FOR MARA FAMILY, OWNING THE GIANTS HAS BEEN A STABILIZING FORCE FOR THE NFL, RICH HISTORY FOR TEAM
"In many ways, buying the Giants in
1925 was another of Tim Mara’s many bets.
A bookmaker in the days when it was legitimate work, Mara paid $500 for the
franchise when the National Football League was in its infancy and baseball and
boxing overshadowed the sport.
Eighty-seven years later, the Mara family’s hold on the Giants is still
strong as the team prepares to play in its fifth Super Bowl. Only the Chicago
Bears, owned by the Halas-McCaskey clan, have been in the hands of one family
longer than the Giants.
The Maras’ enduring control — the family’s sole ownership ended in 1991 when
hotel magnate Preston Robert Tisch bought an interest in the team — is
considered a stabilizing force and also gives the Giants a rich history, a
sentimentality and a legacy that has become the essence of the organization.
"That continuity is critical,’’ said Joe Horrigan, vice president of
communications for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. "It’s vitally
important that the league has a number of these legacy teams.’’
Horrigan said the institutional history, the knowledge and sacrifices that
come after years of experience is important to draw on. Longtime Wellington
Mara’s push for an NFL policy providing for television revenues to be shared
equally among the league’s teams, is an example.
"He had everything to lose," Horrigan said. But Mara had the vision to see
that the league had to be strong for the teams to continue playing, Horrigan
said. "It’s living proof that doing what’s good for the majority works and
there’s a respect that comes when someone can say I’ve done it. I see the
rewards of it," he said.
In the business world, consistency in management is often what keeps a
company running smoothly, makes an organization solid and a culture intact.
The family ownership of the Giants brings a sharper focus, said Marc Ganis, a
consultant to many NFL teams. "It’s meant that there is a focus on the field and
a reinvestment in the team rather than any need to pull money out for the owners
or for acquisition costs," Ganis said. "(And) there is a focus on keeping this
team within the two families forever, so they operate it as a legacy business —
not as an entrepreneurial venture."
Over nearly nine decades, the Giants have played in five venues, been led by
16 coaches and have won three Super Bowls. Its ownership has spanned two
generations of the Tisch family and three generations of Maras. That consistency
has helped to build one of the most respected and beloved organizations in the
National Football League. Today, the Giants organization is valued at $3
billion, according to recent estimates published by Forbes.
From the start, the family’s attachment to the team was strong.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, Tim Mara, the family patriarch,
suffered major losses. When the effects of the Great Depression took hold, Mara
worried he might also lose his football team. In 1931, he shielded it by turning
over the ownership to his two sons, Jack, 22, and Wellington, 14.
By the 1940s, the Giants were a burgeoning powerhouse of talent. They reached
three NFL championship games and rode out World War II when many teams were
forced to fold or merge as players left for war.
Professional football continued to gain popularity, and the Giants were part
of the reason why. The team’s glory years came during the 1950s when Giants
players like Frank Gifford, Sam Huff and Emlen Tunnell became household names.
Tim Mara died in 1959 as the team hit a low point. While the Giants struggled
with a series of retirements and injuries, other teams — Green Bay and Dallas
among them — were becoming greater NFL powerhouses during the 1960s.
The Giants became the dogs of the league in the 1970s. John Mara,
Wellington’s son and the current Giants president, described those tough times
in a word: "abysmal." The team’s move to Giants Stadium in 1976 may have been a
bright spot, but the decade was marred by the team finishing last or
next-to-last eight times.
"We became kind of joke," Mara said during a telephone interview this week
from Indianapolis. "Those memories haunt me."
'THE DARK YEARS'
On the field and off, the Giants were suffering.
When Jack Mara died in 1965, his son, Tim, stepped into the role of co-owner.
The partnership between Wellington Mara and his nephew wasn’t an easy one
though. Giants fans who lived through it refer to the period as "the dark
In 1987, the feud got so bad that Wellington installed Venetian blinds
between the two owners’ luxury suites. His nephew countered by installing wood
paneling, according to an account published in Forbes magazine. Finally, NFL
Commissioner Pete Rozelle designated the team’s new general manager, George
Young, to act as an intermediary.
Enter Preston Robert Tisch, one of the country’s most successful businessmen
who with his brother had created the multibillion-dollar Loews Corp. empire.
When Tisch approached his longtime friend Wellington Mara about owning a piece
of the team in 1990, Mara steered him to his nephew, whom he had heard might be
interested in selling his shares.
The deal went through the next year when Tisch, known as Bob, bought 50
percent of the Giants for a reported $75 million in 1991, just before his 65th
While it was against league rules to have divided ownership, the deal was
grandfathered in because of Mara’s history with the league, and the confidence
that the two men would work well together, said Paul Tagliabue, who worked
closely with both men as NFL commissioner.
