Accorsi Certainly The Retiring Type

Ernie Accorsi was not in New Jersey, where he'd served the Giants the last nine years as general manager. He had not pushed aside a newspaper to make room for a sandwich on his desk. He was not with an agent or a scout, bemoaning a contract demand or debating the worthiness of a free agent.

Accorsi was savoring a late and leisurely lunch at a café in Pitigliano, Italy, the proud patriarch of three generations of his family. He had just stood at the doorstep of his mother's birthplace, his hand on the shoulder of his nine-year-old granddaughter, Alexandra. His three children were with him.

The smell of simmering white beans ladled on fresh crostini and roasted potatoes with rosemary brought him ease. No surprise there; traditional Italian cooking has always seduced him.

But this, oh, this was different.

"There I was, a block from where my mother was born," the 65-year-old Accorsi said. "There was a little square near the church where she was baptized and married. I was sitting there with my family and thinking, ‘If I didn't know any better, I would have thought she [his mother] was cooking. Roasted potatoes with rosemary? You can't find that in a restaurant.' "

So this must be what retirement feels like?

"I never had a worry about retirement," Accorsi said. "There's a great line: The cure for boredom is curiosity, but there is no cure for curiosity. I love to explore."

"Yeah, he loves to travel," said Beano Cook, the college football pundit and Accorsi's dear friend for nearly 40 years. "So since he's Italian, I would have to think he must be related to Columbus."

After 36 years in the NFL as a public relations man, league official and general manager of three teams (the Colts, Browns and Giants), Accorsi finally allowed himself to let go in January.

On Jan. 19 – a day he chose to honor his friend, the late Colts quarterback John Unitas (who wore the number) – he lingered for as long as he could in his office.

He had used his final season as GM to relish each moment, good and bad, knowing it would the last time he'd experience them. He'd stayed a year longer than anticipated to help the team bridge the deaths of owners Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch – men he'd worshiped – within a month of each other in 2005.

"Ernie had more of a sense about the history and tradition [of the NFL] than any person I've ever encountered in the game," said John Mara, the Giants president and chief executive officer. "He has tremendous respect and perspective about it."

Responsibility to ownership is primarily why he stayed for the 2006 season. But with his hand-picked replacement, Jerry Reese, in place, the time seemed right to move forward.

"We asked him to remain after last year, too," Mara said. "We wanted Ernie to stay with us for as long as he wanted to. But he felt it was time, that the games had just become too much for him. There was just too much agony on Sunday. Winning was great, but the losing just hurt him too much. He told us he wanted to try and enjoy himself."

By the end of his career, Accorsi, an inherent worrywart, had begun to fight stress by watching homes games from the tunnel behind the end zone leading to the Giants locker room. The solitude allowed him to vent, wander, pout – things he couldn't do sitting in plain sight of the media in the press box.

"For most of us, Ernie going to the tunnel was the perfect excuse not to watch games with him," joked Pat Hanlon, the Giants' vice president of communications. "I used to watch home games in Ernie's private box with Jerry Reese and Kevin Abrams [the team's assistant GM]. But I had to get out of there when things weren't going well. Ernie would convince me by halftime that my only option should be to jump off the top of the press box."

So just 12 days after a 39-yard field goal by the Eagles' David Akers ended the 2006 Giants season in the NFC Wild Card round in Philadelphia, Accorsi took one last spin around his office.

"I'd been telling people I was fine – and I was," he said. "But there were two items I'd kept in the office until the very last minute. There was a picture of George Halas and myself from 1976 and another of Mr. Mara [Wellington] talking to me in the locker room after a game.

"I finally took them down and put them into a little box I'd brought with me. I took my box, walked down the steps and drove home."

Long before Accorsi became an NFL executive, he was a sportswriter who worked for the Charlotte News, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer. He had graduated from Wake Forest in 1963 intent on spending his life chronicling sports, a passion reinforced by his friendship with Brian Piccolo, the late Bears running back whose death from cancer in 1970 was depicted in the famous movie "Brian's Song."

