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Mark Bavaro 'Tebowed' before Tim Tebow did

Giants tight end Mark Bavaro makes the sign

Giants tight end Mark Bavaro makes the sign of the cross after a touchdown in the third quarter in Super Bowl XXI against the Denver Broncos in Pasadena, Calif. (Jan. 26, 1987) (Credit: AP)

Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has created a national sensation with his late-game heroics, and even has people imitating him by going to one knee the way Tebow does as a way of giving thanks after a touchdown or a win.

“Tebowing” has become the latest craze, and it has become part of pop culture as the quarterback continues to lead Denver, which is set for tomorrow night’s game against the Patriots in the divisional playoffs.

But Tebow is hardly the first to genuflect on the field. In fact, Giants tight end Mark Bavaro started doing it 25 years ago. The first time Bavaro did it was after scoring a touchdown in the Giants’ Super Bowl XXI win over the Broncos. He then went to one knee after scoring every touchdown for the rest of his career.

“I always thought it would be cool if I got the opportunity,” Bavaro said from his home in Boston, Mass. “I was really grateful and thankful to God for the ability to do those things.”

And Bavaro wasn’t the first, he said.

“I remember seeing guys kneeling down in the endzone, and I said, ‘That’s really cool.’ So I said if I was ever going to score in the Super Bowl, I would think about doing that,” said Bavaro, who is a religious man but didn’t talk about it as much as Tebow. In fact, Bavaro rarely talked much at all during his career. “It was also kind of spontaneous. Over time, it became a superstitious thing, so I felt obligated to do it all the time from there on.”

Bavaro’s touchdown celebration was hardly a phenomenon, however, and even he is amazed at how Tebow’s identical salutation has gotten so much attention.

“Guys have been doing it for years and years,” he said. “I don’t know why he’s getting so much more attention with it. Maybe because he’s a quarterback, because he already has that reputation of being a Christian. I don’t understand the attention, positive or negative, being heaped upon him. I don’t think he’s doing it to make a statement. I just think he’s genuinely grateful for the circumstances that are happening to him, and I thinkn he does it in all facets of his life.”

Bavaro said he likes seeing Tebow play and enjoys watching him go to one knee after scoring. He also thinks anyone who criticizes Tebow for his expression is misguided.

“We have to put up with all kinds of crapola in the NFL. We have to see touchdown dances. We have to see their rap sheets, the latest crime, the latest rant or head-hunting ability or some sort of a weird celebration after a big hit. We have to put up with a bunch of stuff. Why a display of Christianity bothers people so much, where they seem to accept all these other crazy things, makes me scratch my head. But that’s the way it is. If we have to put up with all the other stuff, people should put up with Tebow’s stuff without much complaint.”

Bavaro said he has been rooting for Tebow to succeed shortly after he came into the NFL in 2010 after a successful career at Florida. And not because he’s a fellow Christian.

“I was never a Tebow fan, never thought that much about the kid,” he said. “I rooted for him because when I heard all the naysaying that he would never play in the pros … how can you say that? The kid does nothing but win. How can you write him off so quickly? I was rooting for that, not because he was a Christian, although that’s a nice thing to see a guy sharing his faith like that. Kids seem to be taking it to heart, which is fabulous.”

Any chance Tebow beats the Patriots tomorrow night?

“If they beat the Patriots, I think it truly would be a miracle,” Bavaro said. “But it’s possible.”

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