When New York Giants President and Co-Chief Executive Officer Wellington Mara passed away at age 89 on Tuesday, the Green Bay Packers lost a friend and someone with close ties to their organization.
"The Packers franchise is indelibly linked to the New York Giants on so many levels," said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Jones.
According to President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Harlan, Mara was a college classmate of Vince Lombardi's at Fordham University. He also recommended Lombardi, who served as Giants offensive coordinator, as head coach to Packers team president Dominic Olejniczak in 1959.
Mara joined the Giants organization 80 years ago when his father Timothy J. Mara bought the team. He served the team in a multitude of capacities. Starting as a Giants ballboy at age nine, he became co-owner of the team with his older brother Jack at the age of 14 in 1930. He ran the day-to-day operations of the club until several years ago.
His most significant contribution may have come in league circles. He and his brother Jack agreed to share television revenue among all NFL teams in the 1960s. That decision allowed Green Bay, the smallest market in the league to thrive. With revenue divided among all of its teams, the Packers could compete with large market teams to land high-profile free agents like Reggie White in the 1990s.
"In that market, the Giants could probably command 10 times the revenue that Green Bay could get for its TV package," Jones said. "It was his vision that enabled the Packers as a franchise to have stability in terms of revenue on par with the other teams."
Jones served on the NFL Management Council with the legendary Mara for six years. He learned the nuances of the league by talking with Mara and asking for his insight. Mara carried such respect that the other executives would hush as he opened his mouth to speak.
"The business of the room would come to a halt," Jones said. "It was always that way."
After the referendum passed for Lambeau Field's renovation, which further ensured the success of the Packers organization, Mara sent Harlan a handwritten congratulatory note.
"His focus was always about what's best for the NFL," Harlan said.
Mara, who had been suffering from lymph node cancer, peacefully passed away at his home in Rye, N.Y. at 9:26 a.m. on Tuesday. His wife, Ann, his 11 children and their spouses and many of his 40 grandchildren were with him at the time of his death.
Both Harlan and Jones will attend Mara's funeral Mass, Friday at 10 a.m. at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Ave. at 51st St. in New York.
"He was just a warm, caring person," Harlan said.