Sun, Oct 30, 2005 - Page 23 News List

Blue sky welcomes Wellington Mara to heavens above NY

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

You don't hear people mentioning it now, but when the Giants were playing at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, the weather was almost always ideal for football. It might have rained for a week, or snowed for a day or two, but on Sunday afternoon it always seemed to be sunny with blue skies. "Mara weather" as it was known.

And Friday morning, as some 2,000 men in dark suits and women in dark dresses filled the pews of St. Patrick's Cathedral for Wellington Mara's funeral Mass, the sky above the canyon of Fifth Avenue was sunny and blue. More baby blue than Giants navy blue, but blue enough. Mara weather for the Mara patriarch.

As bagpipes heralded the arrival of the casket, more than two dozen Catholic clergy in white vestments accompanied it up the center aisle.

"Lift high the cross," the choir sang as the organ thundered, "the love of Christ proclaims that all the world adore his sacred name."

This was not merely a funeral for a beloved owner of a beloved New York team. This was a sports state funeral, the state being the National Football League. Its executives and club owners were there. So were the current Giants coaches and players along with dozens of former Giants coaches and players. So were many Giants parishioners who had simply stopped by. "Our customers," as Mara called them.

"We will never forget," Cardinal Edward M. Egan said. "Indeed we could never forget. What made him was faith and family."

Wellington Mara never mentioned that he and his wife, Ann, who had 11 children (who have given them 40 grandchildren) attended Mass daily near their home in Rye, New York. He never mentioned that when he took his daily walks in the shade outside his Giants Stadium office or in the chill of the tunnel under the stands, he fingered his rosary. But now he was being praised for his Catholicism.

"He was a Giant," the Cardinal said, "in every sense of the word."

When the Mass ended, Frank Gifford and Wellington Mara's oldest son, John, walked up into the sanctuary for the eulogies.

"He was my boss, my father figure, my dearest friend," Gifford said.

When Wellington Mara was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, his presenter was Gifford, who the night before the 2003 season opener organized a surprise party attended by dozens of Giants players from other eras who came from far and near.

"Wellington," he said, "had touched every one of their lives."

When Gifford stepped back, John Mara, the Giants' executive vice president, stepped forward. He thanked everybody for being there, especially those who had come from "great distances." He thanked Ronnie Barnes, the Giants' longtime trainer who is now their vice president of medical services, for "spending night after night" in recent weeks with his father at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

"My father asked Ronnie, `Why are you so good to me?,"' John said, "and Ronnie said, `Because you've been so good to me."'

John praised his father as "the finest man we've ever known and ever will know." And then he told stories that only a son would know.

How when Christmas was coming, his father, who often went to confession in keeping with his Catholic faith, put notes on the refrigerators in the homes of his children and grandchildren: "No confession, no Santa."

How when his father was asked if he wanted to renew his marriage vows, he said, "The original ones haven't expired."

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