By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick so reveres his '80s Giants, it became a running joke with former Patriot Mike Vrabel.
Belichick would bring up the halcyon days of Big Blue, Vrabel would rail about that team playing against a bunch of truck drivers and iron workers, Belichick would put a Giants helmet in Vrabel's locker. Big fun.
One of Belichick's favorites was tight end Mark Bavaro. The two-time All-Pro known for his athleticism, stoicism and incredible blocking ability has been a touchstone player for Belichick as the years have passed. The search for someone similar has hit several dead ends.
But Belichick made a surprising admission when asked by ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss (via a fan) about current Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's similarities to Bavaro.
"I'd say there are some similarities," Belichick said of his 6-6, 265-year old rookie from Arizona. "Good size, blocking, receiving, a little bit of the same body type and playing style."
Athletic as Gronkowski is for his size, Bavaro was equally so in his 6-4, 245 pound package.
Belichick cautioned that no one get too hasty putting anyone in Bavaro's class quite yet.
"That's a little stretch to compare anybody at that stage of their career to Bavaro," said Belichick. "Bavaro had a great career. He played against some of the all-time greats -- Reggie White twice a year, and White is playing 6-technique head up on the tight end and you really don't get any help. That's a pretty big assignment. I think I'd be reluctant to put anybody in Mark Bavaro's class.
"I don't mean that in any way to slight any of our players. He set the bar up there pretty high. He could block, he could catch, he could run, and run after the catch. He was a great competitor. Mark was there every single week," Belichick said. "That's a guy you could count on. We lined up every year at training camp and he could block Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor. Not too many guys blocked them. You talk about competitive battles -- if you like football, that's about as good as you could find right there."
So far, Gronkowski has 32 catches for 390 yards and seven touchdowns. This weekend's game at Buffalo is a sort of homecoming for him. He grew up in nearby Amherst, New York.
"I'm excited to go back," he said Friday afternoon. "It's my first chance to play in front of my friends and family since high school. It's been a while - four or five years. I'm super excited to go back and see everyone."
Gronkowski's never played in Ralph Wilson Stadium. He did go to a few Bills games.
His favorite player? "Takeo Spikes was my favorite. His name was always cool. And also Eric Moulds. I got his old school jersey and everything. That was pretty legit."