John Mara was a young man when the Giants hit rock bottom, that tortured day when a twin-engine plane carrying the “15 YEARS OF LOUSY FOOTBALL WE’VE HAD ENOUGH” banner passed over Giants Stadium, and Giants fans, who had endured ridicule and humiliation for The Fumble three weeks earlier, and for all those bankrupt previous years when their team grew old overnight, stood and cheered and chanted “We’ve had enough, we’ve had enough!”
He is Wellington Mara’s oldest son, which means he suffers losing every bit as much as Giants fans or even more, because it is the family business, and has been the family business since his grandfather Tim founded the team in 1925.
From 1987-2012, from Bill Parcells and Lawrence Taylor to Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, from Pasadena to Tampa to Glendale to Indianapolis, Mara raised the Lombardi Trophy four times.
He knows full well that it is the head coach and the quarterback who must be behind the wheel of his insatiable drive for five.
Joe Judge hasn’t won a game yet — or lost a game yet.
Daniel Jones hasn’t played a full season yet.
John Mara believes Judge is the right head coach and Jones is the right quarterback to bring the Giants all the way back.
Parcells got Phil Simms to Super Bowl XXI, and Simms took him home. Parcells got Simms and Jeff Hostetler to Super Bowl XV, and Hostetler took him home. Coughlin got Manning to the Super Bowl XLII playoffs, and Manning took him home. Coughlin got Manning to the Super Bowl XLVI playoffs, and Manning took him home.
As difficult as it is for him to exercise and urge patience for fans who don’t want to hear it, Mara can envision a day when Manning’s successor will take Judge and the Giants home.
“I’d like to see him take the next step this year, I’m confident that he will do that,” Mara said of Jones on Thursday on a Zoom call. “The thing that is gratifying to me is that our coaching staff is very high on him right now, guys that have been around successful quarterbacks in the past, and they say that he has what it takes to get us to the next level.
“And every indication so far is that he does have what it takes.
“He showed a lot of grit and a lot of promise, made a lot of big plays, and I think with the right supporting cast around him, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
The only cloud in the sky for Jones was his fumbling issue (18) as a rookie. Judge might make him run a penalty lap around MetLife Stadium during games if the problem rears its ugly head.
“The things that are noticeable to me are the amount of teaching that goes on on the field, it’s like nonstop,” Mara said. “I think the intensity of the practices. I think the communication that he has with the players, on football and non-football issues. I’ve also been very, very impressed with the staff that he’s put together. There’s a lot of experience on that staff, and I feel very confident that we’re in a good place right now in terms of trying to get these players to perform at their best.”
You could argue that Mara — from Super Bowl XLVI to Super Bowl LIV, from Coughlin to McAdoo to Shurmur, the Giants have reached the playoffs just once, and have failed to win a playoff game — believes it because he wants so badly to believe it.
He was wrong about McAdoo and wrong about Shurmur, and yes, he could be proven wrong about Judge. But if you can’t be optimistic about your new head coach on the eve of a season, in this case a pandemic season, when exactly can you be?
A season of growing social justice and community involvement and planned dialogue with political leaders … and owner awareness of how much it all means to their players.
“If you decide in your conscience that kneeling is the right thing to do, I’m going to support your right to do that because I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in the right of people, especially the players, to take a knee in silent protest if that’s what they want to do,” Mara said.
A season he bets will be without Giants fans in the stands. A season when there will be competitive advantages for teams that will allow some fans in their stadiums.
“Certain areas of the country are going to be a little more liberal about letting people in the building,” Mara said. “That’s just something that we’re going to have to accept and move forward.”
A season with vigilant protocols designed to stiff-arm the virus at all costs.
“I think we have a good chance of playing a full season,” Mara said.
A season Mara views as a building block toward sustained success and another title.
“It’s pretty hard to sit here and say we need to win X number of games, we need to be in the playoffs this year,” Mara said.
It’s pretty hard for him to still say it, and for Giants fans to hear it.
“I know that’s not going to satisfy a lot of our fans, but I just think it’s the right philosophy to have,” Mara said.
“I feel good about the direction that we’re heading in right now, and I want to feel that way in January as well. But I have every reason to expect that I will.”
Every reason to believe he again has the right head coach, and the right quarterback.