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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Shockey, Mara Shared Special Friendship

October 30, 2005|Shaun Powell | Newsday

As he lay dying, he was surrounded by family, friends and a young, feisty rebel who connected more with the old man than anyone could possibly imagine.

Yes, among Wellington Mara's many admirers was Jeremy Shockey, making them the oddest couple in NFL history, based on common sense if nothing else.

A day after helping the Giants to a dramatic comeback win last Sunday and making Mara smile while cancer was stealing away his final hours, Shockey drove to pay respects to one of the most influential people in his life, a person he'd known for all of four years.

"He really touched my life," Shockey said Wednesday.

It's a testament to the soothing and flexible social skills of Mara that he could establish any relationship with Shockey, let alone the mutually friendly one they enjoyed before Mara's death early Tuesday. Based purely on their roles within the organization, these two should have been as compatible as acid and a cool iced tea.

Shockey's MO has always been to tweak the establishment, and what higher authority was there in the organization than Mara, the longtime owner? This was old school and new, Brooks Brothers and Phat Farm, Sinatra and Ludacris, Cadillac and Hummer, 89-year-old patriarch and 25-year-old frat boy. This was strange.

And it also was deep.

"I let him into my life, told him about some of the tough things that happened to me, and he shared some personal stories with me," Shockey said. "He was always there for me. When I came into the league, all full of myself, Mr. Mara told me what to expect. He took the time to get to know me as a person. It was very special of him to do that."

Their relationship broke all barriers and, most importantly, shattered all beliefs and stereotypes. It probably revealed more about Shockey than Mara, in this respect: Shockey does respect those who aren't quick to judge him and his way of living life.

"That shows you the kind of character he had," Shockey said. "No matter who you were, he always wanted to know the person inside first."

Whether it was calling former Giant coach Bill Parcells "a homo" or disagreeing with the methods of Tom Coughlin or splashing a kid with a cup of ice, Shockey always knew the most important man in the organization would always stand by him. Not that Mara agreed with everything Shockey did. Most times, he didn't.

Shockey laughed.

"It was difficult for him, seeing me get up and celebrate all the time," he said. "He could just look at you, without saying anything, and you could feel pressure. I was worried, because you don't want to let a person down, especially someone like him. He knew I was going to make some mistakes and say some silly things. When that happened, he put an arm around me and said we all make mistakes; how you bounce back is what counts."

Shockey wasn't the first antiestablishment Giant star to get a hug from Mara, only the last. Long before Shockey, there was Lawrence Taylor and his self-destructive habits. When LT plunged in and out of trouble, caused by drug and legal problems, Mara remained loyal. Some in the organization thought he was loyal to a fault. Mara counseled and even bankrolled LT but never judged or lectured him, and that's why Taylor considers Mara one of the greatest men he ever met.

With Shockey, maybe subconsciously, Mara was the father Shockey never really knew or loved. Or maybe Mara's was the only voice of reason in Shockey's professional life that counted. In any event, Shockey couldn't stop talking about "Mr. Mara" Wednesday and how, in only four years, a complete stranger from another era could resonate within a player who often behaves true to his last name.

"I think it's because he was around players since he was 8 or 9 years old, ever since he was a ball boy," Shockey said. "Then as an owner, he was always at practice on the sidelines, and in training camp, he stayed in the dorms instead of some hotel. He never really lost that drive to stay close to the players."

No surprise then, in Mara's final hours, an unlikely player chose to stay close to the owner.

"It was hard," Shockey said.

Hard not to stay away.

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