NEW YORK - In a farewell that was both heart-wrenching and humorous, Ann Mara was remembered today for her devotion to her family and the Giants, her deep faith, and an indomitable spirt that lifted anyone who had the good fortune to meet her.
Mara, "The First Lady of Football," passed away last Sunday at the age of 85 due to complications from a fall at her Westchester County home on Jan. 18. She and her 11 children shared ownership of 50 percent of the Giants since her husband, Wellington Mara, died in 2005.
"The 11 of us in our family are so fortunate," John Mara, the Giants' president and the oldest of those 11 children, said in his eulogy. "We thank God. We had Ann and Wellington Mara as our parents. How much more blessed can anybody be than that, to have the two most loving, caring and supportive parents that anybody could ask for? The ideal role models. Our parents gave us so much."
Ann Mara's funeral was held at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue in Manhattan, a landmark location to the Mara family. She was baptized there. She met and later married Wellington Mara there. And today she brought together a large crowd of football luminaries, as well as former Giants players and coaches.
And it's not everyone whose funeral attracts both Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York who delivered the homily, and his predecessor, the now-retired Edward Cardinal Egan.
"Our mother loved being a mother," said Susan McDonnell, the oldest of Ann and Wellington's seven daughters. "I hope so, she had 11 children, but she really did. Close second to the love she had for our father was the love she had for each and every one of us. From very early on it was clear that mom and dad would help each of us, no matter what, and every day of their lives they did. And, of course, she loved being a grandmother to 43 and a great-grandmother to 16."
Ann Mara also loved the Giants, as unconditionally as she did her family. Wellington, after all, was the son of Giants founder Tim Mara. One of the most prominent individuals in NFL history, he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ann Mara was fiercely loyal to the Giants.
"My mother quickly grew to love and deeply understand football, almost as much as our father did," McDonnell said. "And anyone who thought going to a Giants game with our mom was going to be a fun, social event was sadly mistaken. She prided herself in attending almost every game, home and away games, the last 60 years. … Mom, like all of us, was darn competitive, and I hate to admit it, but she was a terrible loser. A Giants game could ruin a week for all of us, but mom's day could be completely destroyed by losing 45 cents playing her bridge games. She was fiercely loyal and very smart."
Although John Mara has been at the top of the Giants' club directory since his father's death, Ann Mara frequently reminded him that she was the club's top power broker.
"As many of you know, my mother liked telling everyone that she was my boss," John Mara said.
"(She'd say), 'You are just an employee and you can be replaced.' She would even heckle me if I was speaking at some event and she didn't particularly like what I had to say. All of sudden, she would yell from the audience, 'Don't forget, I am the boss.' It got to the point where she was asked to sign a football and she signed, 'Ann Mara – John's boss.'
"In fact, the last words she ever spoke to me were right when she was admitted to the hospital. I walked into her room and Susan was there and asked her, 'Mom, do you know who this is?' She looked up at me, her eyes barely open, and she answered, 'John, my employee.'"
Any discussion of Ann Mara's life must include her deep Catholic faith and her daily attendance at Mass.
"For Ann Mara, something came even before her family, her friends, her football and her fun, and that was her faith," Dolan said.
That devotion was passed down through three generations of her large and loving family.
"Our mother's faith was absolutely second to her life," McDonnell said. "There was nothing more important to her. She went to church every day of her life and she lived her faith. Mom was very generous to many wonderful Catholic causes and organizations."
"She observed the sacraments so closely and she expected her children to do the same," John Mara said. "Just like my father before he died, I could always count on a phone call from mom reminding me it was a holy day of obligation and I better get to Mass. My mother's hospital room over the last two weeks was a place of prayer, constantly visited by priests. I lost count of how many times she was anointed. We all knew it was what she would have wanted."
It's probably impossible to list all of the charitable and community organizations Ann Mara contributed to and supported. They include Convent of the Sacred Heart, Inner City Scholarship Fund, Boys Hope Girls Hope, Life Athletes, and the Ronald McDonald House
"Many people in institutions will feel the loss of my mother," John Mara said. "Nobody I know attended more charity dinners and events than she did. She thought it was her obligation to support all of these charities and she did not want to disappoint anyone."
Ann Mara had an endearing bluntness about her. Perhaps her most famous encounter was with FOX Sports analyst Terry Bradshaw, whom she upbraided on national television after the 2011 NFC Championship Game for never picking the Giants (who defeated San Francisco in that game, 20-17 in overtime).
"Most people would be embarrassed by the amount of attention she got, but not her," John Mara said. "She became an overnight sensation and she loved every minute of it. Fans sent her letters, cards and gifts, including a pair of boxing gloves that she proudly displayed in her home.'
Bradshaw was just one of many famous people who learned firsthand that Ann Mara would always say exactly what was on her mind. Upon meeting Bruce Springsteen, aka, The Boss, before a concert she attended with her daughters and daughters-in-law in Paris, she told him, "My girls are so excited to hear you sing tonight, but just so you know, I am the real boss."
Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, was delighted to welcome Mrs. Mara to thr conference title game in San Francisco in 2012. But Ann Mara was not about to shield her opinions from even a powerful politician.
"(Rep.) Pelosi goes right up to my mom and says, 'Mrs. Mara, welcome to San Francisco,'" John Mara said. "My mother thanked her and then said what was really on her mind: 'I just want you to know that I am a Republican and I don't agree with any of your political views.' I would like to tell you the rest of what she said, but I wasn't around to hear it. I was too afraid."
Ann Mara even had a directive for His Eminence, Cardinal Dolan, at her home parish, Church of the Resurrection in Rye.
"After a funeral mass that I was honored to preach up (there), she nudged me and said, 'You better say nice things about me when I die.' I am not about to cross her."
He wasn't alone. It's no surprise her funeral attracted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson of Carolina, Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, Kansas City Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt, Virginia H. McCaskey for the family that owns the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy and general manager Mike Maccagnan of the Jets.
Giants chairman and executive vice president Steve Tisch, his brother Jonathan (the team's treasurer) and his sister Laurie (a member of the board of directors) were in attendance. General manager Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin and his staff were there. Former general manager Ernie Accorsi and former pro personnel director Dave Gettleman, now the Panthers' general manager, attended the funeral Mass.
Current Giants players in the church included Eli Manning, Antrel Rolle, Zak DeOssie, Henry Hynoski and Kerry Wynn. Former Giants in attendance included Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Frank Gifford (a close friend of Ann Mara's), as well as Phil Simms, Jessie Armstead, Charles Way, Shaun O'Hara, David Diehl, Jimmy Robinson, Chris Godfrey, Roman Oben, Mark Bavaro, Billy Ard, Zeke Mowatt and Maurice Carthon.
They all heard John Mara conclude his eulogy with an exceptionally moving tribute.
"There is a brief poem called, 'Her Journey Just Begun,' which I think sends the ideal message for today," Mara said.
Don't think of her as gone away
her journey's just begun…
Life holds so many facets,
this earth is only one.
Just think of her as resting
from the sorrows and the tears,
in a place of warmth and comfort
where there are no days or years.
Think how she must be wishing
that we could know today,
how nothing but our sadness
can really pass away.
And think of her as living
in the hearts of those she touched,
for nothing loved is ever lost
and she was loved so much.
"Thank you mom for everything you gave us and taught us. You were the best mother and role model for all of us. I may not have always shown it, but I was proud to be your employee.
"But I am even more proud to be your son."
Photos of New York Giants Matriarch Mrs. Ann Mara