Mark Bavaro Rough & Tumble: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780312375744

Rough & Tumble: A Novel

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9780312375744: Rough & Tumble: A Novel
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A riveting debut novel of a season in the life of a professional football player—written by one of the NFL's best tight ends of all time.

Dominic Fucillo is a tight end for the surging New York Giants. Rebellious, ferociously angry, deeply religious and fighting injuries and a crumbling love life that would bring the average man to his knees, Dom is a veteran player who is having the toughest season of his career at a time when his team can do nothing wrong--or so it seems.

Because behind the big wins, a major scandal is brewing. The team's star linebacker has always lived on the edge and enjoyed the nightlife more than he should. But when he's found beaten nearly to death in the stadium parking lot, it's clear he's gotten himself into more than even he bargained for, and it's something that threatens to tear himself and his team's promising season apart.

Inspired by his years shedding blood and sweat playing professional football, ROUGH & TUMBLE is Mark Bavaro’s novel about the brutal world of the NFL—and a classic sports story of one man’s determination and grit.

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About the Author:

MARK BAVARO is widely considered one of the toughest, most idiosyncratic athletes ever to play in the NFL and one of the best tight ends of all time.  He played college football at Notre Dame, graduated in 1985, and was drafted by the Giants where he stayed through the 1990 season and played for Bill Parcells and alongside Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor.  He also played with the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles.  He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1986 and 1987 and was a pivotal member of the New York Giants during their Super Bowl XXI and XXV wins. He lives in Massachusetts.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Hslot out Z-Motion Sixty-two Semi Y-Hook Z-Flag on two, on two!"

Jogging up to the line of scrimmage, I repeated the jumble of code words instructing me to run ten yards upfield, stop, turn around, and wait for a pass. It used to be the kid with the best arm in the neighborhood would simply tell me, "Run a curl. Joey, run a post. Teddy, go to the corner. Billy, go deep. And the rest of you guys stay in and block." That was when football was a game. After eight years in the National Football League I knew what I was doing at the moment was anything but a game.

"Blue Fifty-two! Blue Fifty-two!" shouted Dan Ramsey.

Ramsey was our backup quarterback. He’d taken over when golden-boy Ron Hanes broke his leg. Ron was the team’s franchise player, the highest-paid guy on the New York Giants. We’d made each other famous over the years as one of the best throwing/catching tandems in the league. He threw the balls and I caught them. But he’d gotten hurt back in September and was out for the season. Ramsey filled in admirably. Hell, we’d all been performing admirably without Ron. Somehow, his absence made us all play better. With five games left on the schedule, we were 10–1. With any luck, we’d improve to 11–1 after beating the Philadelphia Eagles, whose defense was now staring me in the face as I assumed my three-point stance as the Giants’ tight end.


The Eagles sucked. They’d only won three games all year. That didn’t mean much. Regardless of records, our meetings were always a toss-up; more like rumbles than games. So it was no surprise we found ourselves trailing 21–14 in the fourth quarter.


Crouched in my stance, the fingers of my right hand pressed into the artificial turf of Philly’s stadium, while the other hand rested on my left knee. My blue-and-white sock drooped below my calf, and I ran my fingers over the long scar across my kneecap from last year’s surgery. It was raised and bumpy and ran like a diagonal zipper from one corner of my knee to the other. Although twelve months had passed since my ligaments had been torn to shreds, the injury was still fresh in my mind. The pain accounted for that. But the injury didn’t worry me. It was just the latest in a long string of mishaps. I’d already overcome a dozen surgeries to various parts of my body with no problems. It was going to take a lot more than a bum knee to slow me down. Although a lot of people had thought my career was over, I proved them wrong. My knee recovered just enough, and I was now playing as well as ever. Hell, the way I felt at the moment, the end of my career was nowhere in sight.


I bolted from the line of scrimmage. Groggins, the linebacker before me, swung his elbow at my head, then wrapped his other hand around the back of my shoulder. My breath shot out unexpectedly as his taped hand slapped my spine and stuck to me like glue. I tried to avoid him. My job was to run a pass pattern, not to get tangled up with him. But the price of being a good tight end in the National Football League was no free releases off the line of scrimmage. The harassment was a sign of respect. I took it as a compliment.

"Get your fuckin’ hands off me!" I yelled, regaining my breath.

"Fuck you, punk!" he replied.

"Fuck you, bitch!"

And so our conversation continued from our previous fifty plays. Churning my legs into the turf, I chopped at the linebacker’s arms with my fists and elbows. Despite the pain, my knee felt good. The Butazolodine I’d taken at halftime was kicking in. Prescribed mainly for horses, the anti-inflammatory worked wonders for me. I couldn’t play without it.

Fighting my way off the line of scrimmage, I thought to myself, I love this game. Not because it was fun. But because it made me whole. I’d been playing football since the fourth grade. It was who I was. It was all I was. I was respected because of it. I was known because of it. And most important, I was paid because of it. It was my job and I was good at it.

