life Athletes?
I’m still in touch with Chris Godfrey. I’m still on the board. We have meetings, and I’m up on what he’s doing regularly. I accompanied him on some meetings when he met with members of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Tom Wehner is the
Register’s copy editor.
The 6 Degrees of Separation — Mark Bavaro
Connections between Mark Bavaro and Super Bowl XLII combatants abound.
• Mark Bavaro grew up in Massachusetts, and still lives there. His three children are diehard Patriots’ fans (New York Giants’ fans second).
• Bavaro played six seasons with the Giants. His brother David played two of his five NFL seasons with the New England Patriots.
• The Giants, who defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, were significant underdogs, just as this year’s Giants are.
• Two of Bavaro’s coaches on the Super Bowl champion Giants in 1990 were Bill Belichick (defensive coordinator) and Tom Coughlin (wide receivers). Belichick now coaches the Patriots, and Coughlin now leads the Giants. Belichick also coached Bavaro on the Cleveland Browns.
• Kevin Boss, the Giants’ starting tight end in the Super Bowl, wears No. 89, Bavaro’s number with the Giants.