New England Roots

Mark Bavaro on street hockey, meeting Russ Francis, Eck, and winning Danvers’ ‘Onion Bowl’

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Bavaro after practice in 1987 (Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)

The latest edition of our “New England Roots” series features former NFL tight end Mark Bavaro. A Danvers native, he would go to become one of the great tight ends of the 1980s and 1990s, winning a pair of Super Bowls with the Giants and catching 351 passes for 4,733 yards and 39 touchdowns in his nine-year career. Along the way, he earned the respect of Bill Belichick, who has talked him up on many occasions as someone who deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I don't think Mark has ever got the recognition that any of us who coached him or played against him know that he deserves,” Belichick said in a 2015 interview. Bavaro currently lives in Boxford.

BSJ: What was your youth sports experience like in New England when you were growing up?

Mark Bavaro: It was great. I grew up in Danvers, and the town had a very active youth football program. We had enough kids to have eight teams in town. It was great — kids in town got to play against each other, and there was a nice little rivalry. It was a lot of fun. My coach Mickey Ouimette, he was the best. He was a great guy to bounce things off of, even in high school and college, as well as the pros. He’s been with me throughout my career — he was essentially the reason for my career. Mickey made me a tight end from the get-go. I started playing when I was 10 — that was my first year in football.

What’s your most vivid youth sports memory?

There weren’t many bad things, other than the fact that I got my ass kicked a lot. The good thing was my last year in youth football, my team — the Packers — won the town title. Back then, Danvers was a farm town. It used to be called “Onion Town.” Our town Super Bowl was the Onion Bowl. We won it my last year with the Packers. We got to go to the Y to swim and get McDonald’s hamburgers. I was probably 12 or 13, in the seventh or either grade.

Favorite Boston sports team growing up?

I liked all the Boston sports teams, but I wasn’t a huge fan of any one (team). I didn’t know sports that well enough to get too excited about it. My one vivid memory of being a kid and getting to meet a pro athlete was when I met Russ Francis. He had a friend who was playing semi-pro ball, and one of my Dad’s buddies was coaching a semi-pro team that we went to see out in East Boston. Russ had buddy on one of the teams, and someone recognized him — we went up to get his autograph. He was very cool. What was even cooler?