The first lesson Wellington Mara passed down to his son, John, about trying to run a sports franchise did not involve dollars and cents. It was about using a pen and paper. When you get a letter from a fan who has taken the time to sit down and write to you, as the late owner would say, you ought to give the courtesy of responding.
That spirit is the driving force behind the annual Giants Town Hall, which this year was held Tuesday night at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan. Co-hosted by Bob Papa, voice of the Giants, and two-time Super Bowl champion David Diehl, the event brought together season-ticket holders with team president and chief executive officer John Mara, general manager Dave Gettleman, head coach Pat Shurmur, and several current players, including two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and the entire 2019 draft class. They shared stories, answered questions from their loyal fans, and discussed expectations for the upcoming season.
"When I get a letter from a season-ticket holder, they always start the same way," Mara said. "'We sit in this section, we've been coming to games since 1973, second or third generation.' And that means something to me. It really does, and I'm always going to respect that. You always have to respect the fans, and I do respect the support that we've had over the years. You've had good years, you've had bad years, but you've stayed with us throughout that period. And that's something that is very much appreciated."
Mara's father didn't leave any outs in his lesson. You have to respond, no matter how nasty they get. "And some of them do get pretty nasty," said Mara, who didn't shy away from the team's recent record and joked that it was nice to hear an applause when he walked onstage. His goal is to have fewer of those letters at this time next year, and he thinks that will happen based on the work and talents of the people who spoke throughout the night.
"The biggest lesson is that you guys are starved to win," said Gettleman, who is entering his second full season as the Giants' general manager. "And don't ever forget for a moment that we (are, too). We had to make a lot of changes, and I think we're in a place right now 16 months later where I really think things have settled down. We've got a lot of good, young players, and we've got some critical veterans that we've signed and were here when Pat and I got here. I really think we're going to be on our way."
In the 16 months since Gettleman and Shurmur came together, the Giants have gone through two complete draft cycles and two rounds of free agency.
"There's a lot of new faces, and there's a lot of young faces," Shurmur said as the Giants wrapped up their offseason workout program this week. "In a program that's voluntary, we were almost 100 percent in attendance, which tells me that the players are interested in working and working together. For a fan base that recognizes that if you work hard you're going to get where you need to go, these guys know how to work hard. So that's where we start."
Fans like the ones gathered at the Beacon want to see the Giants start 2019 the way they finished last season. The team rebounded from a rough first half to win four of five games after the bye week.
"I think it's starting fast and finishing strong," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. "That's what coach has been telling us, and we see it on the board every day. It's in our minds."
The message has soaked into the practice field, where the offense and defense have been going at it throughout spring practices.
"Our competitive level at practice right now is way better so far, in my opinion, from my first year to now," running back and 2018 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley said. "I think that's big, and if we can continue to have that competitive nature and lead that on to the regular season, lead that on to camp, the future is going to be bright for us."
After Barkley headlined last year's draft class, quarterback Daniel Jones, defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and cornerback DeAndre Baker were the team's 2019 first-round picks. They were joined onstage by their seven classmates, all sporting Giants polos. Sixteen years ago, Manning was in their place.
"I think it's always fun when the rookies come in just because we've all been in their shoes before and they're trying to figure things out," said Manning, who received a standing ovation when he was introduced. "They're trying to figure out which shoe goes on which foot and how do you get to practice. Driving around New York and New Jersey, you use GPS for the first year just to get to practice every day. I'm not saying I didn't do it. I know what they're dealing with. But they're working hard. It's a good crew of guys. They're doing good things, and you want to see them get better and help out the team."
Always a great evening when ownership, front office members, coaches and players gather at the historic Beacon Theatre for the annual Giants Town Hall, presented by Verizon.