By David Oliver
It is a day we all knew was coming; it comes for each of us. That doesn’t make it any less sad. Notwithstanding the Irish tradition of sending a loved one on his way with celebration and telling of tales, I must take a moment to grieve for football, for fans of the game, for us as Giants fans and family. Each of us here has been born to the Blue. Wellington Mara was the essence of Blue. He was the owner of our team, but more than that, as we do, he cheered, he mourned, he angered, he reveled in the game and in his players. Mr. Mara was not perfect; no man is. But his last action as scion of the Giants speaks volumes of the man. He hired a coach in whom he believed; a Coach he hoped in his heart could bring us a return to the Glory Days of Giants football. It was his final gift to us.
Those of us who have reached a certain age cannot remember a time when there were no Giants; and concomitant with that remembrance, there was Wellington Mara. He, Mr. Rooney and Papa Bear Halas were the NFL. They were patricians and they were Gentlemen. In a violent world, in a violent sport, Wellington Mara and his cohorts maintained a sense of dignity, a style, and as my mother once told me, you have to know your place in the world; Wellington Mara knew his place. He sacrificed personal gain for the good of the sport and although the sport was good to him, there may not have been a sport without him.
I spoke very little with Mr. Mara. We would nod to each other, say hello or good morning and pass on our respective ways. But he knew I was a long time fan and he smiled at me a lot. He would smile and nod as he walked the field at mini-camp, or summer camp; he would nod and smile in the locker room after a Giants win; and he smiled and nodded that cold day in February as I was leaving the Meadowlands after interviewing a Coach and he was coming to work, walking into the Stadium alone.
He loved his team and his players and the team’s fans. Every day, at practice, when he was younger, he would pace up and down the field; later he would be stationary, but intent on watching every player, every play. Although not gregarious with strangers, he was not isolated. He would answer a question; sign an autograph, treat each fan as if he was, what we are, members of the Giants’ family. I have seen him sign autographs for young men and I have seen him sign autographs for fans wearing the jersey of another team. Everyone respected him, and he respected everyone.
The game is changing once again. The players are different, the owners are different, and the fans are different. With the coming of free agency, heroes come and go. In the age of entertainment, PSLs are the acronym of the day, the cost of taking a family of four to a game is astronomical. Players take pens out of their socks or cell phones from hidden places. But I remember a day when players and fans took the same subway to the stadium, when Frank Gifford regaled us with stories of Wellington Mara slipping enough C notes in his shoes to enable him to go home to California or buy a present for his family, and when Wellington Mara answered the cry of the fans to end the horrid days of the 60s and 70s and return football, Giants’ football, to its proper place.
But most of all, I will remember a courtly middle aged man as he, and I, aged, walking the field before his players arrived, watching every practice, nodding and smiling in my direction. As he always thought of us as family, we likewise count him in our families. So for a moment we will grieve; then we will celebrate a life well lived. Thank you, Mr. Mara, and God Speed on your final journey.