Many owners tend to emphasise that football is only a business and all that counts is the bottom line of a balance sheet but for the ordinary fan it will always be a sport and the following words from a Giants supporter to owner Wellington Mara show that old values still exist in the National Football League.
“I wrote the Giants a three-page letter in 1973 explaining that my family and I were great fans and tried to buy tickets from scalpers because we could not get season tickets. That finally got too expensive for us and we stopped going to games. Not long afterwards I received a letter from Mr Mara asking us how many tickets we needed. We still have them.”
Nowadays when you write to many teams or individuals you will be lucky to get a reply. It used to be that if you received a letter in the “old days” it was polite and good-mannered to answer it. I have found from personal experience that Green Bay, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, New England and the New York Giants still believe in “old values”.
I wrote to Wellington Mara on numerous occasions and he sent me books on the history of the Giants as well as promising me tickets and a warm welcome if I ever visited New York. I spoke to him on the phone when the Giants played in Wisconsin against the Packers and it was during one of these conversations that he told me about a great quarterback called Benny Friedman. He was also very proud that he had been named after the “best fighting Irishman that ever lived”, the Duke of Wellington.
A recollection of Benny Friedman is as follows:
“I remember one of the first games Chris Cagle played for the Giants. Chris had been a big star at West Point and it was expected he would be big with us. When he got into his first game, I wanted to use him so that we could loosen up the other team - the Green Bay Packers. Often when another back was going to run with the ball, I’d step over to the fullback slot. That meant the threat of a pass was there and this would keep the defense honest.
On the first play Chris carried, he ran smack into a big end named Tom Nash. When he got up his forehead was bleeding so he left the game and went over to the sidelines where the trainer put a gauze bandage on the cut. When Chris came back into the game, I decided to try to break him loose again right away. So on the first play I threw him a short pass that he took over his right shoulder. Then he started upfield with that stride of his. He had a stride like a 440-yard runner.
Playing for Green Bay that day was a guard named Mike Michalske, whom I rate as the best lineman I ever played against. Mike was out of Penn State and after the New York Yankees let him go the Packers grabbed him and he is now in the Hall of Fame.
Anyway, Mike came flying through the air and hit Cagle right below the knees. Well, it was like that trick where you pull the tablecloth off a table without disturbing the dishes. Cagle went up and then down. As he lay on the ground the gauze bandage, which had become separated in the crash, came slowly floating down by itself. I’ll never forget that scene.”
Story related to me by Wellington Mara.
“The Spalding J5-V was the official football of the NFL from 1920 to 1940 and in the 1930s the company named the ball “The Duke” after Wellington Mara. Wilson Sporting Goods began manufacturing NFL balls in 1941 and they carried on the Duke name until 1969 when it was retired. I don’t know how it came to be named that, Mara said, but I’m pretty sure my father had something to do with it”
Mr Mara sent me the letter in 1995 about Benny Friedman and he was undoubtedly one of the stars of the National Football League