Ties that bind are fitting as a tribute to Steadman

John Eisenberg

TAMPA, Fla. - Ernie Accorsi will wear one to the Super Bowl on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. So will some writers in the press box.

Anyone who has one of the ties John Steadman faithfully gave out as presents over the years should wear it Sunday when the Ravens and Giants play.

If you don't have one, just wearing a tie, period, would suffice as a way of honoring Baltimore's sportswriting landmark, who died on New Year's Day after battling cancer for two years.

Steadman was almost as well known for wearing ties and giving them as gifts as he was for his love of pro football. Accorsi, the Giants' general manager, with deep Baltimore roots, wore a Steadman tie on the day of the NFC championship game. It was a wonderful tribute, and the Giants pounded the Vikings.

"John drove up to New York to give me the tie on the day I got the job with the Giants," Accorsi said. "I'm going to wear it again and hopefully have the same kind of luck, even though John was from Baltimore."

Pause.

"It's unbelievable, it really is," he continued. "I look around this week, and I can't believe John isn't here."

Accorsi wasn't being maudlin, not in the least. He was just being realistic. It is, indeed, hard to believe that a guy could cover each of the first 34 Super Bowls and 719 straight NFL games involving the Colts and Ravens, including "The Greatest Game Ever Played" between the Colts and Giants in 1958, and then miss a Baltimore-New York Super Bowl.

You're never going to believe in fate if you don't after watching this season winnow down to such a matchup within weeks of Steadman's passing.

"I know that, where he is now, he's going to have some influence on this game, of all games," Accorsi said with a smile. "I just hope it's right for us."

Wearing a tie Sunday is the least anyone could do to serve the memory of someone to whom this matchup would have meant so much.

Not that that meaning necessarily would have been rooted in the sudden triumph of the Ravens, mind you. Let's be clear about that. As desperately as Steadman wanted Baltimore back in the NFL after the Colts' departure in 1984, he had deep reservations about the way that comeback finally occurred, with Baltimore doing to Cleveland exactly what he had criticized Indianapolis for doing to Baltimore.

Even though he jumped on board, never missed a Ravens game and wrote positively at times about various players, coaches and officials, there was no mistaking his overall attitude toward the new team in town.

"There's no doubt we loved John more than he loved us," Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said yesterday. "When we came to town, he didn't like anything about us. It was the whole concept of the moving franchise. The way he wrote, he clearly didn't like us. But we all had great respect for him because he was such a man of conviction."

Accorsi, who was part of Baltimore's failed effort to get an NFL expansion team in 1993 before coming to the Giants, said: "I think John had taken such a strong stand against the Colts moving out of town that he probably felt he had to keep his ethics consistent. He wanted an expansion franchise so badly. He was basically a part of our committee. That was a devastating blow to him. Once the Ravens came, I got the feeling that he might have problems with the move. But he never said much about it, so I left it alone."

Actually, Steadman wrote positively about Bill Bidwill when the Cardinals owner was contemplating moving to Baltimore in 1987, so he wasn't entirely opposed to such moves. But he obviously had a problem with Modell and the Cleveland move in particular, possibly traced at least partly to Modell's decision to fire Accorsi as Browns GM in 1989.

"John irritated Art regularly," Byrne said. "Art would call me up and say, 'You think it might help if we went to lunch?' I didn't think so. But Art deeply respected the fact that John had a backbone and never wavered."

Never wavered, indeed. Steadman's streak of never missing a Baltimore NFL game was the stuff of local legend, but he was better known nationally as one of nine writers who had attended each of the first 34 Super Bowls. Accorsi, who wrote sports for The Evening Sun and other papers before getting into front-office work, shook his head at the memory of Steadman coming to the big game two years ago in Miami, shortly after his cancer treatments had begun.

"I checked in and immediately called his house to see how he was doing with finally not coming, and Steadman's wife Mary Lee picked up the phone and said, 'Ernie, John's at the hotel where you are,' " Accorsi said. "He was weak, he'd lost his hair, but he made it. That was incredible. Then he made it again last year, even though he was really sick. That streak was important to him. He even came during newspaper strikes to keep it going."

A year later, Steadman's absence is more than just conspicuous; it's profound with a Baltimore team in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1971.

This year, of all years.

"The tie he gave me isn't exactly the style I usually wear," Accorsi said with a smile, "but I wouldn't wear any other."

 

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