This month, Bavaro — tight end on the New York Giants’ Super Bowl-winning teams of 1986 and 1990 — joins the short list of novel-writing ex-NFL stars with Rough & Tumble, about a Giants player named Dom navigating a big season. Meet the artist formerly nicknamed Rambo.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why write a book?
MARK BAVARO: I read [ex-Dallas Cowboys star Peter Gent’s raucous 1973 football novel] North Dallas Forty when I was in high school, and I think that from that moment, I wanted to be a writer.
I read North Dallas Forty in high school too. It’s so great, and very visceral. What did you like so much about it?
I liked the way Gent portrayed the unglamorous aspect of the game, the brutality of it. My idea of the NFL really comes from that book. That’s why when I got into the NFL, I never really got caught up in the hype and glamour, because I knew from his experience it was all fake, and there was going to come a day when it would all end. I thought that book prepared me for my career in football better than anything, and I’d like to think Rough & Tumble is my personal North Dallas Forty.
How autobiographical is it?
I would never write an autobiography, because my life was very boring. Football is a very monotonous existence, and I didn’t get caught up in the women and the drugs. But I knew things were going on around me, and that made it better for me, because it really incited my imagination.
It’s kind of funny you’re an author, because during your career you were famous for being a very quiet, humble guy.
I’ve always had a hard time expressing myself orally. It’s easier for me to do it on paper. I always liked to write, but no one ever knew it. I always liked to doodle with stories. When I was 10 or 12, I wrote a children’s book about a sad propeller plane whose pilot got reassigned to a big new jet. And you know what? I remember it being not too bad. If I can find it, I’m gonna pull it out and work on it again.
I know you’re a man of faith, famous for genuflecting after touchdowns. How hard was it for you to represent the dark and dirty side of the game, with the book’s raw language?
Yeah, that was hard. Originally all my swearwords were F-dash-dash-dash or S-H-hyphen-hyphen. But everybody said no, you gotta write out the swears. It’s hard to write football without swears. I tried to keep it to a minimum.
Who are your favorite writers?
I love Kerouac. He was a football player too, you know. My favorite is Dickens. I like that really flowery prose, the way he goes on and on. I was under his influence writing my original manuscript. I wrote long, rambling passages, and my editor just cut and cut and cut. I love a lot of authors; I think it’s a noble pursuit.
Bavaro’s most famous play was made in 1986 game against the 49ers. With the Giants trailing 17-0, he caught a pass and then dragged at least five 49ers 23 yards before they managed to complete the tackle. Inspired by that play, the Giants came back to win the game.