EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ann Mara, who was often called "The First Lady of Football" and was one of the most influential figures in Giants history, the matriarch of the franchise's founding family and a woman beloved throughout the National Football League and the New York sports community, passed away. She was 85.
"I am sad to say that our mother has passed away," said John Mara, Ann's son and the Giants' president and chief executive officer. "She has been the leader of our family in every way, and we will miss her dearly.
"She slipped in front of her home (in Rye, N.Y.) during the ice storm two weeks ago (January 18). She had been in the hospital since the following day, initially due to a head injury she suffered in her fall. After a few days, we were hopeful for her recovery, although we knew it would be a long road back. Unfortunately, there were complications.
"She loved her family, and all of us were able to spend time with her in these final days. All 11 of her children and our spouses and numerous grandchildren were with her when she passed away."
Ann Mara and her children owned 50 percent of the Giants since the death of her husband, Wellington Mara, at age 89 in 2005. Wellington Mara, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is the most significant individual in the Giants' 90-year history and one of the most prominent men in the annals of the NFL.
Although she was always a Giants fan, the team became a vital part of Ann Mara's life in 1952, when she met Wellington at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan. She loved to retell the story of their first meeting.
"At 7:30 Mass, a little old lady fainted, and we both went to help revive her; that's how we met," she said. "But I had spotted him before that."
"Our dates were at Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Fordham gymnasium. That was my courtship."
Photos of New York Giants Matriarch Mrs. Ann Mara
They were married in 1954, and their family eventually grew to four sons and seven daughters, 43 grandchildren (including renowned actresses Rooney Mara and Kate Mara) and 16 great-grandchildren.
Three of Wellington and Ann Mara's sons currently work in the Giants' front office. In addition to John, Chris is the senior vice president of player evaluation and Frank is the vice president of community relations.
Ann Mara liked to say, "I tell John, 'Just remember, you're an employee.'"
The Giants were 6-10 in 2014, their second consecutive losing season. At a news conference two days after the final game at which he discussed the team's coaches and front office, John Mara was asked about "the boss," more specifically, "What does your mom say about all this?"
"She is not very happy with me right now, believe me," Mara said. "She suffers through this probably even more so than I do. I am on notice as well."
In addition to her intimate involvement with her family and the Giants, Ann Mara was also a devout Catholic and prominent philanthropist who donated money to numerous causes and organizations. She tirelessly supported efforts to help children reach their fullest potential by aiding educational organizations like Convent of the Sacred Heart, Inner City Scholarship Fund, Boys Hope Girls Hope, and Life Athletes. Mara was also there for children with cancer through her support of the Ronald McDonald House of New York. In November, she dedicated the opening of a new building for the San Miguel Academy for children at risk, which was built through the NFL Snowflake Foundation.
Last year, three days before MetLife Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLVIII, Ann Mara received the Paul J. Tagliabue Award of Excellence, which is presented to a league or team executive who demonstrates the integrity and leadership Tagliabue exhibited in career development opportunities for minority candidates and advocacy for diversity on the league and club level when he was NFL commissioner.
The Giants were founded in 1925 by Tim Mara, Wellington's father. Since Wellington Mara's death, John has resided at the top of the organizational masthead and become one of the most respected executives in the NFL. The Mara family owned the franchise solely until 1991, when Bob Tisch bought 50 percent of the team from Wellington's nephew, also named Tim.
Bob Tisch passed away three weeks after Wellington in 2005. His son, Steve, is the Giants' chairman and executive vice president. Jonathan Tisch is the team's treasurer and their sister Laurie is a member of the Giants' board of directors.
"On behalf of my mother and sister and brother, I want to express our sympathy to John and the Mara family," Steve Tisch said. "Ann Mara has been the wonderful matriarch of our franchise. Like her husband Wellington, Ann was passionate about her faith, her family and her football team. Her energy and enthusiasm for her franchise were unmatched. We will miss her and are deeply saddened for the Mara family's loss."
For 60 years, Ann Mara attended almost every Giants game, home and away, and was a fierce and feisty defender of her team. The entire country saw just how spirited she could be after the Giants' 20-17 overtime victory in the 2011 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco. In the postgame locker room – she said it was just her second visit ever there - she approached FOX broadcaster and Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, poked his arm to get his attention and said, "You never pick the Giants." Bradshaw turned toward the camera and said, "I know. I know. I'm sorry. I'm getting hammered for not picking the Giants."
The incident made her an internet sensation and significantly amplified her popularity among Giants fans.
"You have to laugh," Eli Manning said when asked about Ann Mara's outburst at Bradshaw. "Mrs. Mara, you see her and you think, 'Sweet Mrs. Mara.' But she is obviously very passionate about Giants football and passionate about this team and involved and knows the players. I like her attitude. I like the way she spoke her mind about something she cares deeply about."
Mrs. Mara further demonstrated her toughness the following day. After the Giants returned to the metropolitan area, she characteristically went directly to church and broke her right shoulder in a fall after receiving Communion at Mass. Less than two weeks later, her arm in a sling, she attended the Giants' victory over New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
Ann Mumm was born in Manhattan on June 18, 1929, the daughter of Irish Catholic parents George and Olive Mumm. As a young woman, she worked for the Jesuit Seminary and Mission Bureau, and was a member of the Church of St. Ignatius on Park Avenue, where one of the most fortuitous encounters of her life took place.
In April 2012, Mara received an honorary degree from Fordham, the school from which Wellington graduated in 1937. The Mara family has long supported Fordham.
That evening, Mara and Dan Somma, a former Fordham football player and one of the founders of the school's Gridiron Club, were honored with the Walsh Award and the Mara Family Award, respectively. The Mara Family and Walsh Awards honor members of the Fordham football family for their dedication and contributions to the program.
Mara, who was referred to as "The First Lady of Fordham Football," was presented the award by then director of athletics Frank McLaughlin, who said Wellington Mara had played a big role in McLaughlin's decision to attend Fordham.
"The Maras have a great love for Fordham," said McLaughlin. "Mr. Mara loved Fordham so much, he always had a Fordham Ram on his desk at his office. I used to laugh when he'd come to games and I'd see him waiting on line to buy tickets. He wanted to show his support and wanted no special treatment."
Ann reinforced McLaughlin's recollection of Wellington's love of Fordham.
"Fordham football means so much to the Mara family," she said. "During our courtship, Wellington dragged me to Fordham football and basketball games. That was his idea of a good time."
Ann Mara ended her speech as only she could.
"It's wonderful to receive this award," she said. "The only sad thing is that Terry Bradshaw isn't here to present it to me."
Statement from Commissioner Roger Goodell on passing of Ann Mara:
Mrs. Mara was a tower of strength, dignity and inspiration for her family and all of us in the NFL. Her family and the Giants organization have always reflected Mrs. Mara's competitive spirit, integrity, and wonderful sense of humor. Our thoughts and prayers are with John Mara and the entire Mara family.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Boys Hope/Girls Hope of New York and Catholic Charities of New York.