Nov 162005

By David Oliver

There is a certain weltschmertz in sitting down to write about the Giants these days. First the passing of Wellington “Duke” Mara, and now the passing of Preston Robert “Bob” Tisch leave me feeling as if a heavy load has been placed on my all too quickly aging back. There have been so many down happenings in my life since my involuntary departure from the ‘family’ that they underscore my previously expressed feelings that the cycle of my life has moved in tandem with that of the Giants.

But before anything else is said, allow me to express my condolences to the Tisch family and the Giants family in the best way I know, by stating simply, that Bob Tisch was a real Mensch in a world of saccharine personalities. I have lived a long and pretty good life. I have supped with janitors and dined with the politically and financially powerful. Coming from a background of Newark and its working class sentiments, guided and befriended by own brilliant father who, by choice, spent his life as a factory worker, I have come to respect, or not respect men based on how they interact and treat those around them.

Bob Tisch was a caring man, interested in everyone who touched him or came into his sphere of being. Just as Wellington Mara, he knew his place in the world. His expression of joie differed from Wellington, but his curiosity, his respect and his emotions came from the same rootstock. I first met Bob Tisch at a mini-camp, when he walked over to a group of us, writers and photographers, and asked how we thought the team was coming along; asked what we liked or not. There was an embarrassed shuffling and silence as none of us were about to point out to the team owner our opinions on the strength or weakness of his team. Finally, someone said to Mr. Tisch that his coaching staff might be the more appropriate people to answer his question. Mr. Tisch, without missing a beat, told us that he valued our opinion, as we were the guys watching the team go through its workouts, we were the guys who interacted with the players, and that he valued an independent opinion.

That day opened up a whole new appreciation for me of Mr. Tisch, or Mr. T as we called him. Here was a man, who by his own admission did not know all his players when he became an owner. Here was a man who was so self-effacing that he wanted to learn the game and the players, and those who covered the game and its players. And he was the same in every business he owned. He was often on the field, particularly at away games such as Washington. He was joyous when the team won, and crestfallen when it lost. He was expressive in a guarded way with those he knew, not by words, but by body language. We were friendly with his personal assistant and his pilot, and we met employees from his Hotel chain. There was nothing but praise and enthusiasm about the man, so unlike many things those who know them from a subordinate relationship say that about those in power. We would convey our messages of support to him and he would likewise respond through these people.

Bob Tisch was an owner, a businessman, a fan and a Mensch – a Giants’ Mensch. Just ask Cathy from Maine who spent a night discussing the Giants, and other matters, with Mr. Tisch in the lounge of the hotel in Albany. He was one of us, in a way in which few owners of any enterprise are one of the populi. I can tell you of at least one instance when a photographer was faced with a family emergency on the road. There was no way to catch a flight after the game to get home. Mr. Tisch put him on the team plane and got him back that night. When my brother-in-law passed away, I wrote to Mssrs. Mara and Tisch to express my profound gratitude for Michael Strahan’s visits and encouragement to him. I wanted them to know that their feelings about the Giants’ family had filtered down to their players. Both responded, but Bob Tisch did so almost immediately, expressing his own personal condolences and telling me of his own sense of loss over the death of his brother, which had occurred recently. Soon thereafter, it was made public that he, himself, was ill.

The kindness, the generosity, the humanity of Duke Mara and Bob Tisch are reminders of an age past. These were not “me” generation men. These were not men of limp personality. These were genuine men who stood tall and lived with the same passion as we do for this thing we all know as the NY Football Giants.

We are all the lesser for their passing.

Oct 252005

Wellington Mara, Giants Stadium (1976)

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.