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Ernie Accorsi, A Man For All Seasons

February 15, 2016

There was one person with a close connection to the Manning family who wasn't happy about the outcome of Super Bowl 50, but despite what some social media snobs would have you believe, it wasn't Eli Manning, the youngest member of the first family of quarterbacks.

The culprit is Ernie Accorsi, who knows a little bit about Hall of Fame quarterbacks and coaches. The now retired former general manager of the New York Giants had his own emotional investment in the outcome -- a good bit of which admittedly was tied to Eli Manning, who has a sterling Super Bowl resume of his own but is still mostly known as Peyton Manning's little brother.

It was Accorsi who engineered the 2004 draft day trade that delivered Eli Manning to the Giants, a much scrutinized and occasionally criticized deal that would become the signature move of a 37-year career in the NFL that ended when he fulfilled his promise to step down after the 2006 season. One year later, Eli Manning led the Giants to the first of two Super Bowl wins, cementing Accorsi's legacy.

So, from a personal perspective, Accorsi's rooting interest wasn't exactly a shocker when he revealed it during an informal and wide-ranging discussion, after it had been determined Peyton Manning would get one last chance. 

"I want Eli to win more Super Bowls than his brother," Accorsi said, displaying allegiance to the player who will almost certainly define his career. 

As for the reaction of Twitter hounds about Eli Manning's nonplussed reaction to his brother's latest triumph, Accorsi thinks they should know better by now. 

"That's Eli," he said. "They were brutal about that (his emotionless demeanor) his first few years -- until that calm led him to two game-winning drives and hoisting the Super Bowl Lombardi Trophy twice." 

For what it's worth, Accorsi also had another vested interest in the outcome. In retirement, he has become the NFL's chief "head hunter," with teams bringing him on board whenever there's a coaching or general manager's job on the line. 

"The Panthers' general manager [David Gettleman] worked for me with the Giants," said Accorsi, who had been hired as a consultant by Carolina owner Jerry Richardson after the 2012 season and was instrumental in the interviewing process.

Accorsi's role as consultant is a fitting cap to a career that seemingly has taken as many twists and turns as Route 50 winding from Ocean City, Md., to Sacramento, Calif. He is among those who traded the sports writing fraternity for the front office -- and his path taken is dotted by legends all along the way.

After graduating from Wake Forest in 1963, he had stints with The Charlotte Observer, Baltimore Evening Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer before working in the sports information departments at St. Joseph's College, when coach Dr. Jack Ramsay was displaying his basketball genius, and Penn State, where he was greatly influenced by iconic football coach Joe Paterno. 

Eventually, Accorsi would land in the front office of the Baltimore Colts, the team he rooted for while growing up in Hershey, Pa. It was 1970, just in time to forge a lasting relationship with quarterback Johnny Unitas, who was nearing the end of his career, and try to prepare for the most bizarre time of his life. Accorsi was the general manager who defied the odds and owner Robert Irsay in 1983 and drafted quarterback John Elway No. 1 overall, despite widespread belief the future Hall of Fame quarterback wouldn't play in Baltimore. 

At one point, the Elway camp used his one year of minor league baseball experience with the Yankees as a bargaining chip. But, armed with extensive scouting reports, Accorsi knew better and eventually he was on the verge of closing a deal while Irsay was busy trying to make a trade. 

"I told him to hold off a day, that we could get him signed," Accorsi said. 

"How much?" Irsay asked. "I told him five million [for 5 years] -- I shouldn't have told him how much." 

Irsay made the trade the next day.

As soon as the 1983 season was finished, Accorsi was out the door. He saw the handwriting on the wall before the moving vans could be heard in the distance. He wasn't going to be on the scene when the team of his youth departed. To this day, though, he wonders what might have happened if he'd signed Elway.

Ironically, the next stop was Cleveland, where Accorsi became owner Art Modell's de facto general manager. He was instrumental in negotiating around a myriad of technicalities to land quarterback Bernie Kosar in the 1985 supplemental draft and also the eventual promotion of two young assistant coaches. The first was Marty Schottenheimer, whose coaching career mirrors the playing career of former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino -- many wins and no championships. The other was Bill Belichick, on whose watch the Browns would be moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season. One can only imagine the "what if?" had Accorsi still been on the scene.

He had suffered through two painful losses in AFC Championship games, labeled "The Drive" and "The Fumble" during the 1986 and 1987 seasons, respectively. That they came at the hands of Denver, where Elway was the quarterback, made the experience even more miserable.

In the midst of this 10-year stretch from 1978-1988, Accorsi twice had been offered jobs in baseball, his true love, both by former Orioles general manager Hank Peters. 

"The first time was 1978, with the Orioles, but I had been told by people in the NFL I was on the fast track for a GM job, and Hank couldn't make any guarantees (the O's were in the midst of selling the team, which eventually went to Edward Bennett Williams)," Accorsi said. "The other time was 1988, when Hank was in Cleveland [as club president], and it would've been his call, but we'd just gone through those tough losses, and I wanted to go back east."

The big attraction "back east" was seemingly inside information from former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle that Charlotte, N.C., and Baltimore would get two expansion franchises. 

"I figured I could be in good position to be the general manager," said Accorsi, who joined forces working in concert with former Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer to sell season tickets. "We had 100 suites and all the club level sold. And then Jacksonville got a team."

Orioles owner Peter Angelos was one who had bought a suite during the ill-fated attempt to help return the NFL to Baltimore, and it didn't take long for him to offer Accorsi a job. 

"I think it was executive director of business affairs or something like that," Accorsi said. "The funny thing is baseball was always my game -- I always wanted a front office job."

But Ernie's career always came back to football, and that's what happened less than a year into Ernie's job with the Orioles in 1994. 

"George Young (with whom he had worked for five years with the Colts) called and said ‘I don't want to make your life miserable, and I know you love baseball, but would you be interested in coming up here and helping me,'" Accorsi recalled. 

There were no guarantees, but Accorsi knew that working alongside Young, a great friend and trusted mentor, would put him in a good position with the Giants.

The rest is pretty much history. Accorsi hired head coach Tom Coughlin in 2004 and made the trade that brought Eli Manning to New York that same year. The Giants didn't win the Super Bowl during Accorsi's tenure from 1994-97 and 1998-2007 (he did have the one losing effort against the Ravens during the 2000 season), but he was the main architect for the two that soon followed in 2007 and 2011.

He admittedly has always been a baseball man at heart, but Ernie Accorsi really is a man for all seasons. He traveled many career paths but never lost his way -- or forgot his roots.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.line.com.

Issue 218: February 2016