MARK HIS WORDS, TUNA IN FOOTBALL ISN’T FISHY

November 8, 2009

Ron Borges of the Boston Herald told us that, “As things turned out, the NFL was a good training ground for Mark Bavaro’s second career. If you want to be a novelist, you need to learn about rejection.
The Danvers native was a two-time Pro Bowl tight end with the New York Giants between 1985-90, starring on their Super Bowl XXI and XXV teams
before a degenerative knee condition led them to tell him he was finished at the same time they were urging him to keep playing.
This was a lesson in NFL contradictions Bavaro carried with him long after being released seven months after making five catches, including two critical ones on third down, in Super Bowl XXV.
Following a bone graft and a year of rehabilitation he returned to play for Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns in 1992 and then for two more years in
Philadelphia before retiring, but those final days in New York ultimately led 14 years later to his first novel, “Rough and Tumble, a book recently released in paperback.
It is the story of a man coming to grips with the end of his career. It was an ending welcomed both by his fictional alter ego, Dominic Fucillo, and himself
because it was sadly authentic.
“ ‘North Dallas Forty’ (a dark novel of the 1970s NFL by ex-Cowboy Pete Gent) was a big influence on my life,” Bavaro said. “My vision of the NFL was
what I read in that book. His main character had an inglorious ending. He was a good player yet he left the game in a bad way. I didn’t exactly want to mimic that but in the end I came close.
“There are no exceptions to the business of the NFL. At first it was a physical relief not to play. The mental side didn’t manifest itself for a while but it begins to hit you, as it does my character in the book, that they demand loyalty but give none back. They can do it because they keep getting fresh believers, but once you understand you keep playing but the magic is gone.
“I never realized I was just a pebble on the beach. I thought I was a cabana on the beach until the doctor told me my career was over at midseason because 
had a hole in my knee, but they wanted me to keep playing. My case was unique. Usually when they say you’re done that’s it. They told me in October the onlyway to repair the knee was with a bone graft but not to do it yet because they wouldn’t clear me to play again after I did.
“When you realize you’re just another guy passing through it’s a little difficult (to take).”
The novel recalls Bavaro’s surrealistic post-Super Bowl meeting with Giants general manager George Young, with whom he tries to negotiate a deal to receive half his salary to rehab. That scene and the one with the team doctor are among the best in the novel.
“He looked at me like, ‘Do you understand you have no power here?’ ” Bavaro said, laughing. “I was reminded of it when the Patriots traded Richard Seymour.
In my opinion he was one of only two legit stars on that team, along with (Tom) Brady, but I wanted to call him and say, ‘Rich, get over it. No one really cares.
All you ever were was another player.’
“The players aren’t the Patriots. The Patriots are the Patriots. There is no personal side to pro football.”
These days Bavaro works as a consultant to Wall Street stock brokers and sells trade booths for a Chicago-based company, but his passion is at his writing desk. “Rough and Tumble,” as it turned out, was not merely therapeutic, it was the birth of what he now is.
“I wanted to be a writer,” Bavaro said. “I wanted to create a story. That’s why I didn’t just write an autobiography.”
He has since completed a second novel and received what every writer does: a stack of rejections.
“I’m trying to decide if I should rework it, keep sending it around or put it in the drawer,” Bavaro said of his story of a high school athlete’s coming of age, a work that has taken two years. “It’s like leaving football. I’m getting honest opinions now. Before I wasn’t sure. Now I can see they’re happy to say, ‘This is not good.’ ”
Bavaro is being reminded of what the NFL taught him. Very few of us are cabanas on the beach. We are mostly pebbles, who, if lucky, do what we love to do to pay the bills.
It’s what he did for nine years in the NFL and what he’s doing today. The only difference is this time no one can stop him from doing it but himself.”