Cracking the linebacker’s forearm with an elbow and shoving my palm into his chin, I wondered if I would ever achieve the same satisfaction from another profession. I guess I’d never know, because I planned on playing forever.

"Banjo! Banjo!" the 240-pound prick holding my jersey screamed as I broke free of his grasp. He was communicating with his middle linebacker. Banjo was a defensive code word meaning I was about to be handed off like a baton in a relay race from one man to another. As Groggins’s fingers flicked from my jersey and he fell to the ground, I ricocheted into freedom. Unmolested, I stole a quick glance at my surroundings. Bodies were everywhere, each consumed with his personal opponent. Chaos seemed to reign. But in fact, it was all carefully planned and rehearsed. As expected, the Philadelphia middle linebacker appeared directly in front of me ready to assume the package his buddy was delivering.

The middle backer was about two inches shorter than the six-foot-four-inch outside backer but at least twenty pounds heavier. He moved awkwardly compared to the grace of his teammate, but because his job was to fill holes and stand his ground at all costs, he was an even more formidable foe here in the middle of the field where there was little room to maneuver.

Ramsey expected me to be ten yards over the center in about one and a half seconds. My pass route demanded discipline and timing. Like a baseball player running the bases, I couldn’t leave the baseline. There wasn’t any room. But even if there were, I couldn’t ad-lib. The only path to my assigned spot went straight through this new prick.

As Groggins’s hand left my jersey, the middle backer stuck his head into my chest. Until I was farther downfield, I was fair game to these headhunters. My ribs bent inward at the blow, and my shoulders nearly met on the other side of his head. He hit me so hard his face mask touched my spinal cord. My breath exploded like a popped balloon, and I spit my mouth guard out with the force of a bottle rocket. He’d gotten me good, but I’d seen it coming. This, at least, gave me time to plan my countermove.

Even as his head displaced my lungs, I grabbed the back of his shoulder pads with one arm and, like a swimmer, swung my other arm over his head. With a tug of his shirt and a twist of my body, I shimmied past him and let his forward momentum take him to the ground.

Adhering to the imaginary baseline of my pass pattern, and trying to regain my breath, I continued to my designated spot ten yards deep into the defense. It only took three unimpeded strides to get there, and when I did, I planted my feet firmly in the turf and turned around.

The ball met me in the exact spot that the middle backer’s helmet had just vacated. It had been no more than a brown flash in the bottom of my eyes, but my hands rose instinctually to meet it. The sound and feel of the ball as it thwacked into my hands told me it was a completion before my eyes confirmed it. Holding it now like a potted plant I’d just purchased from a nursery, I was met from behind by a blow to my back. The force buckled my knees and nearly popped the ball loose from my grasp. It took every fingernail I had to hold on to it. The hit had been hard, but not hard enough to take me down. It must have been delivered by a defensive back. Whoever it was, I felt him slide down my legs. Before he could grab my ankles and trip me up, I tucked the pigskin into my belly and turned upfield. For the first time since I’d left the line of scrimmage, I could see farther than a few yards in front of me. I began running for my life.

Philly had been triple-teaming me, I realized. Groggins, the middle backer, and now the defensive back had all been assigned to prevent Ramsey from throwing to me. With the other Eagle defenders chasing Giant receivers all over the field, they weren’t even aware that I’d caught the ball.

The end zone was forty yards away and only one Eagle stood in my way: Demetri Rivers. From the look of things, he was the only man with a chance of making the tackle. A smile came to my lips. Of all the Eagles I could’ve faced, Rivers was my first choice. Not because he was giving up forty pounds to me, but because I hated him. He was a cheap-shot artist, known around the league as "Dirty" Rivers. Like a hunter who gathers pelts for his wall, Rivers collected the cartilage and careers of opposing players. As a football player, he was average. But as a hitter, he was dangerous, especially after the whistle when you weren’t looking.

Over the years, I’d absorbed a multitude of his blows, most of them aimed at my back, kidneys, knees, and lower spine. Never had he hit me head-on, and never had he struck the initial blow. He was a scavenger on the football food chain, joining feeding frenzies only after the prey had been disabled. His shots were usually the third or fourth delivered and were executed not with the intent to tackle, but solely to inflict as much damage as possible.

The sight of him standing there on the twenty-yard line made me drool. For the first time since I’d known him, the responsibility of making the tackle had fallen squarely on his shoulders. He couldn’t jump on the pile this time. Instead, he would have to create it.

Like a shark smelling blood, I strained to get to him faster. He did nothing to hasten our collision, but simply stood there waiting for reinforcements. I hurried to get to him before any arrived. I could see his mind calculating our size difference: 210 pounds of still weight versus 250 pounds of rolling fury. Those figures couldn’t have boosted his confidence.

We needed a touchdown to tie the game. I knew one little juke to Rivers in the open field would accomplish this. But I also knew the opportunity to run him over might never come again.

"Look at him!" a little voice in my head suddenly yelled into my ear. "Bury him! Make him hurt! Make him pay!"

