PHOENIX - Rob Gronkowski is generally considered to be the most dominant tight end in today's NFL, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick remains partial to another tight end with whom he was quite familiar: Mark Bavaro.
Belichick was the Giants' defensive coordinator when Bavaro starred for the Giants and helped the team to Super Bowl victories after the 1986 and 1990 seasons. Although he wouldn't directly compare Bavaro and Gronkowski -- "it's a different era, a different game" -- Belichick offered effusive praise about the hard-nosed Bavaro, a fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 1985.
"I think Mark's in a really special category," Belichick said at Tuesday's Media Day session at US Airways Arena. "His toughness, his overall complete play as a tight end and blocker, just as a total competitor was just outstanding. I don't think Mark has ever gotten the recognition that any of us that coached him or played with him know that he deserves."
Belichick flashed back to his favorite memory of Bavaro, and it wasn't the one that fans most often cite: his catch-and-run in a 1986 Monday night game against the 49ers when he carried as many as five defenders on his back before being tackled. That play helped spark the Giants on a run that wound up with the team winning the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
"I would say if there's a memory in my mind, it's of training camp of all the times that LT [Lawrence Taylor] and Carl [Banks] would line up against from Mark in one-on-ones," Belichick said. "Those are back in the days of training camp where you practiced every day in pads. There were no better battles in my entire career than watching Carl and LT go against Bavaro one-on-one. I mean, it was just awesome. All three of them were so good, so competitive and so tough."
Belichick also praised Bavaro's blocking.
"He blocked [Eagles defensive end] Reggie White better than most tackles blocked him," Belichick said. "That alone should put him in the Hall of Fame. This guy was a great football player."