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Friends, family honor Mara at funeral

NEW YORK (Oct. 28, 2005) -- In a big turnout of football star power, family, friends and admirers gathered Oct. 28 for an emotional send-off to New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, one of the founding fathers of the NFL.

An overflow crowd packed St. Patrick's Cathedral for the funeral Mass honoring Mara, who died Oct. 25 at 89. Mara, elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, died of cancer at his home in Rye.

Giants players and office staffers arrived in seven charter buses led by a New Jersey State Police cruiser on a crisp, fall morning perfect for Mara's beloved football.

Former Giants great Frank Gifford spoke during the 1-hour, 45-minute service before an assemblage of NFL celebrities usually reserved for a Hall of Fame ceremony.

"I'm so honored to stand here and say a few words about this man that I love," Gifford said. "I had three stages of knowing Wellington Mara. He was my boss for a long time, and he was a father figure. And finally, as we got older, he was my friend."

The alter was simply decorated with four bouquets of red flowers, two on either side. Mara's casket was brought into the cathedral accompanied by a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace.

Running back Tiki Barber, a Mara favorite, led the team into the cathedral, followed by a parade of somber teammates that included quarterback Eli Manning and tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Among the other mourners were Phil Simms, Phil McConkey and Harry Carson, members of the Giants' 1986 Super Bowl team.

"Giant fans from all around the country wish they could be here," Carson said. "It is sad, but we also know his spirit will be with us no matter what."

Other former players arriving early included tight end Mark Bavaro and quarterback Dave Brown.

Among those in the crowd were former Giants coach Bill Parcells, who came with his current boss, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; Carolina Panthers coach John Fox, a former Giants assistant; and Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel, another ex-Giants assistant.

The presence of NFL coaches from around the league, just two days before their Sunday games spoke volumes about the level of regard for Mara.

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