Mark Bavaro: What HOF voters are missing in tight ends

Mark Bavaro was one of the greatest blockers in NFL history. But he was a tight end, and, as a tight end, that’s what he was supposed to do … block.

Except he made big catches, too. In fact, he made what was then a Giants’ record 12 in one game and had over 1,000 yards in receptions in 1986. But Bavaro’s signature was blocking, and while it made him a two-time All-Pro it hasn’t gotten him anywhere near Canton.

And there’s a simple reason: Tight ends today don’t block as much as they catch .., and they catch everything. Blocking, it seems, has been forgotten — not just by coaches but by the 48 Hall-of-Fame voters who elected just two tight ends to Canton in the past 15 years — Shannon Sharpe and senior nominee Charlie Sanders.

“I don’t think it’s been forgotten,” Bavaro said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I just don’t think it’s ever been taken into consideration. I don’t know that any of the tight ends in the Hall of Fame are there primarily because of their blocking.

“There are only three true tight ends, in my opinion, who are in the Hall of Fame — and that’s (John) Mackey, (Mike) Ditka and Dave Casper. And while they were all very good blockers, the reason that they’re in there was because of their all-around game, which included heavy passing and heavy receiving stats that contributed to their offenses … and the receiving game.

“The other tight ends in the Hall of Fame … I don’t think you can even come close to saying that blocking was even part of the reason they’re in the Hall of Fame. They’re in solely for their receiving stats.”

There are only three true tight ends, in my opinion, who are in the Hall of Fame — and that’s (John) Mackey, (Mike) Ditka and Dave Casper. And while they were all very good blockers, the reason that they’re in there was because of their all-around game.

No argument there. Kellen Winslow was a pass catcher first. Same with Sharpe, as well as the guys who are or might be on the ready list for Canton — Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski. All are known as receivers first and everything else second.

“(Tight end) has evolved definitely into a receiver — and a big target receiver — position,” Bavaro said. “I think tight ends are the superstars of NFL offenses these days, whereas a few years ago it was the wide receivers … and, before that, it was the running backs. The teams with the great tight ends now are really the great teams.”

But the team with the great tight end in the 1980s was one of the really great teams, too, and that’s the New York Giants. Bavaro could do it all, but what he could do better than anyone at his position — then or since — was block, and he was so effective that Giants’ coach Bill Parcells sometimes left him alone … yes, alone … to handle Hall-of-Famer Reggie White.

“First of all,” said Bavaro, “it was hard. Second of all, I wouldn’t say that I blocked him in a dominating sense. I basically got in his way enough to keep him from making tackles more often than not … and we had good running games against the Eagles.

“I had days where I caught (no passes) and still felt like I contributed more to the game than on the days when I had 10 catches. I don’t think you can say that in today’s game. If you’re not catching passes in today’s game on offense as a receiver there’s really not much else to do. There’s not much of a running game to contribute to.”

Bavaro is one of 108 candidates on the Hall of Fame’s preliminary list for the Class of 2018, and while that makes him a possibility for election, he’s a realist. He’s never been a semifinalist before, and he doesn’t expect to be a semifinalist again.

“To be honest with you,” said Bavaro. “I don’t think about the Hall of Fame too much. Every year as time goes by, I care less and less.”

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  1. Rasputin
    October 24, 2017

    Witten routinely blocks, he’s good at it, and his blocking has been fundamental to making that offense go over the past 15 years and even now. He is NOT in the same category as Gates and Gonzales. Witten is a true tight end.

    • October 24, 2017

      Not known for his blocking though. Known for his catching passes.

      • Rasputin
        October 24, 2017

        People talk about Witten’s blocking all the time. Broadcasters even highlight it during games. He had the key block on multiple TD runs last weekend.

        • October 25, 2017

          You’re right. They talk about his blocking … but they don’t talk about it all the time. His receiving? Yep, now THAT they talk about all the time. In fact, they talk about his receiving about 98 percent of the time. What do we mention first when we say Jason Witten? His career receptions, that’s what. I said these guys are known as receivers first and everything else second. And they are.

          • Rasputintoo
            October 25, 2017

            Do you at least acknowledge that Witten has been used as a blocker in ways that Gates and Gonzales haven’t? Heck, Gonzales himself has admitted that.

            BTW, this still Rasputin. The reply function hasn’t been working since last night on multiple pages, so either it’s a glitch with the system or I’ve been blocked for some reason. This reply is also sort of a test.

  2. Barry
    December 27, 2017

    Bavaro and Dave Casper are the two best combination of blocker and receiver in the pantheon of all-time greatest tightends. Just below those two are Mike Ditka and Raymond Chester. Russ Francis, Ben Coates and Riley Odoms deserve mentioning also.

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