Dan Shaughnessy talked about Bill Parcells in the Boston Globe much in the same manner that anyone who had him run their favorite team would. “Don’t
bother looking for Bill Parcells at Gillette Stadium this afternoon. The only tuna you’ll find at Patriot Place is on the menu at Skipjack’s.
Parcells is the Man Behind The Curtain in Miami. He has what might be the greatest job in the history of sports. He gets to run an NFL franchise with all of the fun and none of the nonsense. He lives on the beach, makes $4 million per year, enjoys total autonomy, and doesn’t have to talk to the media.
Buy the groceries? As Miami’s executive vice president/football operations, Parcells has the master key to the entire store.
He’s 68 years old and he has the perfect life for a football lifer. Now with his fifth and final (we say that every time) franchise, Parcells owns a house in Jupiter, Fla., and spends a good part of March going to spring training baseball games with pals Ron Wolf (former Packers general manager), Bobby Knight, and John Havlicek. At night, they go to dinner with Tony La Russa.
In the summer, you’ll find the Tuna at his house in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he spends his days on the golf course and at the racetrack.
When it’s football season, he stays at his place in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and makes a 20-minute drive each morning to the Dolphins training facility at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
“Funny thing about that drive,’’ says Bill Madden, a New York Daily News baseball columnist who went to high school in New Jersey with Parcells. “There’s a corner on 17th Street by the causeway where he sees a homeless guy every day. Bill brings this guy the newspaper on his way to work and it turns out that the guy is an Eagles fan. Bill tells Andy Reid about it and Reid sends Bill an Eagles jacket and cap. Bill gives the stuff to the homeless guy and every day they talk about the Eagles.’’
The Eagles fan on 17th Street knows more about what the Tuna is thinking than anyone in the media. Parcells has held exactly one press conference since taking over the Dolphins on Dec. 20, 2007. It’s nothing personal. Parcells loves to talk football and has dozens of friends in the media. But he doesn’t want to bigfoot his coach (Tony Sparano) and general manager (Jeff Ireland).
Parcells still works coach’s hours. He gets to the complex before 7:30 a.m., and he’s there long after dinner. He views film, talks with coaches, and watches practice from a golf cart, entertaining random visitors such as Romeo Crennel, Curtis Martin, and Keyshawn Johnson. Every day.
“I think he’s very happy,’’ said Wolf, who has known Parcells since the 1970s. “And the success he had last year transcends anything he’s ever done. He took a 1-15 team and made them AFC East champions in one year. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that.’’
Mike Dee, CEO of the Dolphins, came to Miami in May after holding the position of CEO of the two-time world champion Red Sox.
“I’ve spent limited time with him,’’ says Dee. “But in the time I have known him, I have found him to be everything you would expect – smart, experienced, with great insight. An iconic figure. He’s a very tall tree in a forest of tall trees.
“The Dolphins hold a high place in this community. In the last six or seven years, they had fallen on hard times. Them going 1-15 was the equivalent of the Red Sox going 70-92 and finishing 22 games behind the Yankees.
“Bill’s arrival, and what he stands for, immediately gave optimism to the marketplace. Even with the 0-3 start this year, fans are not panicking. He brings a level of credibility that things are going to turn around. It goes way beyond the X’s and O’s.
In his capacity as club CEO, Dee’s name appears above the name of Parcells on the Dolphins’ masthead. The absurdity is not lost on Dee.
“We all know who the most important guy in the building is,’’ says Dee. “And it ain’t me!’’
More than any other team sport, football is a game in which smarts and hard work can result in success. Method and player evaluation really matter. Based on his record with five franchises, Parcells is the king of franchise turnarounds. Might as well retire the trophy. In any assembly of NFL brainiacs, Parcells is bound to the biggest guy in the room.
The Giants had one winning season in 10 years before Parcells. They won two Super Bowls with Parcells.
New England was a joke before Parcells. He came to the Patriots one year before Bob Kraft and changed the culture of losing that plagued Foxborough. The Patriots were coming off four straight losing seasons, including campaigns of 1-15 and 2-14, when Parcells came to town. His first team won its last four games.
His second team went to the playoffs. His fourth Patriot team went to the Super Bowl. Then he went to the Jets.
The Jets went 1-15 in 1996. Parcells arrived in ’97 and they went to the AFC championship in his second season. Soon he was gone again.
In Dallas, there was another turnaround. The Cowboys hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1999 when Parcells first got there in 2003. His first Cowboys team made the playoffs. Three years later, he was gone again, but the team he left behind – the team that went 13-3 in 2007 – had 36 Parcells players on its roster.
“I remember Bill Walsh telling me that a lot of times when powerful people leave, they leave a canyon,’’ says Ernie Accorsi, former GM of the Giants and
Browns. “Walsh said, ‘When I build an organization, I want it to continue to win when I leave.’ That’s what he did and that’s what Parcells does.
“They don’t leave debris behind. They set them up to succeed for a long time. Bill did it with the Jets and he did it with New England. Now he’s doing it in
Miami with a good young coach, a good GM, good scouts.’’
Bill Belichick will always be part of Parcells’s legacy. And Coach Hoodie sees the fingerprints of Parcells all over the 2009 Dolphins.
“The players he brings in are all the kind of players he likes,’’ says Belichick. “The defensive linemen are big. They’re all strong. All the outside linebackers can rush. The corners are big. The running backs are big. The tackles are big. They’re a big, powerful team.
“They have ‘Bill Parcells’ stamped all over it, no question about it. That’s what Bill believes in. He has a great philosophy and it works for him.’’
We all know the philosophy: Football players play football on Sunday. Go with cold-weather guys on draft day; beware of the player who will have his hands in his pockets in Pittsburgh in January. Create more turnovers than you surrender. Put your players in position to succeed and acknowledge their limitations (don’t ask Vinny Testaverde to improvise). You are what your record says you are.
Parcells hasn’t been to a Dolphins road game since he took the job. He’ll watch the game at home today in Florida, then maybe talk on the phone with some of his “guys.’’
“I call him after they lose,’’ says Boston businessman Joe O’Donnell. “He gets physically ill at times. But we talk about everything other than football. He might talk about the five books he’s reading. He’s a very loyal, successful guy. He could be running IBM. He always says, ‘I’m a failure, I’m just a football coach,’ but he’s really a CEO.’’
“He loves to b.s. about baseball,’’ says Madden. “He’s a closet Red Sox fan and he’ll leave me a message that it’s ‘Mel Parnell calling’ or usually some more
obscure Red Sox player. He’s very happy down there in Florida. He’s got everything he could ever want, other than the high of coaching on Sunday afternoons.’’
Today is game day in Foxborough. No Tuna on the grid at Gillette. But he’ll be watching. And when his team reports for work tomorrow, he’ll be waiting.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: