On any Sunday afternoon in Yankee Stadium—or in any of the other fields where the pro football teams of the National Football League play—it is a certainty that if the New York Giants win, it won't be with draft choices. Few of the Giants' recent stars came directly from the colleges. Not that their draft choices have been bad; they haven't. But over the years New York's real strength has resided in a series of exceptionally intelligent trades.
Most people have forgotten by now, but the gray old man who has led the Giants since almost the beginning of time came to the Giants in a trade. Charlie Conerly was the 11th draft choice of the Washington Redskins in 1945. The Giants, sorely in need of someone who could throw a pass inside a barn and hit the wall—any wall—gave the Redskins a defensive back, Howie Livingston, and a fullback, Pete Stout, for Conerly. Both Livingston and Stout performed adequately for the 'Skins for a couple of years; Conerly led the Giants to three Eastern Conference titles and one national championship in 13 years. He still propels his creaking bones onto the playing field to win games for them.
The Conerly trade was the first of the big ones in the period immediately after World War II. It proved typical of the many the club would make in succeeding years. The most recent also involved a quarterback—bald Y.A. Tittle (see cover ). The Giants got him from the San Francisco 49ers for a combination offensive-defensive lineman named Lou Cordileone, who may have to go into service after this season. Tittle, at 34, could be around for a long time. If the armed forces draft him, nobody is safe.
The man behind most of the trades that have built the Giants into a permanent contender for the Eastern Conference championship of the National Football League is a quiet, almost neurotically self-effacing man named Wellington Mara. Wellington ("Most people have forgotten, but the Duke of Wellington was the fightingest of all Irishmen, and that's why my dad named me after him") never played football himself. He was graduated from Fordham University in the same class with Vince Lombardi, the present coach of the Green Bay Packers, who was one of the Seven Blocks of Granite on the 1936 Fordham team. Wellington was more of a chip than a block; when he had finished college, his father, the late Timothy Mara, a onetime bookmaker who founded the Giants in 1925, urged him to go to law school, but Wellington wanted to hang around the Giants for a year, and his father let him.
"I spent all my time with the players and coaches," Wellington says today. "The players used to call me 'Duke' because of my name. I watched game movies and sat in on team meetings and at that time I knew every assignment on the team, offense or defense. I don't have time to do that anymore. And I'm not that close to the players, either. They call me Mr. Mara now," he says wistfully.
Wellington Mara never got to law school. Along with his brother Jack, who joined the Giants eight years before him and is now the club's president, he has spent his entire adult life around the team, assimilating along the way a considerable knowledge of pro football, most of it learned from Giant coaches.
Although Wellington goes to considerable trouble to deny this, he is the man who initiated most of the trades that have developed the Giants. Sixteen of the 36 players on the Giant squad today came from trades; more than that, most of the 16 are key men.
On the defensive team these players came as the result of astute barter: Andy Robustelli, All-Pro defensive end; Dick Lynch and Dick Nolan, key defensive halfbacks; Dick Modzelewski, most underrated defensive tackle in the league; and Tom Scott, who replaced another tradee, Harland Svare, as corner linebacker. Svare, an ex-Ram, is now the defensive coach for the Giants.
The Tittle trade was not the only offensive success this fall. At about the same time Mara made a deal that brought End Del Shofner, Tittle's and Conerly's best target, from the Los Angeles Rams. "The Shofner deal came up very suddenly," Mara said the other day. "Some deals—like the one we made with the Redskins for Joe Walton and Jim Podoley—take months to work out."
But Shofner, for one reason or another, presented a real problem to the Giant trading committee, which consists of Mara, Jim Lee Howell, chief talent scout and former head coach of the Giants, and the Giant coaches.