The voice was persuasive. But I’d never needed much prompting to hit someone. Leaning forward, I pumped my legs faster and harder, my arms shooting back and forth like pistons. I felt I could punch them through steel, and indeed, I intended to punch them through Rivers. The football became a distraction, and in my rage I thought of dropping it. I didn’t, though. I wanted to put Rivers out of the game, but I hadn’t completely lost my mind.

As I came within range of my target, Rivers stood still. The whites of his eyes expanded like two carnations blooming in time-lapse photography. The moment of impact was upon us. I lowered my head, leaned forward, and abandoned all chance of advancing to the end zone. I was sacrificing a touchdown to satisfy my bloodlust. I would deal with our head coach’s disapproval later. Besides, in his heart, Lou Gordon would understand. He’d drafted me because of my temperament. Eight years on the front line had only intensified it. I was going for the kill.

The last thing I saw as I braced for the hit was the sardonic grin of the dirtiest player in the league. At the last instant before contact, Rivers moved his body out of the line of my main thrust. He’d been baiting me all along the way a toreador does a bull. Using his head as a red cape, he ducked away at the last second and with his helmet went for his own kill shot, his intended target all along—my knee.

The two hit brutally hard. The foam rubber of my knee-pad did little to absorb the blow. It might as well have been made of tissue paper. I felt as if I’d run full speed into a knee-high fence. The impact was swift and intense. My leg cut out from under me, and my forward momentum turned into a nosedive. With no time to twist or turn or even extend an arm, my face mask drove straight into the turf, past the threadbare carpet of Veterans Stadium, and into the cement foundation on which it lay. My brain sloshed inside my skull like the yolk of an egg.

As I lay there, I was sure of only two things. One, I had come half a footstep away from blowing out my once-already-blown-out knee. And two, I had squandered the chance to score a touch-down that we desperately needed.

Watching the clouds float overhead, I smelled something vile beside me. Dirty Rivers was on his knees, holding his head in pain. I glowed with satisfaction until I realized his situation wasn’t serious. A headache was a small price to pay for nearly ending my career. That I’d attempted to end his was inconsequential.

He looked back at me with disappointment in his eyes. "You’re a lucky prick, Fucillo," he said. "But don’t worry. I know which knee it is, and I’ll get it before the day’s over." There was malice in his voice and determination on his face.

My rage intensified. That little bastard. Hiding behind that helmet, cloaking his criminal behavior in the game of football. He disgusted me. The little voice in my head returned. "Rip his head off!" it whispered.

I struggled to my feet to go after him, but a referee came up behind me.

"Don’t even think about it, number eighty-four! Give me the ball and get back to your huddle."

"So you heard what he said?" I asked.

"Give me the ball and get back to your huddle."

Rivers began laughing.

"C’mon, ref, that’s bullshit. The guy’s trying to take out my knee. Get him off the field."

"Just give me the ball and get back to your huddle."

"At least throw a flag."

"Ball, please."

"You worthless piece a’sh—"

"Watch it, Fucillo. The only one who’ll be getting a flag is you. You ain’t no choirboy yourself. So quit whining and just play the game."

The ref ripped the ball from my hands and ran to spot it at the nearest hash mark. I watched in disbelief and fury. As the referee, he’s supposed to regulate on-field behavior, but instead does nothing but blows whistles and spots balls. What good was he? Why was he even out there?

"You’re pathetic," I said to him. "If you’re not gonna do anything about that dirtbag, then I’m gonna!"

He tapped the yellow flag in his back pocket with his fingers as a warning.

"You throw that flag and I’ll kick your ass," I said.

I’m not sure if he heard me, but Rivers did.

"C’mon, Fucillo. You know you ain’t gonna hit no ref. Now go to your huddle, boy, and get the play. My helmet’s got an appointment with your knee."

I made a move for him. He was only ten yards away.

"Dominic!" Ramsey yelled at me, stopping me in midstride. "The play’s over. Let it go and get in the huddle."

Oh, right, the game. I reeled in my anger for the moment and returned to the huddle. Ramsey called the next play.

"Two Flood F-Peel Eighty Max X-Post Z-In on one, on one!"


The only word I needed to know was max, which stood for "maximum pass protection." That meant I stayed on the line of scrimmage to block rather than run another pass route. Thank God. That last play took a lot out of me. I looked forward to the chance to catch my breath.

"Green eighty! Green eighty! Set, hut!"

Springing upright, I waited for Groggins to rush the passer, but he just stood there, waiting for me to run a pattern. It was a standoff. Neither one of us felt moved to improvise. We simply stared at each other and enjoyed the rest.

It was a nice moment until I saw Ramsey’s pass fly into the hands of the Eagles’ middle linebacker, who intercepted the ball in the flat. With no one in his path, he began running toward our goal line. Suddenly, my vacation was over.

As the fastest Giant among the pursuers, I had the only shot at making the tackle. I dodged two defensive linemen, then came up on a wall of linebackers escorting their budd...

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9780312567392: Rough & Tumble: A Novel

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ISBN 10:  0312567391 ISBN 13:  9780312567392
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, 2009

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