Fitting tribute for The Duke

The Duke went out like a king. Giants patriarch Wellington T. Mara was remembered in front of more than 2,500 family, friends and fans at St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown Manhattan on Friday, Oct. 28. The Giants owner passed away from cancer on Oct. 25. He was 89.

"It was amazing," Michael Strahan said. "The ceremony was amazing. It was emotional, but it was also an opportunity for everybody to celebrate the life of Wellington Mara. You could see that he affected everybody – not just in the sports world, but in every sense of how you should live your life and how you should affect people in a positive way. It was amazing to see one man have such an influence and have so many people there that cared for and loved him."

John Mara and Frank Gifford both delivered moving eulogies.

"Many years ago his good friend Tim Rooney said something to me that I have reflected on many times since," Mara recalled. "‘You realize, don't you, that your father is the best example of how we should all live our lives? You will never find anyone better to emulate.' Over the years as I have watched my father live his life, I have come to realize how true those words were and what a role model he really was."

"I know we are all still suffering from the loss of this great man," Gifford said. "But, I know too that we can all celebrate one of the incredible lives and know too where he is. He is at the right hand of his longtime head coach in the heavens with his Lord and God."

His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan, who had known Mara for more than 20 years, presided over the services and spoke of his friend in a moving homily.

"As one friend of Well put it to me at the wake on Thursday evening, ‘No one has said a negative word about him, Cardinal,'" Egan said. "I will tell you why. There was nothing negative to say. He was the best and that is all there is to it."

Egan called Mara "an icon of goodness" and noted that the deeply religious Mara attended Mass every morning.

"Faith played a huge role in making Wellington Mara the kind, decent, caring human being that he was," Egan said.

The funeral was attended by dozens of NFL luminaries and former Giants, including Lawrence Taylor, Y.A Tittle, Andy Robustelli, Phil Simms, Harry Carson, George Martin, Jessie Armstead, Phil McConkey, Mark Bavaro, Doug Van Horn, Dick Lynch, Jim Burt, Dave Brown, Billy Ard, Brad Benson, Bart Oates, Karl Nelson, Ottis Anderson, Dave Jennings, Matt Bahr, Sean Landeta, Brad Daluiso and Howard Cross.

Additionally, four head coaches of other NFL teams were in attendance: Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, John Fox and Romeo Crennel – all former Giants assistants. That they would leave their teams two days before a game was an extraordinary testament to Mara. Also present was Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, who was once a Giants aide to Parcells.

Many NFL owners were there, including Jeff Lurie of Philadelphia, Woody Johnson of the Jets, Robert Kraft of New England, Pat Bowlen of Denver and Jerry Richardson of Carolina. So was NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, former New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, Monday Night Football analyst John Madden, Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and NFL Players Association President Gene Upshaw.

"Mr. Mara was the greatest person," Armstead said. "He always kept that smile and that look about himself in good times and bad. He always stayed even keel all the time. When we played Minnesota (in 2000 NFC Championship Game), everybody was saying how Minnesota was going to beat us bad and we took care of them. After the game, that smile on his face was tremendous. He didn't say much, but you knew how happy he was after how we were portrayed."

Armstead was especially touched by Mara's kindness after he finished playing for the Giants.

"Even after I left, he sent me a letter thanking me for all the things that I did there," Armstead said. "He didn't have to send that letter. He sent it and I really appreciated it. I called to thank him. You can't take anything from him, period."

The Giants' entire team and coaching staff attended the funeral. They were part of a seven-bus caravan that departed Giants Stadium at 8 a.m. Tiki Barber led the Giants into St. Patrick's. General manager Ernie Accorsi and coach Tom Coughlin and his wife, Judy, shared a pew.

"I thought it was a beautiful ceremony for a great human being," Coughlin said. "I thought the fact that there were so many people there was a tribute to the way that he led his life. I thought that John Mara's expressions in tribute to his father were sensational. There was laughter, there were tears, there was reality. He captured all kinds of moments, which anyone who knew Mr. Mara could relate to. That made it even more personal. John made everyone in the church personally involved in the life of his father by virtue of the words he chose to describe him. It was the most personal, emotional part of the funeral Mass."

Mara's oldest daughter, Susan McDonnell, and Chris Mara delivered readings. After Egan's homily, daughters Maureen Brown and Meghan Brennan read the Prayer of the Faithful.

Shortly afterward, Gifford spoke about his friend of 53 years.

"I had three stages of knowing Wellington Mara," Gifford said. "He was my boss for many years, then he became a father figure, then as we both got a little bit older, he became my dearest friend, someone I could always count on.

"One of the most memorable times came when I went into the Hall of Fame and I asked him to be my presenter. He was eloquent, as he always was, and I was so honored that he was there. As we looked into the faces of all these people, Wellington turned to me and introduced ‘A man that any father would be proud of to have as a son.' I will never forget that. And a few years later I had the opportunity to stand in the same place and say to the same audience, ‘This is a man who any son would be proud to call a father.'"

John Mara, one of Wellington and Ann's 11 children, spoke of lessons learned.

"There were so many lessons that my father taught us over the years, maybe none more important than in the last few weeks of his life," Mara said. "He never gave up his will to live. He tried so hard to get out of bed and walk. He fought until the very end and he never complained. His faith never waned. On his last day in the hospital, when he came to the realization that the doctors could no longer treat him, he summoned me to his bedside, he could barely talk. I held his hand and he looked at me and smiled and said, ‘I'll be there when you get there.' It was his way of telling us that he was going to be okay. He was going to a better place."

"He has run the race of life and won," Egan concluded. "Wellington Mara was a giant in every sense of that word."

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