Wellington Mara's relationship with the New York Giants spanned eight decades -- with 26 postseason appearances, six league championships and two Super Bowl titles. Mara, the team's co-owner who died Tuesday at 89, also was an influential figure within the league who helped to establish the principle that clubs would share TV revenue equally.
"Wellington Mara is the face of not only the Giants, but the NFL," tight end Jeremy Shockey said. "He's a pioneer, and the guy that everybody in this game looks up to."
Mara, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, was made a co-owner of the team with his brother Jack in 1930, when he was 14, by his father. Until several years ago, he ran the day-to-day operations; his son, John, replaced him.
"The NFL can never be the same," Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi said. "He saw the first game ever played by this franchise in 1925. He shaped nearly every rule and philosophy we have in our league today. And most of all, he was the moral conscience of the National Football League. He now joins the pantheon of incredible men who made this league what it has become: George Halas, Pete Rozelle, Art Rooney, Paul Brown, Leon Hess, Vince Lombardi, all of whom left us with a feeling of emptiness with their passing."
Mara, who had battled skin cancer much of his life and discovered cancerous lymph nodes under his left arm and on his neck last summer, died in Rye, N.Y., two days after the team put together a dramatic victory over the Denver Broncos at Giants Stadium. He had watched the game on TV at his home.
"At the end of the game, he woke up for that moment and saw us win," quarterback Eli Manning said, relating a conversation he had with Mara's grandson, Conor, on Sunday. "He had a smile on his face, and then he went back to sleep. He's definitely been in our prayers."
This was the 81st season that Mara had been associated with the Giants. He began as a ballboy at training camp; his father, Tim, had purchased the team in 1925. The only interruption to Mara's Giants career came when he served three years in the Navy during World War II. He had 11 children and 40 grandchildren.
The Giants' other co-owner, Robert Tisch, also watched Sunday's game on TV from his home. Tisch, 79, learned last year that he has an inoperable brain tumor. Giants Coach Tom Coughlin, like his players, said the victory had special meaning because of the joy it undoubtedly brought to Mara and Tisch.
"We were very much aware of our two owners and their illnesses," Coughlin said. "We knew that this game was a very important game, that they both would be tuned in. And we wanted to make sure that they were smiling."
The Giants host the Washington Redskins on Sunday at the Meadowlands with at least a share of first place in the NFC East at stake.
"Wellington Mara represented the heart and soul of the National Football League," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a statement. "He was a man of deep conviction who stood as a beacon of integrity. His passions were many -- his family and faith, the Giants, the NFL, and his community. He was an unparalleled leader in many different arenas. He always ensured that the Giants were one of the premier franchises in sports, but he kept the interests of the league at the forefront."
Said Bill Parcells, the Giants' head coach from 1983 to 1990: "To anyone who's ever been a Giant, this is the saddest of days. Well Mara was a wonderful and generous man. He was a major influence in my life, and I was proud to have him as a friend."
Mara's death led the league to postpone a two-day owners' meeting scheduled to begin today in Kansas City, Mo. The main topic was to be the stalled negotiations between the league and the players' union on an extension of their labor agreement. . . .
It's possible that Mike Martz has coached his final game with the St. Louis Rams. He informed the team Monday that he won't be able to coach the remainder of this season because of the bacterial infection in his heart that caused him to take a leave of absence earlier this month.
It was unclear even before Martz's illness how much support he had within the front office, and the Rams are expected to look for a new coach after the season. Joe Vitt has coached the past two games and is scheduled to remain the team's interim coach for the rest of the season. He beat the Saints on Sunday for his first win. . . .
The San Francisco 49ers gave a performance as abysmal as they come in a 52-17 loss Sunday to the Redskins at FedEx Field, and now they might have to put the NFL education of top overall draft pick Alex Smith on hold. The rookie quarterback sprained two knee ligaments in the game, leaving his playing status unclear this week. The 49ers traded former starter Tim Rattay to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, leaving Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett as Smith's backups. Smith has five interceptions, has been sacked 12 times and has a passer rating of 17.5. . . .
Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair is scheduled to return to the Titans' lineup this week after missing Sunday's loss in Arizona because of an ailing back. . . .
Titans tailback Travis Henry is to be activated this week after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. He might be needed this weekend, with Chris Brown being plagued by a pinched nerve in his shoulder. . . .
Dallas released Jose Cortez after he missed a 29-yard field goal attempt in Sunday's 13-10 loss at Seattle, but Philadelphia claimed the place kicker off waivers yesterday. To make room for Cortez, the Eagles released Todd France. The Cowboys signed Shaun Suisham, a rookie kicker from Bowling Green who had spent time on the club's practice squad this season. . . .
Manning was making only his 13th NFL start, but he had some experience to draw on at the end of Sunday's game. The Giants trailed, 23-17, and were facing third and goal from the Denver 2-yard line with 10 seconds to play. They just had used their final timeout.
In the final game of last season, the Giants were out of timeouts and trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 24-21, when Manning faced first down from the Cowboys 3. There were 16 seconds left. On the sideline, during the Giants' final timeout, Manning convinced coaches to give him two play calls and the responsibility of picking the right one at the line of scrimmage. Manning looked over the Dallas defense and made the proper choice, handing the ball to tailback Tiki Barber for a three-yard touchdown with 11 seconds to go that ended an eight-game Giants' losing streak and gave Manning his first win in his seventh NFL start.
This time, the Giants had no thoughts of running the ball and possibly having the clock expire on them. "We weren't going to take a chance there with the clock," Coughlin said.
Manning came through, finding wide receiver Amani Toomer open in the middle of the end zone and getting him the ball for a two-yard touchdown with five seconds to go. Place kicker Jay Feely's extra point gave the Giants a 24-23 triumph. The winning touchdown came on a play the Giants just had installed last week, as Toomer got open while the Broncos defenders focused on Manning's favorite target, Plaxico Burress.