EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Jeremy Shockey and Wellington Mara would seem to make an odd pair. Not so: the brash, free-spirited tight end and the New York Giants’ octogenarian owner hit it off almost from the day they crossed paths more than three years ago.

Shockey, who in the past has been known as much for his mouth as for his pass-catching skills, spoke with genuine affection Wednesday about his bond with Mara, who died of cancer Tuesday at 89.

“In my first year, we just connected,” Shockey said. “We’d joke around, and I’d call him “The Duke of the Meadowlands.’ He loved to be around the guys. He worked his way up as a ballboy, and you could tell he never lost his feel for the players.”

Along with running back Tiki Barber, Shockey was invited by Mara’s family to visit him at his home in Rye, N.Y., the day before he died.

“I didn’t speak to him; he wasn’t in great shape,” Shockey said. “But I could tell he knew we were there.”

Shockey recalled the reception he got from Mara when he arrived at Giants training camp as a first-round draft pick in 2002.

“I had come in late because of contract issues, and our first game was against the Texans and I had made some plays and he kind of hugged me and said, “If you make plays like that, you’re allowed to be a couple of days late,”‘ Shockey said.

The following year, Mara declined to publicly chastise Shockey after the tight end made what many considered crude and inflammatory remarks in an interview with a men’s magazine. Instead, Mara decried the influence of athletes’ agents and business managers, calling them “flesh peddlers.”

Over time, the relationship flourished between the patrician owner and the kid who was raised by a single mom in Ada, Okla.

“We always talked,” Shockey said. “He shared some of his stories with me, and I let him into my life and told him about some of the tough times I’d been through.”

Other players recalled how Mara rarely addressed the team as a group – but when he did, his words usually were followed by action. Amani Toomer remembered Mara speaking to the team after a late-season loss in 1999, a year the Giants finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

“He said, “To the players who played hard, I congratulate you, but to the players who didn’t, you will not be wearing a Giants jersey for long,”‘ Toomer said.

“And the next year, half the team was gone, and we ended up having a great season and going to the Super Bowl. So his words definitely weren’t taken lightly around here.”

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