Mara is still a football giant
Wellington Mara has had close ties to the club for 75 years.
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Wellington Mara was 9 when his father, Tim, paid $500 for the still-toddling NFL's New York Giants franchise in 1925, reasoning that any franchise in New York was worth the price.
"When I first was around the team, it was like they were all my big brothers, then my contemporaries," Wellington said in the Giants locker room last week. "Pretty soon, I was like their father. Now I'm their grandfather."
|[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Mara on a matchup against Art Modells club: "I'm delighted to play (the Ravens). I think it means a lot to him to be in (the Super Bowl). You don't hesitate to beat your friends, and I'm sure he's happy to be playing us, keeping it in the family, so to speak."
He is 84, with 34 grandchildren -- from about 5 weeks old to a sophomore at Boston College -- from seven daughters and four sons. Figuring out how to squeeze so many Maras into Raymond James Stadium for the Super Bowl, Wellington decreed: "The eligibility stands at age 10, but I can't tell you how many (are) above and below 10. I'd have to work that out."
As Wellington grew, football became part of him. He wanted in.
"When my father owned it, he objected when I wanted to be a part of the team," he said. "He wanted me to go to law school. My brother Jack had gone. I said, 'Look, I skipped a class in grammar school. I'm going to take that year off, work with the football team, then I'll go to law school.'
"About 12 years later he said, 'I guess you're not going to law school.' "
By the mid-1950s the Giants had established themselves as perennial contenders in what was then the Eastern Conference, and the Cleveland Browns became their major rivals.
The 1958 season is his favorite. "We had to beat the Browns two weeks in a row at Yankee Stadium," first to end the season tied atop the conference, then in a playoff. The next game is generally regarded as the one that thrust the NFL into the American consciousness: Baltimore Colts 23, Giants 17 (OT).
Art Modell bought the Browns in 1961 and a friendship was born. "We liked a lot of the same things," Mara said. "We laugh at the same jokes, mostly his. We grew on one another. We talk several times a week about whatever happens to come up."
Mara was one of Modell's staunchest supporters when Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore in 1996, renaming it the Ravens and replacing the Colts, who had moved to Indianapolis in 1984. "It was very unfairly portrayed," Mara said of Modell's move. "The politicians in Cleveland thought he'd never move. He did a lot of things for the city of Cleveland. He took over that rundown stadium and spent a lot of his own money redoing it. He put all those boxes in and sold the boxes not just for his games but for the Indians'. They never would have been able to sell it on their own.
"The thanks he got was (Cleveland) built a great new baseball park, a great new arena for indoor sports. I think the crowning blow was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When they put all those things ahead of him, he did what I think should have been done."
The Modell family has many business interests in New York. "I think he may be our largest season-ticket holder," Mara said. And with a grin, he added, "I don't think he got any in the lottery this time.
"I'm delighted to play (the Ravens). I think it means a lot to him to be in (the Super Bowl). You don't hesitate to beat your friends, and I'm sure he's happy to be playing us, keeping it in the family, so to speak."
Mara had met Bob Tisch at NFL social events. Tisch had tried to buy into other teams. They are Giants co-presidents, although Mara is not as active; his son John has taken the reins.
It was Modell who matched Mara and Tisch in 1991.
"We had breakfast one morning at the Regency and put it together, just the three of us," Mara said. "When Bob and I first met, he said, 'All I want to do is get 10 years of fun out of this,' and I said, 'That means you'll have to be in it for 30 years.' We laughed about it, but Sunday night (after the NFC Championship Game victory) I told him, 'This is one of those 10.' "
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