EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Some of his teammates call him Rambo. Sure, he's got the perfect physique. And those big, pensive brown eyes too. And don't forget that East Coast accent right out of "Lords of Flatbush."
So, maybe tight end Mark Bavaro of the New York Giants will get a job as a celebrity look-alike when he's no longer playing football, but the nickname would have been appropriate if he were short, skinny and blond.
Bavaro is at his best in hand-to-hand combat. He's often outnumbered but regularly disposes of those who would stop him from completing his mission. He is apparently oblivious to pain, too, after spending the off-season working with a former Marine martial arts expert who dropped barbells on Bavaro's Adam's apple until Bavaro didn't gag anymore.
And when it comes to dialogue, let's just say that Bavaro, like Rambo, would rather fight than talk about it.
Here's an excerpt from your basic interview with Mark Bavaro, who will be playing against the Denver Broncos in the National Football League title game Jan. 25 at the Rose Bowl:
Question: The Giants have been down for a long time, and now you're headed for the Super Bowl. How satisfying was today's win over the Redskins?
Answer: It was just another football game.
Q: Just another football game?
A: I answered your question. What do you want from me?
Q: There's been a lot of talk about your all-around performance this year. Some are even calling you the prototype tight end. Do you feel like you've come a long way after just two seasons in the NFL?
A: I take pride in doing the best I can, if that's what you mean.
Q: Some of the players around the league are saying that the Raiders' Todd Christensen and you are the best tight ends in football. How does it feel to be mentioned along with a four-time Pro Bowl player?
A: I don't compare myself with anyone.
Q: You came into the league a proficient blocker. This season, you led the team in receiving. Did you work especially hard during the off-season on improving your pass-catching?
A: I worked on my whole game.
Q: If you had to write a scouting report on yourself, what would it say?
A: Not very much.
Q: Why do you dislike the nickname Rambo?
A: It's not my name.
Well, you get the picture. So, you don't go to Bavaro if you're looking for snappy quotes. But he's often the first guy quarterback Phil Simms looks for when the Giants need a first down.
"Mark turned into a great receiver this year," Simms said. "Last year, we all found out what a devastating blocker he was, but this year he developed into a great receiver. He's been our main offensive threat throwing the ball all year."
Bavaro, who is 6 feet 4 inches and 245 pounds, refined his blocking techniques at Notre Dame. So it's not surprising that he is a very good run blocker. And wide receiver Lionel Manuel, the team's leading receiver in 1985, missed most of this season because of injuries. So it's not so surprising that Bavaro led the Giants this season with 66 receptions, a team record for tight ends.
What were surprising, however, were his 1,001 yards and 15.2-yard average. That average was the best in the NFL for tight ends. Christensen, who set a league record for tight ends with 95 receptions this season, averaged 12.1 a catch.
They don't keep statistics for yards gained after catching the ball, but many who followed the Giants closely this season suggest that Bavaro would be the record holder in such a category.
It isn't because he's a world-class sprinter. He is, however, very difficult to tackle.
A lot of defensive backs around the league have been taken for rides by Bavaro. He often looks like a playful uncle at a picnic, giving piggy-back rides to the kids. Against Washington on Dec. 7, in the second game between the Giants and Redskins this season, he took Redskin cornerback Tim Morrison for a nine-yard ride.
And players around the league are still talking about his run after a catch against San Francisco in the playoffs earlier this month. The Giants had the ball on the 49er 49-yard line when Simms threw Bavaro an 11-yard pass. Twenty yards later, Bavaro was finally pulled down at the 18-yard line--by 1,265 pounds' worth of 49ers.
At the 38, linebacker Michael Walter had a clean shot but bounced off. At the 34, linebacker Riki Ellison hit Bavaro and fell away.
At the 32, strong safety Ronnie Lott jumped on him from behind. Bavaro couldn't shake him so he just carried him. With Lott still hanging on, Bavaro was hit from the left by linebacker Keena Turner at the 26.
With Lott and Turner still clawing at him, Bavaro staggered to the 22, where defensive backs Don Griffin and Carlton Williamson jumped on. The five men finally fell in a heap at the 18. Lott had gotten a 14-yard ride.
Bavaro described the play to a crowd of reporters in typical Bavaro fashion. "I just ran," he said, shrugging.