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John Mara has reached the Giants crossroads his father once faced

New York Giants president John Mara speaks to

New York Giants president John Mara speaks to the media before training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

He would wake up on Monday morning in his home near the corner of Mamaroneck Avenue and Gedney Way in White Plains and try to tell his father he couldn’t bring himself to go to school. The derision from classmates the morning after yet another Giants debacle at Yankee Stadium was too much for John Mara, and he pleaded with his dad — the owner of the team that delivered so much heartache in the late 1960's and 1970’s.

Wellington Mara told John he had to go. No matter the humiliation the Giants had inflicted on their fans on Sundays, John had to face his classmates — and all the teasing that came with it — at New Rochelle’s Iona Prep.

John would watch his father suffer through those lean years, hoping he would not have to endure similar heartache if and when the time came that he would be the team’s chief steward later in life. Yet he also watched Wellington overcome those disappointments once the team began to climb its way back into an era of respectability — and championships — once George Young arrived as general manager on Feb. 14, 1979.

All these years later, after enjoying a period of unprecedented success and stability, John is now living the nightmare his father endured half a century ago.

The younger Mara took over from his father after Wellington died on Oct. 25, 2005, and presided over a team that continued its remarkable run with two more Super Bowl titles after the 2007 and 2011 seasons. The Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning partnership, which was formed a year before John took over, produced some of the greatest memories in the nearly 100-year history of the franchise.

But ever since Coughlin and Manning held the team’s fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, after having vanquished the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Patriots a second time, the Giants have been mired in failure. The kind that Wellington had lived through. The kind that John never hoped would be repeated.

His worst fears have come true.

Since Mara nudged Coughlin out the door after the 2015 season, the Giants have been among the NFL’s least successful teams. They have made the playoffs only once, and they have now endured five straight years of double-digit losses. They have lost 13 games for the second time since 2017; in the 92 seasons before that, they had never lost that many games in a single season.

And now, just as Wellington was after the debacle of 1978 — symbolized by "The Fumble" and the airplane that flew over Giants Stadium carrying the banner "15 Years of Lousy Football. We’ve Had Enough" — John is at the most important crossroads of his stewardship. He is about to make a decision that will either set the team on a better course in the years ahead or continue the maelstrom the past decade has become.

Mara hoped that Dave Gettleman would right the ship after the ill-fated tenure of coach Ben McAdoo, who was unceremoniously fired along with GM Jerry Reese, who had a big hand in the team’s last two Super Bowls. But after four years and a woeful 19-46 record, Gettleman announced his retirement on Monday following a miserable 4-13 season. On Tuesday afternoon, Joe Judge was fired.

Mara had counted on the front-office stability begun by Young, who somehow navigated the treacherous waters of a family feud between Wellington and his nephew, Tim, who weren’t even on speaking terms. The team rose from the ashes under Ray Perkins and then flourished under Bill Parcells, who delivered the team’s first two Super Bowl titles. But Gettleman’s term was a failure by every measure.

Mara is now doing what he must, going outside his comfort zone in correctly casting a wide net for his next football chief executive. There are already eight known candidates for the position, including Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen, Cardinals vice president of personnel Adrian Wilson, 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters, Titans director of player personnel Monti Ossenfort, San Francisco director of player personnel Ran Carthon (son of former Giants fullback Maurice Carthon) and Kansas City executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles. And there could be more coming in what has become a much more exhaustive search than at any time since Young’s arrival.

Firing Judge makes for a less complicated search, because the coach had essentially become radioactive among fans after two seasons and a 10-23 record. Best to let the new GM find his own coach to chart the future.

It is a monumental decision, especially for Mara. He carries the burden of his team’s disappointment more than anyone else, having lived his entire life connected to the Giants’ ups and downs. There is not a hint of a question that he has the best interests of the franchise in mind, just as there is no doubt he is absolutely gutted at how his team has collapsed.

But Mara saw how his father persevered and ultimately found a path to success — and a place in Canton — with his own general manager hire. If John finds his version of Young in the coming days, then perhaps he, too, can enjoy the turnaround as his father once did.

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