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Don't mistake where Accorsi's rooting interest is

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001


TAMPA -- Jim Fassel's boss, the architect of Giants who signs paychecks for Jason Sehorn, Tiki Barber and their New York playmates, was an extensive NFL dues payer in Baltimore with Colts who fled for Indianapolis, then with Browns who kissed off Cleveland to evolve into Ravens.

Ernie Accorsi, general manager of the NFC champions, has intriguing ties to Super Bowl XXXV's competing cities, having barely preceded two traumatic franchise relocations, leading to the 59-year-old Pennsylvanian now embracing "the biggest game of my life."

His father, born in Paris of Italian parents, was transplanted to the United States at age 3. Ernie's granddad, a stone mason, helped to build New York's unmistakable skyline, so visible from Accorsi's football perch in the Jersey Meadowlands.

"Stories of immigrants making good lives in this country are vital to the American fabric, and I'm deeply proud of my ancestry," Ernie said. "My dad heard of opportunities in a chocolate factory at Hershey, Pa., and moved there for better wages; $12 a week."

Being entrepreneurial, Ernie's pop went independent, opening a little beer distributorship. Driving his own truck. His kid helped, toting heavy wooden cases of brew. Ernie made extra cash as a golf caddie at renowned Hershey Country Club, where he is a member today.

Accorsi was a hot baseball player in his youth, until eyesight dimmed. He played solid golf, enough so that Ernie enrolled at Wake Forest University, hoping to join an NCAA program that produced many pros, including Arnold Palmer, another Pennsylvanian. Quickly, the beer man's boy realized "I was nowhere near that league."

Ernie took an honest route, becoming a newspaper sports writer. Pardon me, I had to say that. He had jobs in Charlotte, Philadelphia and Baltimore, covering high schools, golf and even writing about duckpin bowling.

Due in part to his journalism experiences, Accorsi is among the NFL's best at dealing with media. I know nobody in the league who is better-liked by my probing profession. "In my early 20s," he recalls, "I interviewed the real Moonlight Graham from the 1903 Charlotte Hornets."

His typing-for-food period in Baltimore would be but the beginning of massive Accorsi involvements with the town of Colts and Ravens. He would venture beyond newspapers, working in collegiate athletics as a publicity bloke, at St. Joseph's in Philly and then Penn State.

"At every place, I had lessons that help me now with the Giants," he said. "Never more than at Penn State, seeing how (football coach) Joe Paterno conducted himself, while soaking up a wealth of knowledge from Jim Tarman, then PR chief for the Nittany Lions who became the school's athletics director."

Back in Hershey, in his beer/baseball/golf period, Ernie was a Baltimore Colts fan. "We lived nearer Philly," he said, "but as a young fellow I couldn't stand the Eagles." A team that his Giants handled in this season's playoffs.

By 1970, his NFL odyssey began. For five years, Ernie was public relations director of the franchise he so adored, the Colts. "Being around (owner) Carroll Rosenbloom, it was an extension of Penn State, allowing me to learn from terrific people."

Ernie kept escalating.

In those days, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had an executive development program. He brought bright youngsters to his New York offices, making them aides to NFC or AFC presidents; schooling prospects to be GMs around the league. Ernie's tie-up was with the NFC president, the ultimate pro football creator, George Halas.

After two years in Rozelle's lair, Accorsi returned to the Colts, eventually becoming GM. Rosenbloom swapped franchises, taking the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for his Baltimore Colts holdings. Bob Irsay became owner of the team of Unitas, Curtis, Berry and Marchetti.

In 1983, with the No. 1 draft choice, Ernie took John Elway, but the Stanford quarterback immediately balked. He wanted Denver. Irsay traded the boyish talent, having not consulted Accorsi. Ernie resigned, to be the last GM of the Baltimore Colts before Irsay trucked the team to Indiana.

Accorsi's journey reached Cleveland as GM of the Browns for owner Art Modell. They were an AFC power that kept losing at Super Bowl doorsteps, repeatedly kicked aside by the Broncos and Elway.

Bill Belichick was named Browns coach in 1992 and Ernie opted to move on. Back to Baltimore, helping Gov. William Donald Schaefer raise money in pursuit of an NFL expansion team to replace the Colts. Their effort fell shy, with two new teams awarded to Carolina and Jacksonville.

Out of a job, Ernie recalls, "My career was saved by Peter Angelos," controversial owner of the Baltimore Orioles owner who gave Accorsi work in the baseball franchise's front office.

Old pal George Young, then GM of the Giants, hired Accorsi as his assistant in 1994. Twenty years before, when Ernie was doing Colts PR, Young was there as a scout and line coach. By 1998, Young retired and Accorsi took the considerable chair.

"I love Art Modell," Ernie said of the 75-year-old owner of the Ravens (nee Browns). "I'm glad he's doing well, but the (Super Bowl) prize is so big, an accomplishment that is such a big part of an NFL person's life. I will not in any way be rooting for Art on a gigantic Sunday in Tampa."

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