John E. Hoover: Super Bowl is great thrill for parents of Ravens and ex-OSU player Billy Bajema
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
1/30/13 at 7:19 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Bajema and parents get super thrill
Coming out of college, Billy Bajema was truly torn about his future.
Doctor? Or pro football player?
Now, eight years later, Bajema is a Baltimore Raven, playing in the Super Bowl.
"It's been a blast," said Bajema's mother, Lynne Bajema.
Bajema had studied pre-medicine and business at Oklahoma State University, a double-major, and he had positioned himself to take the MCAT, go to medical school and become a doctor.
But Bajema also had studied football at OSU, and had positioned himself to play tight end, become a seventh-round draft pick and play in the National Football League.
Training for the NFL that final semester in Stillwater meant he couldn't fully prepare for the Medical College Admission Test, and vice versa. So he made a tough call, chose football, and the fairy tale continues.
"Never been to a Super Bowl before," said Bajema's father, Bill Bajema. "So this is a new experience for us. We're excited."
Bajema is in his eighth NFL season. He was drafted 249th overall by San Francisco, where he played four seasons from 2005-08. He played three seasons in St. Louis from 2009-11 and now, at the age of 30, is concluding his first season with Baltimore.
Bajema was a high school quarterback at Westmoore, but switched to tight end at OSU. A prototype tight end at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, he became one of the Cowboys' strongest players in the weight room and one of their most reliable on the field and in the classroom.
He started 37 games, caught 52 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns (including a three-catch, 99-yard effort in an epic upset of Oklahoma), was a four-time Academic All-Big 12 performer and as a senior earned Academic All-America. In 2004, Bajema was one of 15 National Scholar Athletes - all teams, all divisions - to earn an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
He still has that scholarship in the bank, his dad said, although now married with three young children (2, 3 and almost 5), medical school seems less likely.
"I think that was more intended to pursue that after maybe hopefully making a team and playing a few years in the league," Bill Bajema said. "But I don't think he envisioned eight years.
"He might just go into business at this point."
But not until football is finished.
With the Ravens, Bajema's role this season has diminished. He frequently wasn't on the active game day roster and played in just eight games, mostly on kickoff return and "eight or nine plays a game" on offense, his dad said.
That's a change from previous seasons, when Bajema was a second and third tight end on the active roster each week and was routinely needed in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
His hallmark came in 2010, when he caught two touchdown passes - his only two NFL regular-season TDs - from Rams rookie Sam Bradford. In a preseason game last August, he caught a TD pass against the Rams.
In 114 career NFL games, Bajema has 38 catches for 398 yards, but none this season.
"This year was different," Bill Bajema said. "Although he's on a much better team, his role was a little bit less."
Even though he's no doctor, Bajema's profession has been lucrative - although, as a backup tight end, "he has to get a job like the rest of us" when he's done playing, his father says.
According to published reports, in 2005, Bajema signed a three-year, $1.043 million deal with the 49ers, and in 2008, he got a one-year, $927,000 tender. With the Rams, he signed a three-year, $2.5 million contract that included a $270,000 signing bonus. For this season, he got a one-year, $890,000 deal (the NFL minimum salary for an eight-year veteran is $825,000; he also got a $65,000 signing bonus).
Without a contract, there may not be a next season for Bajema, although the day that happens, he'll probably put that postgraduate scholarship to work.
Anyway, he's obviously focused on the present.
On Sunday, in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, Bajema's new team, the Ravens, meets his first team, the 49ers.
"The starting lineup for San Francisco, there's still a lot of guys on that roster from when Billy was there," Bill Bajema said. "Vernon Davis came in and was the starter and Billy more or less taught him how to play the position in the pros. Same with Delanie Walker. They're the two tight ends there.
"I think for Billy, he has strong feelings for every team he's ever been involved with. Hopefully we instilled that when he was a kid."
One of those teams is the Cougars, where Bajema played QB from the age of 5 until he got into the Westmoore system.
Before heading to New Orleans this week, Bajema's mom and dad will borrow a VHS player and dig out some of his old game tapes. Imagine the smiles and the tears in that room.
"We haven't watched them in a long time," Lynne Bajema said.
"Going to the Super Bowl, I can't even believe it. I still - when we were at the Boston game (a victory over New England in the AFC Championship) and we won and we weren't gonna go, it's taken a long time to even sink in. I still - I just can't believe it. It's a dream come true.
"I just feel so blessed. Billy's been such a great son, and we've had so much fun with him over the years. I just feel so blessed. I do. Like, 'What did I do to deserve this?' It's just so awesome."
Ravens tight end Billy Bajema (right) catches a touchdown pass in a preseason game against the Rams in August. TOM GANNAM / AP