"They had great respect for each other, and for each other’s
specializations," Tagliabue said. "Mr. Tisch always respected Mr. Mara’s acumen
in football and his knowledge of how to run a football team, and Mr. Mara always
respected Mr. Tisch’s acumen as a businessman."
The differences that had hung over the Giants executive offices for so long
were finally resolved. A few years later, in 1995, Tim Mara died from Hodgkins
disease, relegating the long-running feud to a piece of team lore.
The timing of the Mara-Tisch partnership couldn’t have been better.
Professional football was changing. As the NFL gained popularity, the scale of
the business grew. Wellington Mara, who had influenced the league’s growth as
much as he guided his own team, could see what was coming. It was important to
him that Tisch was experienced and skilled in business, Tagliabue said.
Wellington Mara remained in charge of staffing decisions and league voting
while Tisch built up the Giants’ marketing and advertising departments. Ernie
Accorsi, a former general manager who remains close with the Mara family,
described Tisch as the "perfect partner’’ to Mara.
For any other partnership — particularly in sports — a 50-50 split could mean
conflict, but it never was for Tisch and Mara. "(They) have gone exactly in the
opposite direction and actually build on each other’s strengths and
contributions," said Ganis, who knows the families personally. "Instead of
becoming a problem, it has become a great opportunity."
In 2003, Mara turned control of the Giants over to his oldest son, John,
making him president and chief executive officer. On the Tisch side, it was
Steve, a Hollywood movie producer, who served as chairman and executive vice
president. (Tisch’s work includes "Forrest Gump’’ and "Risky Business.’’)
In an interview with Forbes magazine the same year, Mara, who was often
described as a football purist, described how he had always focused on the
personnel side of football.
"The league has changed,’’ the 87-year-old Mara told the magazine. "It’s
become a marketing powerhouse and a conglomerate, and there no place for
sentiment in a business like that."
The Mara and Tisch sons worked together just as well as their fathers did,
according to people familiar with the families.
"This was not a shotgun marriage — these are people who work well together,
recognize each other’s strengths," said Ganis, who said the sons clearly learned
from their fathers. "It’s an extraordinary partnership."
Two years after passing management of the team onto his son, Wellington Mara
died. The other force behind the modern-day Giants, 79-year-old Robert Tisch
died three weeks later.
Carl Goldberg, a real estate developer who worked with the families during
negotiations of the new MetLife Stadium in his role as chairman of the New
Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, said working with the new partners, John
Mara and Steve Tisch was "a pleasure.’’
"I was always struck by how well they communicated their ideas to one
another," said Goldberg, managing partner of Roseland Property Company, one of
the state’s leading residential developers. "They were very sensitive to each
other’s opinions and really tried to come up with one voice as to what the
Giants’ opinion would be on a specific issue."
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The Maras are a classic Irish Catholic family — large and tight-knit. Ann
Mara, Wellington’s 87-year-old widow, still gathers the family — she has 10
children and 43 grandchildren — together on Christmas Eve at the family
homestead in New York’s Westchester County.
John Mara, a soft-spoken man who friends describe as grounded, has joked that
he has the job of running the Giants because he was "lucky’’ enough to be
first-born. And to many, he embodies many of the traits that made his father so
respected. "You never have a son that’s exactly like the father, but he’s as
close as you can get,’’ said Ernie Accorsi, the team’s former general manager.
"He’s the modern version of his father.’’
John Mara responds personally to many telephone calls and letters that come
into his office from fans. "It’s important,’’ he said. "It builds up loyalty,
and it increases the feeling they have for the team.’’
"You want to make them feel like they’re part of the family,’’ he said.
And then, of course, there is the family.
While Mara’s mother still holds the greatest share of the family’s ownership
in the Giants franchise, he and his siblings each own shares as well. John Mara
works in the front office with his brother Chris, who is senior vice president
of player personnel and Frank Mara, another brother, who is vice president of
community relations. Jonathan Tisch, another of Bob’s sons, is the
"I have their trust,’’ said Mara, who also votes on behalf of his family.
"They know I’m acting in all of our best interests.’’
But like the fans, Mara said his relatives often "let their feelings be
That was certainly the case last month when Ann Mara interrupted Fox analyst
Terry Bradshaw’s postgame interview with wide-receiver Victor Cruz after the
Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers. Tapping her finger into the former
quarterback’s arm, Mara scolded Bradshaw for always picking against the
Bradshaw playfully apologized, and Mara smiled and walked off camera.
The very sentimentality that Wellington Mara feared was slipping away from
professional football is actually still part of the legacy his family carries
"We all take a lot of pride in this team," John Mara said. "When the team
runs out on the field every Sunday, I feel like they’re representing my