The Giants aren’t simply a passion for John Mara. They are his life.
The franchise has been a part of his family since the founding of the team in 1925, when his grandfather, Tim Mara, purchased the club for $500 and began the process of turning it into one of the league’s flagship organizations.
A son of Wellington Mara, John was a young child during the halcyon days of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and then he suffered through the lost years of Allie Sherman and Alex Webster and Bill Arnsparger and John McVay. He’d be so embarrassed by what would happen on Sunday afternoons that he asked his parents if he could miss school on Mondays so he wouldn’t hear the taunts from his classmates.
There have been five Super Bowl appearances and four Vince Lombardi trophies since those dark days, so Mara, now the team's president and co-owner as his father was before him, has experienced success. But he sets the bar high for himself and his team every year, regardless of how much hardware is in the team’s trophy case at 1925 Giants Drive, a few football fields’ distance from MetLife Stadium.
And the frustration of what he has seen since the team’s last Super Bowl run after the 2011 season runs deep, especially the years since Tom Coughlin left the team in 2015.
"It’s been a very difficult four- or five-year period for us," Mara said Wednesday during a media briefing on Zoom.
He is on his third coach in the post-Tom Coughlin era – from Ben McAdoo to Pat Shurmur and now to Joe Judge. There has been just one playoff run in that time and no playoff wins. Just a dreadful postseason loss in Green Bay a few days after Odell Beckham and a few teammates chartered a boat off Miami, posed for pictures that blew up on social media and then pulled a no-show at Lambeau Field. Beckham punched a hole in a wall in the losers’ locker room, a fitting symbol of a lost opportunity.
Mara’s team hasn’t been back to the playoffs since.
He knows it’s time.
"I’m tired of the losing and of having the postseason press conference trying to explain what went wrong and why I think we’re making progress," he said. "It’s time for us to start winning some more."
Toward that end, the Giants have been far more aggressive than usual in the off-season, re-signing Leonard Williams to a three-year deal after his career year, signing coveted free agent receiver Kenny Golladay from the Lions, tight end Kyle Rudolph from the Vikings and cornerback Adoree Jackson from the Titans. His hope is that quarterback Daniel Jones, now in his third year, can benefit from an improved supporting cast, which will also include a healthy Saquon Barkley after his return from a knee injury.
"That’s one of the reasons we spent the money that we did," he said. "I do think we’re making progress. We’re adding more players. It’s definitely a better locker room than we’ve had in a while."
General manager Dave Gettleman, who got a reprieve from Mara after a third straight losing season, has done a solid job in free agency, and now must come away with some more pieces in the draft. The offensive line still needs some heft, especially after guard Kevin Zeitler was released, the defensive line needs more depth and you can never have enough big-time receivers, regardless of Golladay’s presence.
But what gives Mara the most hope is the man he selected last year to lead his team. Joe Judge showed plenty of promise in difficult circumstances last year, and his demanding style and human touch with the players yielded improvement last year. Even if it wasn’t always reflected in the record.
"I think Joe has done a terrific job at instilling a certain culture," Mara said. "The players believe in him and the fans seem to believe in him, too. What he was able to do last year as a brand new head coach in this league at his age [he turned 39 in December], not having any off-season program or any on-field activity, no preseason games, he just jumped right into Week 1. We won only six games, but I just sense a different feeling from the players. They believe in his message and in his program."
The only thing left?
"Now is the time to just start winning some more games," Mara said. "Now it’s time to take the next step."
And if this franchise produces a legitimate turnaround, if the Giants do start competing for playoff berths and, ultimately, championships?
"Obviously," Mara said, "it would mean the world to me."