Dozens of NFL dignitaries, including commissioner Roger Goodell, team owners Jerry Richardson and Clark Hunt, and former Giants stars Frank Gifford, Phil Simms, Mark Bavaro, Shaun O'Hara and David Diehl, as well as nearly 1,000 other family, friends and mourners paid tribute Friday to former Giants co-owner Ann Mara, who died on Sunday from injuries suffered in a fall on Jan. 18. She was 85.
The funeral was held at Manhattan's St. Ignatius Loyola Church and was officiated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Cardinal Edward Egan.
Ann Mara's oldest son, John, remembered her as a loving, feisty, vivacious woman who devoted her life to her family, her faith and her football team. The wife of the late Wellington Mara, the team's longtime president and co-owner, she had 11 children, 43 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
"Thank you, Mom, for everything you gave us and taught us," John Mara said. "You were the best mother and role model for all of us."
John Mara lauded his mother's devotion to Wellington, whom she married in 1954, and her love and dedication to her large extended family. "She was kind, loving and compassionate," he said.
Mara's oldest daughter, Susan Mara McDonnell, remembered her as a woman with an indefatigable spirit with a competitive side that occasionally flared.
"Mom was so competitive and, I hate to admit it, but she was a terrible loser," she said. "A Giants game could ruin the week for all of us, but Mom could also be completely distraught by losing 45 cents during her bridge games."
McDonnell recounted the story about the first time her parents met at St. Ignatius in 1953. Ann, who had been brought up by her aunt after her mother died when she was 3, and Wellington were members of the church at the time.
"At daily Mass one morning, a woman fainted, and Mom and Dad both rushed to help," McDonnell said. "My father always claimed that Aunt Lil bribed that woman to faint."
She remembered a trip to Paris her mother took with several of her daughters two years ago. During the trip, they took in a Bruce Springsteen concert.
"We had the opportunity to meet 'The Boss,' " she said, referring to Springsteen's nickname. "When my mother was introduced to him, she said, 'My girls are so excited to hear you sing tonight. But just so you know, I'm the real boss.' "
Ann Mara liked to remind John, the Giants' president, of the same thing. "Don't forget, I'm the boss," John said she'd say, referring to the fact that his mother actually owned 50 percent of the team after Wellington's death in 2005. "She'd sign a football, 'Ann Mara, John's boss.' " During a hospital visit by John after Ann's fall, Susan asked her if she knew who her visitor was. Said John, "She looked up at me and said, 'John, my employee.' "
Ann Mara was known for speaking her mind, and John recalled her confrontation with analyst and former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw after the Giants beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in January 2012. During the postgame broadcast, Ann went up to Bradshaw on national television and criticized him for always picking against the Giants. "She became an overnight sensation, and she loved every minute of it," John said. "She got letters, cards, gifts, even a pair of boxing gloves she proudly displayed."
John Mara also remembered the time he and his mother were invited to meet Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and a staunch liberal, at a game in San Francisco.
"[Pelosi] goes right up to my mom and says, 'Mrs. Mara, welcome to San Francisco,' " John Mara said. "My mother thanked her and then said what was really on her mind: 'I just want you to know that I am a Republican and I don't agree with any of your political views.' I would like to tell you the rest of what she said, but I wasn't around to hear it. I was too afraid."
Ann Mara was passionate about supporting many charities, including the Convent of the Sacred Heart, the Inner City Scholarship Fund, Boys Hope Girls Hope, Life Athletes and the Ronald McDonald House.
"Many people in institutions will feel the loss of my mother," John Mara said. "Nobody I know attended more charity dinners and events than she did. She thought it was her obligation to support all of these charities and she did not want to disappoint anyone."
Also in attendance were current Giants players Eli Manning, Antrel Rolle, Zak DeOssie, Henry Hynoski and Kerry Wynn, as well as Jets president Neil Glat and newly hired general manager Mike Maccagnan. Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and Packers president Mark Murphy also paid their respects.
"The 11 of us in our family are so fortunate," John said. "We thank God we had Ann and Wellington Mara as our parents. How much more blessed can anybody be than that, to have the two most loving, caring and supportive parents that anybody could ask for? The ideal role models. Our parents gave us so much."
Ann Mara did it her way, right to the end. John said doctors took her off a ventilator early last Saturday and expected her to pass away within a few hours. She died the next morning. "We should have known," John said. "She was not about to be yesterday's news. She was going out Super Bowl Sunday."
Cardinal Dolan also experienced Ann Mara's feisty attitude when the two spoke at her home parish, the Church of the Resurrection in Rye.
"After a funeral Mass that I was honored to preach up [there], she nudged me and said, 'You better say nice things about me when I die,' " he said. "I am not about to cross her."