In the coming-of-age story of Eli Manning, the New York Giants quarterback who has led his team to the Super Bowl, there is a great measure of vindication for a football guy with strong ties to Baltimore and someone a lot of us in the sportswriting business have always rooted for.
Ernie Accorsi, the former general manager of the Giants, who spent more than a decade with the Baltimore Colts, was the man who engineered the draft-day trade in 2004 that brought Manning to New York. Up until the past four weeks or so, it was a move for which Accorsi had taken a lot of heat. Accorsi gave up a lot to get Manning. At the end of the day, the Chargers got their own current quarterback, Philip Rivers (who played valiantly in an uphill effort that ended with a loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday), and draft picks that became linebacker Shawne Merriman (Maryland) and kicker Nate Kaeding.
The trade was forced because Manning was steadfast in not wanting to play in San Diego. In an odd twist, more than two decades earlier, it had been Accorsi, as Colts GM, who was undermined by owner Bob Irsay in trying to keep the reluctantly drafted John Elway in Baltimore. Accorsi told The New York Times he learned of the Elway trade with the Denver Broncos while watching television. Accorsi left the Colts shortly before the move to Indianapolis.
But getting back to the Giants-Chargers deal, Rivers, Merriman and Kaeding turned out to be quite a haul. And when all three went to the Pro Bowl last season while Manning lost again in the first round of the playoffs, which continued a trend of late-season swoons, it reinforced the notion that Accorsi had made one of the worst deals in NFL history.
"You know, I had nine playoff teams," Accorsi said, speaking of his career in NFL front offices that included stops with the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and Giants, "but it doesn't matter. Look, Bobby Beathard won two Super Bowls [with the Washington Redskins] and he still gets ripped for Ryan Leaf [the first-round quarterback bust in San Diego]."
Accorsi is no longer the Giants GM. He retired about a year ago. Last season, as the Chargers went 14-2, it appeared San Diego got much the better of the Manning-Rivers trade - and it might still work out that way in years to come - but in the race to the Super Bowl, the one that really counts in the NFL, Manning won.
"When it comes to quarterbacks, you can't overpay," Accorsi said. "What would you give for Johnny Unitas in his prime? Or John Elway? I'm not putting Eli there, but the point is that to win consistently, you need a great quarterback.
"I never lost confidence in him. Everyone has their own timetable. For some, it's three, four years."
In 2006, Chargers GM A.J. Smith seemed to gloat about how the deal played out - not so much regarding Accorsi, but about being forced into a corner by the Manning family because Eli refused to play in San Diego. But the other side of that coin was that Accorsi was painted with the "worst-trade-ever" label.
For me - and I suspect other folks who do what I do for a living - it was sad to see that happen to Accorsi. See, here's the thing: Accorsi had been a sportswriter himself. In fact, in far different times, we worked for the same newspaper in Philadelphia. Accorsi used to cover the Philadelphia 76ers and broke a huge story at the time, the trade of Wilt Chamberlain to the Los Angeles Lakers. Soon after, Accorsi showed how smart he was when he got out of sportswriting. He joined the Colts in public relations, worked his way up the ranks in player personnel and became GM.
Accorsi was also the GM in Cleveland, where he drafted another fair quarterback, Bernie Kosar. And with the Giants, he brought in Kerry Collins, whose career was in trouble, for the season that took New York to the Super Bowl where it lost to the Ravens. Along the way, Accorsi was fortunate enough to have as a mentor the late George Young, a Baltimore native who was a splendid builder of football teams.
The Giants went to the playoffs four times after Accorsi took over for Young in New York, but it was beginning to appear the Manning-Rivers deal would be Accorsi's dubious legacy. So again, while most folks were talking about how the past four games have represented the blossoming of Eli Manning, I kept thinking about Accorsi.
It's always good to see one of your own do well.