Wellington Mara, Co-Owner of New York Giants, Dies at 89

Wellington Mara, owner of the National Football League’s New York Giants and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died today from cancer at age 89.

Wellington Mara, Co-Owner of New York Giants, Is Dead at 89 (NYT)

Wellington Mara, former owner of the New York Giants, at the Princeton Club in New York in 1973. Wellington Mara, the co-owner of the New York Giants of the National Football League, a presence with the franchise since his father founded the team in 1925, and the senior management figure in pro football, died today at his home in Rye, N.Y. He was 89. The cause was cancer of the lymph nodes, according to a statement by the Giants.

Mara became the patriarch of a marquee family on the New York sports scene. He was the N.F.L.’s last link to an era when teams like the Pottsville Maroons, Dayton Triangles and Rochester Jeffersons played in the shadow of the college game and Red Grange of Illinois embodied the football hero.

Mara sat on the Giants’ bench at the Polo Grounds as a 9-year-old ball boy on Oct. 18, 1925, when they played their first home game, losing to the Frankford Yellow Jackets. He witnessed the famed “Sneakers Game” when the Giants outmaneuvered the Chicago Bears by wearing rubber-soled footgear in the 1934 championship game on a frozen Polo Grounds field.

After 31 seasons at the Polo Grounds, Mara took the Giants to Yankee Stadium in 1956, and they became the glamour franchise of the N.F.L., winning the league championship that season and playing in the title game five times in the next seven years.

Mara moved the Giants to the New Jersey Meadowlands in the 1970’s, weathering an outcry from New York City’s mayor, John V. Lindsay, when he announced his plans. The Giants went to the Super Bowl three times after that, winning it twice, and their games at the 75,000-seat Giants Stadium are invariably sellouts.

Mara’s father, Tim, who died in 1959, was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Wellington Mara, the Giants’ president and co-chief executive officer, was elected to the Hall in 1997 as the Maras became the first father and son to be inducted.

The Mara’s, a longtime division rival of the Dallas Cowboys, always comported themselves with class. Their like will be sorely missed around the NFL.

Related links:

Wellington Mara Biography, Pro Football Hall of Fame

Wellington Mara, president of the New York Giants who now shares co-chief executive officer duties with co-owner Robert Tisch, is a man whose entire lifetime has been dedicated to the National Football League and his family-owned Giants.

The son of the late Timothy J. Mara, who was the Giants founder and a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Wellington Mara joined the Giants in 1937 as a part-time assistant to the president. He began full-time work in 1938 as club secretary and later served as vice president before becoming the team̢۪s president after the death of his older brother, Jack, in 1965.

Mara̢۪s extensive experience in organization, player personnel, trading and drafting has helped produce 14 NFL/NFC divisional titles and four NFL championships during his 60-season tenure that began with his graduation from Fordham in 1937. Even when he was a college student, Mara made a significant contribution when he drafted and signed future Hall of Famer Tuffy Leemans in 1936. Mara-engineered trades that brought such stars as Y.A. Tittle, Andy Robustelli and Del Shofner to the team were combined with his drafting of Frank Gifford and Roosevelt Brown, both future Hall of Famers, to mold the Giants into a dominant team in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

From 1956 to 1963, the Giants won six divisional championships and the 1956 NFL title. In more recent years, Mara̢۪s Giants won Super Bowls XXI and XXV. Mara, who was born August 14, 1916, in New York City, now is respected as one of the most knowledgeable executives in pro football.

Since 1984, he has served as president of the National Football Conference. He currently serves on the Hall of Fame and realignment committees, as co-chairman of the long-range planning committee and on the NFL Management Council̢۪s executive committee. In previous years, he also was a member of the constitution, pro-college relations and commissioner search committees.

Wellington Mara’s enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
, 26 July 1997, by Frank Gifford

Right up front I̢۪d like to say, Wellington Mara̢۪s election to the Hall of Fame is so long overdue. He and the Mara family have played a decisive and powerful role in helping to guide the National Football League for over 70 years. Well and his family were a dominant presence in this league long before the sellout crowds, huge television and multi-million dollar player contracts and Super Bowls. Yes, the Mara family̢۪s fingerprints can be found all over just about every successful move the NFL has made over those 70-plus years. Indeed, it was Wellington Mara̢۪s strong support of the Hall of Fame that helped this shrine become a reality here in Canton back in the early sixties. And today, Hall of Fame history will be made as Wellington joins his father, the late Timothy J. Mara, who was inducted in the Hall of Fame̢۪s very first class back in 1963. I could spend my allotted time this morning detailing Wellington̢۪s enormous personal impact on the NFL. The league̢۪s growth, its popularity, its phenomenal financial success, have paralleled Well̢۪s lifetime commitment to the game he loves so much.

I could speak in detail how his unselfish decision in the early days of meaningful television money guided the NFL toward an unprecedented united prosperity. That decision to share equally with all teams television’s revenue obviously would hurt the Giants. But, Well’s vision of a league only as strong as its weakest franchise was right then and it’s right today. There have been so many positive league decisions in which Well has played a quiet but major role such as the AFL-NFL merger and he has served on every meaningful league committee. Nor has he ever been one to look for the praise or the credit. His satisfaction has always been that the NFL was just doing the right thing but that is how Wellington Mara lives his life — doing the right thing. I spoke a moment ago about Wellington’s commitment to the NFL. That commitment, as strong as it is, follows first his spiritual commitment and then his commitment to his family and that never varies. Well and his wife, Ann, who is with us today, have 11 sons and daughters and 30 grandchildren. Many of them are here today, and I’m going to have them stand up. . come-on all the Maras and the in-laws. And that represents a lot of off-seasons.

Wellington also has an extended family. That family is made up of former players and coaches and their wives and their children. I can̢۪t tell you and Well would kill me if I did, how many times some member of that extended family has needed help and Well has been there. I know, because he has been there for me. I became a member of that extended family when Wellington scouted and drafted me as his number one pick in 1952. He also signed me to my first contract and I won̢۪t embarrass both of you by telling you for how much. What I will tell you, is as I grew to know him and he grew to know me, I never worried about a contract. He was always more than fair nor did I even bother to sign some of them. Well̢۪s word was and is his bond. I know he won̢۪t like this, but I can honestly say Wellington Mara is the most honest and decent man I have ever known. Can that kind of man, one could ask, can that kind of man succeed in the world of pro football? Well, Wellington Mara has been the key ingredient in the Giants̢۪ six NFL championships, 18 divisional titles and today Wellington Mara becomes the 24th member of the Giants organization to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. I mentioned that Wellington Mara was my presenter in 1977. As always, he spoke very elegantly and said many kind things about me as a player. But what I remember most is his reference to me as a member of the Mara family. As the son a father would want to have. I don̢۪t know about that Well, I̢۪d just like to say to you . . . you are the father every son would be blessed to have, the brother any man could want and certainly the best friend anyone could ever have. Congratulations Well, this is so deserved.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.