John Mara takes Giant torch.

They say the surest way to measure the depth of a man's character is to watch how he reacts in times of great personal sorrow and strife. That is when reserves of courage and composure must be summoned, when one's inherent disposition and temperament are truly on display.

And so when John Mara stepped to the pulpit at St. Patrick's Cathedral Oct. 28, the casket of his beloved father before him, grieving family and friends fixed in his sight, the time had come for the eldest of Wellington and Ann Mara's 11 children to set the course of conduct for his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews to trail.

It would be one the New York Giants would be certain to follow.

John Mara eulogized his father, the patriarch of the Giants organization, with a stirring tribute, rooted in emotion and humor that brought his dad's remarkable spirit to life.

When John Mara was finished, when the crowd of mourners was done laughing and crying, it did what only seemed natural. It broke out with in applause, now certain of what the past had meant and the future seemed to hold.

"John Mara did a phenomenal job with his speech [eulogy]," Giants kicker Jay Feely said. "It was one of the best speeches I've ever heard under any circumstances. It encouraged me as a husband and a father. I really never got to know Mr. Mara [Wellington]. I wish I had the chance to know him."

But as difficult as those 15 minutes were for John Mara what followed two days later at Giants Stadium was almost as intense.

It did not escape Mara, the Giants executive vice president, that there seemed no escape from the circle of reporters pressed tightly around him in the Giants locker room after his father's team blasted the Redskins 36-0 to take control of the NFC East.

"I would have preferred it be him [Wellington Mara]," John Mara said. "But he wouldn't have wanted to be here very long. He would be looking around for Pat Hanlon [the team's vice president of communication] to get him out."

Until his father fell gravely ill during the spring, John Mara had been allowed to remain on the public perimeter, speaking mostly about esoteric and stadium issues relating to the franchise.

Those days are done. When Wellington Mara died control of the family's 50 percent share of the organization was symbolically passed to his eldest son.

Truth be told, John Mara has been in control long before then, his legal and business acumen guiding team policy from the background.

But now it's his voice that will carry the weight in public. And last week was his crowning glory.

"I think I felt [the emotion] more [last Sunday] than any day this week, driving up here today and realizing that he wasn't going to be here any more," John Mara said. "Sitting in the owner's box with his empty chair. It was emotional not having him in his regular seat. I was sitting there with my brothers Chris and Steve, like always. But he wasn't there with us."

John Mara said the game would have greatly pleased his father.

"Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever expected them to pitch a shutout," Mara said. "He would have been pretty pleased with this. He would have had a big smile on his face. Believe me, I didn't know what to expect from the team. But it was pretty gratifying to me. Then again, this is a well-coached team."

The Giants awarded John Mara a game ball after one of his father's favorite players, Tiki Barber, set a career record with 206 yards. It was handed to him by Eli Manning.

"I told them, ‘Don't do this to me, I don't know if I can handle any more emotion,'" Mara said.

Said Manning: "I knew he was a wonderful man, but I think he's inspired us to become better men."

Of all the games Tom Coughlin has won as a college or pro coach it's unlikely any had greater impact. His reverence for Wellington Mara was abundantly clear.

Coughlin saw all that was good and noble about football – sacrifice, loyalty, preparation, honor and tradition – displayed in Mara. The coach idolized what the Giants patriarch represented to the league he helped build and the family he helped grow.

Most importantly, Coughlin understands he is coaching the Giants today because Mara wanted someone just like him to help heal the fractures left behind when Jim Fassel was dismissed following the 2003 season.

And so moments after the Redskins win, Coughlin sought out John Mara once again to express his feelings about things.

"As we walked into the locker room [the talk] was about the game," Coughlin said. "We discussed it on a very personal level, I talked to him and his family really about the week they had and the way in which all of us were profoundly affected by the funeral mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and the way in which the National Football League and the nation I think has responded to Mr. Mara's death.

"We also talked about the respect and admiration and love really that has just come pouring out. It's difficult to put it into words, especially when you have just finished a game, etc. But, in a short amount of time and in a humble way, I tried to express that."

Like his father, John Mara will likely allow himself to draw close to certain players as his stewardship unfolds. It was that openness that compelled the Maras to invite Barber and Jeremy Shockey to visit their father's bedside the Monday before he died. Michael Strahan would have followed had Wellington Mara not passed the next morning.

"Unfortunately he wasn't able to communicate with them a lot. He was pretty much unconscious at that point," Mara said. "But the family knew they were there. It was uplifting for us all."

It was much the same feeling John Mara said his father would have had leaving the stadium after beating Washington. After all, it was his type of day.

"To win a game with running and defense is exactly the way he would have preferred it," Mara said. "If he said it once he said it 100 times, ‘run the ball, run the ball.' That was his mantra when he'd come to the stadium."

Now all that's left is to see what fingerprints Wellington Mara's oldest son intends to leave on the family business. The sense is they will be bold.

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