Mara, Kraft share mutual respect

New York Giants owner John Mara speaks at

New York Giants owner John Mara speaks at a news conference where it was announced that NFL owners have agreed to a tentative agreement that would end the lockout pending the players approval. (July 21, 2011) (Credit: AP)

INDIANAPOLIS

They will be rooting like crazy against one another, hopeful their respective teams will win Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. But if it wasn't for John Mara and Robert Kraft standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a tension-filled offseason of arduous labor negotiations, there might not be a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl.

Mara, the Giants' president and CEO, and Kraft, who owns the Patriots, were central figures in collective-bargaining talks in which owners and player representatives engaged in a bitter months-long drama that wound up in the courts and put the 2011 season in doubt until a 10-year deal was hammered out in July.

"We're good pals," Kraft said of Mara. "I have so much respect for his family, what they've done for the NFL, always putting the league first, it's a great example. It's kind of cool. Both of us worked hard on it, and we're fortunate to both make it here. It's fortunate we could have a season."

Mara expressed his gratitude for Kraft's contributions to the negotiations, suggesting he might have been the difference in getting a deal done.

"It was obvious the players respected him and listened to him, and he had a huge impact," Mara said. "I don't know whether we would have gotten to the finish line without him."

The negotiations took place during a difficult time in Kraft's personal life. His wife, Myra, battled cancer for several months before dying on July 2.

"He was able to attend the meetings despite his wife dying," Mara said. "It was a very, very difficult time, but he was a leader in so many respects, especially when it came down to talking about financial details and how important it was to have a long-term labor deal for our business. He was very convincing to the players in speaking about a deal that would be beneficial to both sides, including the players."

Kraft still is overcome with emotion when talking about his wife. The team has dedicated the season to the memory of Myra Kraft, and a patch with the initials MHK is worn on the players' jerseys. The players also commissioned an oil painting, depicting a "Flying Elvis" logo over Myra's initials, which overlooks the players as they hold hands in the huddle. At the bottom of the painting the word "dedication'' is written in capital letters.

"I feel like I have 53 extra sons," Kraft said, referring to the players. "That obviously had to be planned out several weeks in advance. In this world where players are narcissistic and selfish, to take the time and give me something that was meaningful to me, to know that the players come in from the field and touch it and kiss it . . . it's brought them together."

The painting will hang on the Patriots' locker room wall on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Mara is also a beloved figure among his players and organization, carrying on the tradition of his father, the late Wellington Mara, who also was involved in several labor negotiations during his stewardship. He takes his responsibilities very seriously, concerned not only about the good of his franchise, but the good of the league. But Mara often looks to the Patriots as the model for sustained stability and success.

"The Patriots, along with the Steelers, have really been the model franchise that everybody tries to emulate," Mara said.

But Mara's team hasn't done a bad job, either. Since 1986, the team has reached five Super Bowls; the Patriots are playing in their fifth Super Bowl since the 2001 season.

"We're trying," Mara said. "We have a little ways to go, but there's something to be said for long-term stability, and if you have the right people in place, you have a chance."

Mara and Kraft will get another of those chances on Sunday. So does the NFL, thanks in large part to the diligent efforts of two of the league's most trustworthy and successful owners.

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