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Father Dudley said the 6:30 a.m. Mass and then looked in on the St. Francis of Assisi breadline on Manhattan's West 31st Street that has been running since 1929—the oldest breadline in the world, according to Father Dudley. Not scheduled to hear confessions that day, Father Dudley got into his car and drove to the Giant training camp in New Jersey. There he watched the workouts, checked on the progress of the rookies and talked with his friend, Wellington Mara, the president of the team.
Father Benedict Dudley has been a fixture around the Giants since 1932 when a man saw him standing in the bleacher ticket line at the old Polo Grounds and said, "Take this, Father." It was a box-seat ticket right on the 50-yard line. There were three or four other men in the box, and Father Dudley kept up a running commentary on the performances of the players and the progress of the game. When one of the men allowed that Father Dudley certainly knew a lot about professional football, Father Dudley said, "I used to see the Frankford Yellow Jackets play when I lived in Philadelphia." It turned out that Father Dudley was sitting in the box of a very close friend of Tim Mara's, and from then on he never had to stand in the bleacher ticket line again.
Another priest, Father Kevin O'Brien, who was a professor of physics at Fordham, has always hung around the Giants, too. He became known as the defensive priest; Father Dudley was the offensive priest. Once at a dinner in Milwaukee the late Fred Miller, president of the Miller Brewing Co. and himself a Catholic, introduced Father Dudley as the offensive priest. Father Dudley drew a chortle when he cautioned Miller on pronouncing the first syllable in offensive. "The word has two meanings," he said.
In the course of years, Father Dudley has become not only honorary chaplain to the Giants but to what Wellington Mara calls "the Giant Family." The Giant Family is all-embracing; it includes the players, coaches, the front office and the lucky offspring who get to serve as water boys or help the team as Giant Juniors. The Giant Family also includes all the loyal fans who are said to will their season tickets and who show up at Yankee Stadium on Sundays in camel's-hair coats and parkas to scream, "DEE-fense, DEE-fense, DEE-fense!" As Mara, a father of 10, once told a friend, "Next to my own family, I do care most about the Giant Family."
In a way it is surprising that Hollywood never made a movie about the Giant Family, say Men of Mara , with Pat O'Brien and James Cagney as the priests, Charlton Heston as Alex Webster, Mickey Rooney as a Giant Junior and someone tall, trim, blond and shy, maybe Wayne Morris, as Wellington Mara. But count that as an opportunity lost. There is turmoil and uncertainty in the Giant Family now. A decade ago the Giants were at the top of the National Football League, and the Mass was in Latin. Nowadays nuns raid draft boards, the Giants are losers, and Mara himself, once revered as a genius at trades, is reviled both as a bungler who cannot recognize talent and as a greedy renegade who plans to move the team to New Jersey in 1975.
As the head of one of the last old-guard Irish family-owned teams in sports—a team that was treated kindly by the press even in the off-season—Mara has been hurt by the critics. "If I may use my Jesuit training in logic," he says, "they bother me emotionally but not intellectually." Still, to avoid emotional stress, Mara avoids his critics. He does not watch Howard Cosell, Dick Schaap or Jim Bouton on television, and he does not read the New York Post. Despite such precautions, his plans occasionally go awry when a well-meaning friend will call to say, "That was a terrible column about you today."
Only once has Mara ever replied to his critics in public. Last year at a welcome-home luncheon, a Giant Family gathering that Mara likened to Thanks-giving or Christmas, he answered Larry Merchant of the Post who, after attacking the shift to Jersey, had written about "The son of a bookmaker.... What else can you expect from an Irishman named Wellington?" In measured tones, Mara told the hushed members of the Giant Family, "I'll tell you exactly what you can expect from an Irishman named Wellington whose father was a bookmaker. You can expect that anything he says or writes may be repeated, aloud, in your own home, in front of your children. You can believe that he was taught to love and respect all mankind—but to fear no man. And you can believe that his two abiding ambitions are that he pass on to his family the true richness of the inheritance he received from his father, the bookmaker, the knowledge and love and fear of God, and second, that the Giants win the Super Bowl, for Alex and for you."
No one is more full of Giant lore and tradition than Mara. Nostalgically, he can recall the Giants' first game against the Browns (" Steve Owen really invented the 4-3 defense that day") or the palmy days of the '30s when he roomed with Ward Cuff, a halfback. The players all stayed at the Whitehall Hotel on upper Broadway, where Coach Owen had the penthouse, and would take afternoons off to golf. Instead of jet planes, there were trains then, with time to banter, play cards, get to know a man's character.
In the midst of last season Mara, occupied as he had been with the decision to move to Jersey, felt that he was not as close to the Giants as he would like to be. He called in Bob Lurtsema, a defensive end now with the Vikings and then the Giant player representative, and asked him to make a survey on what kind of rapport he had with the players and what they thought of the Giant Family image. Dutifully Lurtsema went to the players one by one and, as Lurtsema now recalls, he went to see Mara on a Tuesday afternoon at one o'clock. "He asked for an honest report, and I gave it to him with both barrels," Lurtsema says. "I told him, 'You have no rapport with the players, and the Giant Family image is not there. There is no question about it.'
"He was crushed when I told him. I wasn't trying to hurt the guy, but to tell him the truth he asked for. He sat back, maybe asked me a couple of questions and then shook my hand and said, "At least I know you gave me an honest answer.' At 4:30 I was on waivers."