Wellington Mara was a man whose entire lifetime was 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 team’s president after the death of his older brother, Jack, in 1965.
Mara’s extensive experience in organization, player personnel, trading and drafting helped produce 16 NFL/NFC divisional titles (two came after his induction into the Hall of Fame) and four NFL championships during his 68-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, Mara’s Giants won Super Bowls XXI and XXV. Mara, who was born August 14, 1916, in New York City, was respected as one of the most knowledgeable executives in pro football.
From 1984 to 2005, he has served as president of the National Football Conference. He had served on the Hall of Fame and realignment committees, as co-chairman of the long-range planning committee and on the NFL Management Council’s executive committee. In previous years, he also was a member of the constitution, pro-college relations and commissioner search committees.
Pro Football Hall of Fame (Canton, Ohio)
July 26, 1997
Frank Gifford (presenter):
Good morning. Mike (Haynes) was referring to Deacon Jones, David Jones over there, I think who swore that he would never get off this podium without crying. In case you don’t know who all those people are over there, they’re all Hall of Famers, everyone of them. How about giving them a great round of applause? And I am so proud to be a part of that fraternity.
Twenty years ago I stood at this very same spot for what was one of the most memorable moments of my life and I’ll never forget it. Like every other player whose career has brought them to this Hall, I was in total awe that day back in 1977 and I can remember so very little of the actual ceremony. Today, Wellington Mara; will be enshrined in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame and I am deeply honored he has asked me to be his presenter. And I know Wellington long enough and well enough to know that he doesn’t want anything poignant from me he just wants me to be brief and I‘ll try to do that.
Right up front I’d like to say, Wellington Mara’s 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 family’s fingerprints can be found all over just about every successful move the NFL has made over those 70-plus years. Indeed, it was Wellington Mara’s 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 Fame’s very first class back in 1963. I could spend my allotted time this morning detailing Wellington’s enormous personal impact on the NFL. The league’s growth, its popularity, its phenomenal financial success, have paralleled Well’s 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 can’t 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 won’t 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. Well’s word was and is his bond. I know he won’t 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 Giants’ 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 don’t know about that Well, I’d 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.
As Frank told you, twenty years ago I presented him at the Hall of Fame. What he didn’t tell you, was that I asked if I could and that’s the only time I ever volunteered for anything. Frank honored me by asking me to present him and of course he doubly honors me today by presenting me as he did and I thank him for that. I thank the Hall of Fame selection committee for looking and seeing behind the headlines and bringing this honor to my family. As Frank said my family is here in force today and I would really like them to share individually in this day. I realize, however, if that were to be done, I’d exceed my allotted time. So let me do it this way. First of all, my wife and sweetheart, Ann Mara. Ann pays me the supreme compliment. She supports me even when she doesn’t agree with me, which of course, is very rare. We also have, and they have already stood up, we have 11 children, nine spouses, one hopeful fiancee and twelve grandchildren here. At home, we have 14 grandchildren here, I’m sorry. At home, on our taxi squad, we have 16 more grandchildren.
Now, despite Frank’s very kind introduction, despite the perception of the selection committee and despite the inspiring presence of my family and that is an inspiring presence. I overwhelmingly feel that I come to you here as a surrogate –someone who takes the place of someone else. If it hadn’t been for his untimely death some thirty-odd years ago, Jack Mara would certainly have taken his place alongside our father long ago to form the first father and son team in the Hall of Fame. For it was Jack, together with Dan Reeves of the Rams and George Halas of the Bears, who cast what I think is the most important vote that was ever cast in the National Football League. They, representing the three cornerstone franchises of our league as it existed then, agreed to share television money equally with all teams. That act of selfless vision made it possible for Pete Rozelle to construct the National Football League as we know it today – the envy and the unobtainable goal of every other sports franchise and sports league. Unhappily, their selfless vision is too little shared by many who today benefit from their award.
Seventy-five years ago, actually 72 years ago, my father invested $500 to purchase the New York franchise in the National Football League. He laid down the standards and the principles according to which he wanted the new family business to be operated. In his time, Jack Mara practiced and embellished those standards and principles far beyond any abilities of mine. I accept this honor today as acknowledgment of my stewardship over that legacy of decency which they handed to me and which I, in turn, hope to hand on to the taxi squad and others.
I‘m very grateful for a long life and a life-long association with the administrators, the coaches and scouts and especially the players of our great game. For they are the heart and sinew of our game. If it were not for Frank Gifford, Rosey Brown, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff and the many Giants who honor me by their presence today, there would not be a Wellington Mara going into a Hall of Fame. They are the people who make it work. They are the people who make it great and it is great.
Our beneficent creator has seen fit to give me a long life and a large family. And he has used them to show me with crystal clarity the absolute sanctity and the utter inviolability of life, from the womb to the grave, and I am forever thankful to him for that. Once again, I thank the selection committee of the Hall of Fame for giving the Mara family this great day and I thank you all for coming. Thank you all very much.