- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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Chris Mara, football scout, was on the edge of his seat and staring down the TV as if he were watching the NFL draft. This was Tuesday morning, and the longtime talent evaluator for the New York Giants was waiting to see if a certain prospect was picked in a first round loaded with high-profile stars.
Meryl Streep. Glenn Close. Viola Davis. Michelle Williams. Mara didn't know if his own million-dollar baby would make that kind of Academy Award cut, and he didn't want to get his heart broken. Again.
Yeah, he knew the feeling. Mara badly wanted to be the general manager of the Giants five years ago, only to be told by his brother John that the Oscar would be going to Jerry Reese.
So Chris delayed his commute to work to watch the nominations. He figured it was better to be disappointed in his home, alone, than to endure another round of you'll-get-'em-next-times at the office. And when Rooney Mara's name was indeed called in the best actress category, her father did what any father of a 26-year-old hopeful would do when nominated for an Oscar.
"I let out a pretty big scream," he said. "And then I cried."
Rooney's old man eventually made his way to St. Patrick's in Bedford, N.Y., where he lit a couple of candles for the woman who became famous playing the bisexual computer hacker in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."
"I thought she was on the bubble because the category was so tough this year," Chris Mara said. "It was a very tough role for her, and a lot of hard work went into it, so this is her Super Bowl."
This is her chance to beat the favorite, Streep, which would be more like beating the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII than the 15-3 Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
"Rooney had to learn how to kickbox and ride a motorcycle and do so many physical things to get ready for the film," Mara said. "She showed a lot of toughness going through the whole experience, and she had a director, David Fincher, who was just like Tom Coughlin or Bill Parcells. He made her get through that role."
By all accounts, including her father's, Rooney Mara lost herself inside the dark, mysterious, antisocial character that is Lisbeth Salander. Chris Mara first saw the film with family members in a private screening, and he knew going in that he'd be watching his child perform in scenes of violence and rape.
He'd already coached himself to accept those disturbing images for what they were. Mara's daughter Kate, a distinguished actress herself, had long ago persuaded her father to separate art from a parent's reality.
"But that screening was the most nervous I've ever been before any game, including the Super Bowls," Chris Mara said. "It wasn't for the faint of heart, but Rooney blew me away by how good she was. I forgot it was my daughter, and that just proved to me she was Oscar-worthy."
The father missed the Giants' stunning playoff victory in Green Bay to be with the daughter at the Golden Globes, but there's no conflict this time around. If the Academy Awards were awarded on Feb. 5, Super Bowl night, the Giants would've been down one senior vice president of player evaluation inside Lucas Oil Stadium. Watching your daughter compete for an Oscar, Chris Mara said, is bigger than watching your draft picks compete for a ring.
As it is, Mara will be ducking out of the scouting combine next month to get to Hollywood in time to see if Rooney can pull a Glendale, Ariz., on Streep. The general manager, Reese, will have to understand, even if he values Chris Mara's football opinions more than most.
"(Mara) is a very talented personnel evaluator who quite frankly could be the GM here or for any other team in the league," Reese said in an email from Mobile, Ala., where he's scouting college players at the Senior Bowl. "It's nice to have someone in your corner of his caliber to bounce things off of."
In Mara's perfect world, he would be bouncing things off of Reese, not the other way around. Chris Mara wasn't just Wellington's son or John's brother. He wasn't merely promoted up the franchise ladder because he was born on the 5-yard line, first and goal.
At the time of Ernie Accorsi's retirement as general manager, Chris Mara had been a scout for Parcells' two Super Bowl titles and had established a track record outside the organization. He'd spent eight years running his own independent scouting service for more than a dozen NFL teams, and he'd served as a successful GM of the New Jersey Gladiators of the Arena League.
Mara had also been vocal in support of the Eli Manning trade, among other personnel moves gone good. But the Giants' 50-50 co-owners, Steve and Jonathan Tisch, didn't want a member of their partners' family as GM, if only because they believed it would've made that GM bulletproof.
Chris Mara was crushed. He'd rejected opportunities in other places, and could've landed the GM job in Atlanta, only to be bypassed inside his own family's business.
"I've gotten over it," he said, "and I don't look back anymore at what could've been. I'm all in with Jerry Reese. We work together very well, and I think he respects my opinion as much as anyone in the room.
"Jerry's been great. I try to get out of his way and let him do what he has to do to, but Jerry and I disagree over players all the time. He doesn't want me to tell him why he's right, but why he's wrong. It's very healthy. It's why we have a very good working relationship."
In assuming the role of team player, Chris Mara said he is following the lead of his ego-free father, Wellington, an approach that Reese appreciates more than anyone knows.
"Chris Mara has done nothing but treat me with respect," Reese wrote, "from the time I joined the Giants as a young scout until now. ... I really admire him for that because he owns the team and he really doesn't have to do that. But he's a true pro and only wants what's best for the Giants, period."
None of this means Mara isn't driven by the same competitive fire that inspired his mother, Ann, to give it to Terry Bradshaw on the victory stand Sunday night, and inspired his son, Dan, to get a tattoo under his armpit reading "18-1" after the Super Bowl XLII upset of the Patriots (the only real tattoo in the family, by the way).
At 54, his dream job likely out of reach for good, Chris Mara still burns to win as much as anyone in the organization. But he's got two Super Bowls to play in the coming weeks, not one, and he just might be rooting a bit harder for the actress than the quarterback.
Blood is thicker than Gatorade. In the end, Rooney Mara can give her father the Oscar the Giants gave to someone else.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.
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