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Giants’ Storied History, In 5,000 Square Feet


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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — John Mara this week walked into the Giants’ new Legacy Club and went straight to his father Wellington’s old desk. He had remembered the pieces since he was a child — the gold “F” for Fordham paperweight; the small black binoculars Wellington Mara, the former owner, used to watch games; the framed photo of Ann Mara, John’s mother, taken at Yankee Stadium; the gray manual typewriter on which Wellington typed the speech he would give to usher Vince Lombardi into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


The speech, on white paper with uneven lettering, is there, too, as is Wellington’s briefcase, made of the same brown pebbled leather as the N.F.L.’s official football.


The Giants have carved out a space in the new stadium for their first hall of fame, which will be open soon for public tours and is now open to fans attending Giants home games for three hours before kickoff until halftime. Beyond glass doors are the plush club seats, but inside there is a bleacher bench from the old Yankee Stadium, before it was renovated.


On Wednesday, John Mara stood back and looked at the busts of Lombardi and Tom Landry, former Giants assistants.


“I look at them and I wonder how much better my childhood would have been if we had managed to keep one of them,” Mara said, joking, about the losing seasons of his youth.


While the current season is already speckled with questions about the team’s leadership, the Legacy Club allows Giants fans to time-travel through eras: when Wellington Mara took photos of plays from high atop a stadium and put them in a weighted sock to be dropped to the sideline so they could be studied by players and coaches; when players fought in World War II after the season was over.


There is a bronze bust of offensive tackle Al Blozis, who was killed in France — John Mara gets letters from veterans asking him to honor Blozis — and the memorial plaque saved from the Polo Grounds for Jack Lummus, a receiver who was killed at Iwo Jima. The helmet of Steve Smith, from the 2008 Super Bowl when the Giants beat the New England Patriots, is on display with silver-and-red confetti still sticking in its crevices.


Even at a relatively modest 5,000 square feet, the Legacy Club represents a small culture change for the Giants. Created in 1925, the Giants are a history-steeped franchise that has engaged in limited chest-thumping.


“You’re right,” Mara said. “But people have asked us for years and it was always something I wanted to do. We have so much history, we wanted to find a place to display it.”


First, they had to find the material. Tipped off by a former player, the Giants tracked down a fan who is in his mid-30s whose hobby was collecting team memorabilia, much of which was in unmarked boxes in a New Jersey storage locker. The fan wished to remain anonymous so he would not be hounded by people trying to sell him things, but he lent the Giants much of what is in the hall of fame — about 96 percent of the items on display are his. Mary Musca, the project executive for the Giants for the new stadium who oversaw the construction of the hall of fame, estimates it is only about 30 percent of what he has.


The hall of fame has several interactive displays with brief biographies of significant players and coaches. One shares the story of Donald Thum, a fan from Fonda, N.Y., who wrote long, detailed letters about games and draft strategy to Wellington Mara (the letters were so bulky he put three stamps on the envelope), which Mara always replied to. Thum still sends letters to John Mara — “I have two on my desk,” he said. “Still three stamps.”


Musca said: “If you want to know who the Giants are, walk somebody through here. What John and Steve Tisch wanted is for fans to be immersed in Giants history and traditions. They wanted it expressed through the buildings, expressed through the players and the owners and especially through the games and championships.”


Many of the displays tell the story of the N.F.L. On Wellington Mara’s desk is a memo he sent in February 1977 to other owners, announcing a new collective bargaining agreement. There are old red practice jerseys from the 1930s that look more like slim-cut pullover sweaters and a 1927 leather helmet that belonged to Benny Friedman — so small it looks like a winter cap. It is an indication of how much slighter players were in the N.F.L.’s early years, especially when compared to the size of clothes and cleats stored in Michael Strahan’s locker, which was cut out of Giants Stadium and moved to the club.


“My grandfather bought the Detroit Wolverines so we could get Benny Friedman,” Mara said. “Wonder how much that was, since he paid $500 for the Giants.”


A ball from a 1927 game against the Frankford Yellow Jackets is so fat it looks more like a rugby ball. And a white football is a reminder of the N.F.L.’s experiment with how to present the game better on black-and-white television in the 1950’s. And there is Charlie Conerly’s first contract, dated Jan. 30, 1946, in which he was to be paid $275 per game, and $75 for preseason games.


At the center of one room is a display of 30 game-worn Giants helmets, arranged to show the evolution of helmets and face masks, and even the team’s logo. Mara glanced at one of them.


“Jeremy Shockey’s has a few dents in his, not surprising, huh?” Mara said, laughing about the wild-child tight end who was one of his father’s favorite players.


The Giants, who will unveil a Ring of Honor at the stadium on Oct. 3 during a night game against the Chicago Bears, got permission from the N.F.L. to have Tiffany & Company make duplicates of their three Lombardi Trophies. The team had busts made by the same artist who makes the ones for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


The busts honor significant Giants players and coaches, including John Mara’s favorite Giant, Emlen Tunnell, the team’s first African-American player, who became a longtime assistant coach (his first assistant coach contract is displayed, promising a $2,300 signing bonus).


Not far from Bill Belichick’s handwritten defensive plan for a 1988 game against the New Orleans Saints (Belichick toured the place when the Patriots played the Giants in the preseason) is the typewritten team itinerary for Super Bowl XXI Sunday (Mass at 9:30 a.m.).


There is only one non-Giants player item in the hall of fame, but it might make fans as giddy as the photo of David Tyree’s catch against his helmet in Arizona: Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood’s jersey from Super Bowl XXV.



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There is only one non-Giants player item in the hall of fame, but it might make fans as giddy as the photo of David Tyree’s catch against his helmet in Arizona: Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood’s jersey from Super Bowl XXV.



Let me guess its hanging (on the wall) way to the right :smartass:

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