"I lived in the suite right next door to him in Davis Hall [at Wake Forest]," Accorsi said. "Brian and I used to hitchhike to mass together and eventually the same family would pick us up every Sunday because of who he was [the star of the football team]. I was just tagging along. There were exactly three Italian-American students at Wake at the time – Brian, me and a guy from New Jersey named Jimmy Spinelli, who loved Dave Brubeck jazz. I'd never heard of Brubeck because he wasn't playing second base for the Cubs."

Eventually, Accorsi gave up sportswriting to work in the publicity offices of St. Joseph's University and Penn State before joining the Colts as their PR director in 1970.

But despite his long career in football, he never allowed his love for baseball to be suppressed. Accorsi, whose new email address features 19 [for Unitas] and 7 [for Mantle], idolized Mickey Mantle to the point of limping around playgrounds when he was a kid when Mantle was sidelined with shin splints. He also is a member of The Society of American Baseball Research.

"I spent February and March in Florida. I saw 20 [spring training] games in 20 days," Accorsi said. "But what I really love so much about this [retirement] is that I never really got a chance during the baseball season to just grab a cup of coffee and read the box scores. I always had a long commute to the office and once I got there things were already happening.

"Now, I get up with my Starbucks and spend as much time as I want with them [the box scores] and it's just joy."

"The only weakness Ernie has is his love for baseball," Cook said. "He's a very bright man, you know. Why he gets excited over box scores greatly confuses me. He has a major problem, I think."

By the time summer ends, Accorsi will have seen baseball games in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis. He will have visited breweries and national parks. He will have been to Ft. Wayne, Ind., to visit the arena where the Pistons once played.

He will have taken the American Oriental Express luxury train from California to Chicago and seen Notre Dame's home football opener.

Mostly impressively, Accorsi will have also been to Commerce, Okla., where Mantle's childhood friend, Leonard Brown, will personally show him the garage where The Mick played catch with his father and the high school field in Baxter Creek where Yankee scout Tom Greenwade discovered him in 1948.

And he will do this mostly alone, by car, listing to baseball games, Sinatra and 50s music.

"Being an only child, I loved my own company," he said.

It all came full circle for Accorsi when the Giants reported to training camp in late July with myriad concerns relating to the longevity of Tom Coughlin and an offense that will hinge on Accorsi's chosen quarterback, Eli Manning, now that Tiki Barber has retired.

"Ernie's entire legacy will revolve around Eli Manning. We all know that," Cook said. "But he learned when was with the Colts, especially watching Bert Jones [the Colts QB] beat all those Patriots teams with Hall of Fame players but no quarterback, how important great quarterbacks are to teams."

"That was the reason we made the Manning deal [in 2004]," Mara said. "Ernie felt Kerry Collins could only take us so far and if we needed to make it to the next level we needed to be bold. I realize the move has come under some criticism and only time will tell if it was the right one. But his experience taught him that successful franchises usually have great players at key positions and it's something he saw in Eli and pushed hard for us to do."

Accorsi understands his historic attachment to Manning and remains convinced of his ability. But he hasn't decided yet from which perch he will watch the 2007 season.

"Whether I go to games will probably be the biggest decision I have to face," he said. "I'll be emotionally involved if I do. I'll be just as nervous. I just don't know how I'll feel.

"And if I go, I might take the bus to the stadium [from Manhattan]. The traffic is tough around there. Hey, Y.A. Tittle does when he's in town. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me."

Accorsi said he has turned down many opportunities to work in the media this season because he fears the commitment.

"I don't want to pass up anything," he said. "[A job] defeats the purpose."

And he won't be a busybody.

"Clearing the playing field for your successor is the key," he said. "General [Norman] Schwarzkopf had a great line – retired commanders should never pass up an opportunity to keep their mouth shut. I am there for [the Giants] and they know it."

But it's more likely you'll find him in the left lane of life now – savoring sights and smells along the way.

"Once the fun is gone – and you reach the age and can afford to do it – what's there not to like about retirement?" Cook asked.

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