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.
November 20, 1961
"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.
"Del had had two great years with the Rams," Mara said. "And he fitted a need of ours precisely. We wanted an end who could go deep to catch passes, and for two years Del had been able to do that. But in 1960 he caught only 12 passes for the Rams and scored only one touchdown. In 1958 he caught 51 for 1,097 yards, and in 1959 he got 47 for 936. We had to know whether he would play back to his 1958 and 1959 form or would have another year like 1960."
As they always do when presented with a possible trade, Mara and the Giant coaches meticulously sounded out Giant players and coaches who had played against Shofner. Lynch, acquired from the Redskins, had faced Shofner three times. "I couldn't cover him man on man in 1958 or 1959," Lynch said. "I couldn't cover him in 1960 either. He's as good as he ever was."
Tittle, just in from the 49ers, had looked at Shofner three times in each previous season. He had also played with Shofner in Pro Bowl games. Said Tittle: "I talked to him at the Pro Bowl game and, as far as I know, he dropped a couple of passes against the 49ers early last year, and the club lost confidence in him. Then he lost confidence in himself and they put him on the bench. He had a series of muscle pulls, too. But he is as good as he ever was."
"We were still doubtful," Mara says. "But you've got to take a chance. You can't think the guy I'm giving up may come back and beat me. If Shofner played back to his '58 and '59 form we wanted him badly. And we trust our people. So we traded the Rams a first and second draft choice—in different years—for Del."
So far this season Shofner has caught 46 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns. At 26, he appears capable of providing the Giants with a truly topflight offensive end for at least the next five years. It is very doubtful that the Rams, even with two high draft choices, can come up with as capable a pro football performer as Shofner.
More complicated than the Shofner deal and more the rule in NFL trades was the intricate maneuvering that brought End Walton and Halfback Podoley from the Redskins. Negotiations began a year ago in December and were not completed until July. The Giants wanted a good tight end to replace Bob Schnelker, who had gone to the Minnesota Vikings along with Mel Triplett and Bob Schmidt, for the Vikings' Zeke Smith and Dave Whitsell. They wanted Podoley specifically to give them speed from flanker back.
"The Redskins wanted an end named Fred Dugan, who was with the Dallas Cowboys," Mara said. "They also needed a good place kicker to replace Bob Khayat, who had ulcers and was not expected to play. We had a good rookie place kicker in Alan Green. We contacted the Cowboys to find out what they wanted for Dugan and they wanted a place kicker."
The Giants traded Green and a draft choice for Dugan, which left them almost exactly where they had been before. Mara knew that Owner George Halas of the Bears wanted Whitsell, the defensive halfback obtained from the Vikings, and he knew, too, that Halas had a good new extra-point man coming up in Roger Leclerc and a substitute for Leclerc in John Aveni. So the Giants traded Whitsell for Aveni, then sent Aveni, Dugan, a draftee and End Gene Cronin to the Redskins for Walton and Podoley and a draft choice.
"The deal worked pretty well for everybody," Mara says. "But Green did come back and beat us a few weeks ago with a 32-yard field goal in the last few minutes. That was the 17-16 Dallas game."
The trade that brought Tittle to the Giants from the 49ers was simple but advantageous for both teams. "We had too big a gap between Conerly and Lee Grosscup," Mara said. "You can't expect Charlie, at his age , to play 14 games in a season, and Grosscup isn't ready to take over yet. We needed someone to fill in that gap. You don't go to another owner and say, 'We want so-and-so.' What you do is say, 'You can't use four quarterbacks. Who do you want to trade?' "
San Francisco, of course, had four quarterbacks and, more to the point, Coach Red Hickey was committed to the shotgun offense, a formation not well suited to the elderly Tittle. When Mara asked, 'Who do you want to trade?' Hickey nominated Tittle, the man the Giants were looking for all along.
"Here was a 34-year-old quarterback," Mara says. "But we knew he would be a top hand for us. He's been in the league a long time and he knows defenses and he would fit in with our club real well. The 49ers were looking for young linemen and we had Lou Cordileone to offer them. They took him. When we told him about the trade, Lou, a rookie, looked surprised and said, 'What! Me even for Tittle!' But it was a good trade. They couldn't use Tittle and we've got young players coming fast at Cordileone's position."
Cordileone plays the third offensive guard for the 49ers and he is the fifth man—behind the first four, tackle to tackle—that the 49ers substitute on defense.
As you might expect from the scope of the Giant trading, the New York team does not place as strong an emphasis on scouting player talent as do such clubs as the Rams and the 49ers. "They have a web of scouts among assistant college coaches throughout the country," Mara says. "They probably get a lot more information on more players than we do. We depend a whole lot on the word of people we trust, like Al DeRogatis."
DeRogatis, a former Giant tackle, works with Howell in the player scouting department of the Giants. He is a keen and observant student of what it takes to make a good pro football player.
"I remember when Sam Huff came up in the draft," Mara said. "There were four real good tackles available that year. We looked at Sam and he wasn't fast enough to be a good offensive guard or big enough to be a good defensive tackle. We didn't consider him as a linebacker, to tell the truth."
One of the other players was Bruce Bosley, who later played offensive guard for the 49ers.
"Bosley, in his senior year of college, looked better than Huff," Mara said. "But DeRogatis said to go with Huff, and we did. DeRogatis pointed out that Bosley was mature and had probably played right up to his maximum as a senior in college. Huff, on the other hand, had not matured yet. DeRogatis expected him to improve after he came into pro ball, and that's just exactly what happened. I'd rather have the opinion of one man like DeRogatis, who knows what the Giants want and knows what a player can develop into, than have a slew of scouts touring the country."
The Giants often trade on the assumption that they will be able to develop the potential of a player.
Mara claims that he does only the leg-work for the Giants in trades. "I ask the coaches what they need and it is my responsibility to know where it is available," he says. "We keep a pretty good book on all the players in the league. We get a good part of it from reports from our own players on their opponent in each game. We got Dick Modzelewski that way. He came to us in 1956 from Pittsburgh via Detroit in a four-player deal which also involved Dick Alban, Ray Krouse and Dick Stanfel. We wanted Modzelewski because our player reports rated him as the best defensive tackle we had faced that year. We found out later that Pittsburgh was willing to give him up because, when they looked at the movies, they figured the only good games he had played were against us."
The Giants have, of course, made mistakes. Probably the most egregious of recent years was the decision to let Buddy Dial, an offensive end from Rice, go to Pittsburgh, in favor of keeping Joe Biscaha, an offensive end from the University of Richmond. Biscaha played only briefly with the Giants. Dial has gone on to become one of the four or five best pass catchers in the NFL.
"We just blew that one," Mara says philosophically. "We made a mistake. But we got Dial late from the All-Star football game and Biscaha had spent the whole training camp with us. He had looked good and we thought he was a better player."
A mountain of an error
Not too many years ago the Giants traded for a mountainous inside lineman, whom they now prefer not to name. He had played well the year before, but had foot trouble for the entire year after coming to the Giants, played very poorly and forthwith was traded to the Chicago Cardinals. He got treatment for his sore feet and returned to haunt the Giants for two more years.
But, over the years, the Giant trades have paid off far more often than they have fizzled. Dan Reeves, one of the embattled owners of the Los Angeles Rams, a team decimated by disastrous trades, calls Wellington Mara "Pretzel." "He twists and turns but he always comes up with a good trade," says Reeves. Duke Wellington may squirm at such praise, but Reeves and the other NFL owners know him for what he is—a good horse trader who doesn't happen to be trading horses.