Mara Legacy Lives On

It's been a year now since John Mara, the eldest of Wellington and Ann Mara's 11 children, stepped to the pulpit at St. Patrick's Cathedral faced with the enormous task of honoring the memory of his beloved father and mentor, the long-time patriarch of the family business, the New York Giants.

What followed proved to be a defining moment of his life, a message delivered so poignantly the tears that accompanied the mourners into church that cold, raw morning quickly dissolved into celebratory laughter.

"I'd been thinking about it for years," Mara, 51, said. "I always wondered if I'd be able to do it, whether I'd have the strength and courage to do it. But when we took him home from the hospital [four days before his death] I started putting thoughts pen to paper. It wasn't as difficult as I had thought. There was so much to say and the subject was so compelling. It's difficult to summarize a life like his in a few minutes, but I hope I did an adequate job."

If there was ever a doubt for John Mara it was washed away in deafening applause as he concluded his tribute with these words:

"He may be gone from this world and we certainly grieve over that. But we also rejoice over our good fortune in having had him with us for so long for the extraordinary life he led and for his spirit, which will live on in his children and grandchildren for generations to come. When my father's brother died 40 years ago, Arthur Daley, the well-known sportswriter of The New York Times, wrote a column lamenting the loss of his good friend Jack Mara [Wellington's brother]. My father had that column on his desk for all these years and the last line from that column is a quote from Hamlet:"Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight sweet prince and flights of angels sing the to thy rest."

It's always seemed John Mara's destiny was to enhance the legacy his grandfather, Tim, his uncle Jack and his father built for the Giants during the last 82 years.

Mara graduated with a degree in marketing from Boston College and received his law degree from Fordham, also his father's alma mater. After working as an attorney, he joined the Giants in 1991 and now serves as President and Chief Executive Officer.

What he brought with him were things he'd learned from his father long ago.

"He instilled in all his children distinctive core values," Mara said. "No matter how difficult the decisions are that I have to make, no matter how complex they are, values are values and you want to treat people the way you'd like to be treated. It's the way he conducted his life. He treated people with respect."

And that's what this year's been all about, the respectful transition of power from father to son, two peas in a pod in so many important ways.

"John Mara received a lot of good qualities from his father, such as integrity, and he really cares about the NFL," Steelers owner Dan Rooney said. "John grew up around professional football and I am sure he has his own opinions about how to run an NFL team."

Until recently, John Mara couldn't bring himself to move into his father's office at Giants Stadium. Since Wellington Mara's death from cancer Oct. 25, the door to the room basically had remained shut, the pictures and memories contained within mostly in black and white.

"There was a time when we didn't think he would ever move in," Giants GM Ernie Accorsi said. "We thought [the empty office] would be there until they tore the stadium (down). Still, he hasn't changed it, with the exception of adding a computer. There was no computer in Wellington's office. He wrote everything longhand. And you should have seen the television that was in there. I had a bigger TV than that in 1956."

"I didn't move in until a week before the season," John Mara said. "I'm still trying to get used to it. It's a different feeling; I can remember so many players and coaches coming into the office to see him. It was like meeting with the boss, the principal. I'm still getting used to the fact that I'm supposed to occupy that role now."

John Mara is very much a product of his time; there's a flat-screen television now is his father's office. His mindset also reflects a business-sense sharply focused on the future with little care for the spotlight.

"Like his father, John is a decent, honest, fair person," said Pat Hanlon, the Giants Vice President of Communications. "And being the center of attention is not his idea of a good time. But we're working on that."

Mara serves on the NFL's influential Competition Committee and has stood center stage during the acrimonious discussions with the Jets and New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority that eventually led to an agreement to build a new stadium at the Meadowlands.

His father mostly favored things the way they were, from his socks and sweaters, dated Eisenhower administration, to the relationship he cultivated with his customers, the fans.

"I don't think there's a great difference philosophically, although I'm operating in a much different era than he did," Mara said. "Let's put it this way; naming rights [for the stadium] wouldn't have sat well him. But he accepted it. He understood the reality."

Mara accented that point with a story concerning his father's involvement in discussions about the new stadium, which will house the Giants and Jets in 2010, at the earliest.

"We were going through some design discussions and we had a meeting in one of the conference rooms [at Giants Stadium] and I asked him to sit in on and offer whatever input he cared to," Mara said. "He got up shaking his head after about a half-hour and walked out. Then he said loud enough for a couple of us to hear, ‘I was happy in the Polo Grounds.' This [the business of a new stadium] was not his thing. He would have been happy staying here forever."

Accorsi, who will retire after his ninth season as Giants GM, revered Wellington Mara and senses the continuity in the approach and manner of his son.

"There's such a tremendous void here because Wellington was such a presence," Accorsi said. "He had a saying, the greatest fertilizer is the farmer's footsteps, meaning the great leaders walk around and he was always around, always up to date, sometimes ahead of us all. To lose him, we lost so much. Whenever someone in the organization does something we're not happy with I've always tried to use him as the standard; ‘Would Mr. Mara be disappointed in us?' In that respect, he never leaves.

"But John is also a remarkable person, a modern-day version of his dad. First of all, the morality is the consistent bond. I think John would have made a great commissioner because he has everything; he was raised in the game, has the Mara morals. He's as close to his father as anyone could be."

Like his father, John Mara has strived to maintain a low profile, although he sometimes finds his emotions difficult to harness during games. He's a frequent visitor to practice, as his father was, but makes a point to stay out of the locker room except after games.

"Honestly, I'd bet a lot of the players don't know him, haven't even met him, other than seeing him at the locker room door after games," Tiki Barber said. "But he has the same demeanor as his father and I'm convinced that over time he'll develop into the same kind of owner. He's hands-off, in terms of staying away from personnel and coaching [game-day] decisions or talking to players about what they should or should not be doing. But to know or understand him is to know he's just as powerful. His father was the same way."

Last week was an emotional one for the Mara family. The family planned to gather last Wednesday, the first anniversary of Wellington's death last Oct. 25, for a mass in his honor and then visit his gravesite before heading somewhere for dinner.

"It's been a very hectic and emotional year," John Mara said. "I'm very cognizant the anniversary [of his death] is approaching, In fact, I was driving into work [last week] thinking this was the day we took him home from the hospital so he could die at home.

"I still miss not seeing him at practice, not having him sit behind me at games. I miss the walks we'd take downstairs to the locker room after games. I miss talking to him every day, keeping him up to date about what's going on in our business world. But I'm comforted by the fact he had a long life and did everything he wanted to do."

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