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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 621

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This is the grave of Mara family.

The main thing to know about the Mara family is their ownership of the New York Giants. Tim Mara was the founder of the Giants. He was born in New York in 1887 and grew up poor. He was just a newsboy on the streets, a very low form of child labor. He got to know a lot of bookies in this line of work and became one himself. In 1925, the NFL wanted a franchise in New York. League president Joseph Carr came to the city to offer it to a boxing promoter who had previously failed to establish a team. The guy turned it down but suggested Mara. He didn’t know anything about football but decided to give it a try. It was a tough road the first couple of years. He tried to sign Red Grange to get people to come, only to find out that Grange played for the Chicago Bears. Another New York team tried to knock the Giants out; Mara raised salaries to keep them on his team. But when the Giants won the 1927 NFL championship, their future as a functional franchise was ensured. He spent much of the rest of his life fighting off other challengers to the Giants in the professional football market, as there were plenty of leagues trying to compete with the NFL in these early years. The Giants won three more titles while he was owner, in 1934, 1938, and 1956. Mara died in 1959. In 1963, he was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When Tim Mara died, he left the team to his two sons, Jack and Wellington, also buried here. Jack died in 1965 and didn’t leave much of an impact after his father died. Wellington on the other hand was a huge figure in the NFL’s expansion into the multigazillion dollar enterprise that it is today, even though he was actually a really incompetent owner. He basically ran football operations for the team from 1937 until 1974. In fact, the Giants didn’t even hire a general manager until George Young in 1979. Truth be told though, these were not good years for the Giants, by and large. After Jack died, he left his stake to his son Tim, who is buried here too. Tim and his Uncle Wellington hated each other. For years, they were not speaking, even as co-owners and the owner’s box at the Meadowlands had to be split in two with a partition so they wouldn’t see each other on gameday. While Wellington was running the team directly, the Giants did not win another championship. However, once the team decided to join the late 20th century and hire professionals, they had greater success, including the Bill Parcells years. Wellington was popular with the players and had a good relationship with Lawrence Taylor, among others. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997 and died in 2005.

Tim Mara may have thought Uncle Wellington was too indulgent and laid back in running team, but the younger Mara was also a micromanaging idiot, known for stupidity like changing the designated parking spots for Giants management the day of the game. Moreover, between 1963 and 1979, the Giants had all of two winning seasons. Finally, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle decided to intervene in the feud and try to salvage what should have been one of the league’s core franchises. This is when George Young was brought in and part of his job was to mediate between the two owners, which must have been a real joy. But at least he was really good at his job. In fact, during the celebrations after the two Giants Super Bowl wins during the Parcells era, Tim and Wellington would not appear on stage at the same time, live during the postgame ceremony. Tim finally sold his half of the team to former Postmaster General Bob Tisch in 1991. Frank Gifford took a role in trying to reconcile the Wellingtons and did have some limited success before Tim died in 1995.

When Wellington died in 2005, his wife Ann Mara took over his half of the team. She was an older woman by this time and while she had always been a public presence with the team, was not a dominant owner, though she did get into a public argument with Terry Bradshaw once in 2012, which at least gets her some credit. She was very healthy until falling on ice outside her home in 2015, when she was 85. She died of pneumonia two weeks later. Their son John Mara owns the Giants today. He is not buried here, but given the family tradition, maybe he will be someday. The actress Rooney Mara is Wellington and Ann’s granddaughter.

The Mara family is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York. This grave post is only coincidental with Eli Manning’s retirement, but it is worth noting that this gravestone has probably shown more mobility over the last 10 years than the franchise’s beloved and also bad QB did while getting sacked over and over and over again. Eli must be the worst famous QB in NFL history. Maybe you could make an argument for Joe Namath or Jim Plunkett here, but I am firmly on the Eli Sucks team and that he is just Dave Krieg with two very lucky Super Bowls. However, given his ability to stick the knife into the heart of Patriots fans, I have to at least kind of like him.

Again, the first Tim Mara was in founding class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you would like this series to visit other members of that class, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Sammy Baugh is in Rotan, Texas and Jim Thorpe is buried in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, which is a whole bizarre story in itself since he never ever visited the town and his widow just sold the body to the dying coal town of Mauch Chunk, which willing to rename its name to bring in desperately needed money for both town and widow. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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