Ernie Accorsi knows, and feels, Cleveland's pain

November 10, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

Of course he has mixed feelings. Ernie Accorsi tried to help Baltimore get an NFL expansion team. He also was general manager of the Colts -- and then the Browns.

And that's not the half of it.

Accorsi, 54, grew up a Colts fan in Hershey, Pa. His roommate in the Army was from Cleveland -- an "obnoxious" Browns fan, as he recalls.

This was in 1964, the year the Browns beat the Colts in the NFL title game. Two decades later, Accorsi went to work for the Browns, the memory still gnawing at him.

"I remember the first function I went to at the Sheraton-Cleveland," Accorsi said yesterday. "It was the 20th anniversary of the '64 title.

"They started introducing these guys, and they're coming down the steps. I was thinking, 'I hate these guys.' That '64 game stuck in your craw."

Browns 27, Colts 0.

It was but one of several heartbreak games Accorsi has experienced.

He was the Browns GM for The Drive and The Fumble.

If only he was their GM now, for The Move.

Accorsi worked in Baltimore as a sportswriter for The Evening Sun, then served two stints with the Colts, first as public relations director, then as assistant GM and GM.

It would seem only natural for him to reunite with Art Modell in Baltimore, but that would be too perfect an ending.

Accorsi left the Browns in 1992, the loser of a power struggle with coach Bill Belichick and player personnel director Mike Lombardi.

He refuses to criticize Modell -- "I just felt my time was up" -- but today, he's the assistant GM for the New York Giants, and there's no turning back.

"This is going to sound like a total rationalization, but it's the truth," Accorsi said. "I want to live in Baltimore in the end. And I don't think it's smart to work where you're going to retire, unless you turn out to be an incredible success.

"Once you fail in a city, I would think it would be tough to stay. During expansion, I wanted them to get a team. The accomplishment in having a role in getting a team would have been enough."

The expansion effort failed, but Accorsi helped the Maryland Stadium Authority sell out 108 luxury boxes and 7,500 club seats within eight weeks. Some of the money is still on deposit, and it no doubt helped convince Modell of the city's football passion.

A passion that runs just as deep in Cleveland, where Accorsi worked for the Browns from 1984 to '92.

"The baseball team was nonexistent. The basketball team played in a cornfield in Richfield, Ohio," Accorsi said. "Half the city couldn't even get there.

"We were the lifeblood of the town. The city had nothing else to identify with. We'd lose a game, and I wouldn't even listen to the talk shows. The fans would be so angry. Art used to say, 'Better than apathy. Better than apathy.' "

The Browns played in three AFC championship games during his tenure, in 1986, '87 and '89. But they never made it to the Super Bowl.

Accorsi's fondest memory?

"The Jets playoff game in double overtime that got us into our first championship game," he said, recalling a 23-20 victory. "We were 10 down with about six minutes to go. I think it was the greatest moment of my career. Not only was it such a great comeback, we drove down and missed a field goal in overtime.

"There was that great Tom Davis call -- Tommy Davis, from Baltimore. It doesn't go down in history like the guy who missed the Kentucky Derby, but he said the kick was good, when it wasn't. [Mark] Moseley got another shot, and we won it.

"I'll never forget being in a restaurant that night with Art. Ozzie Newsome walked in, and the restaurant got up and gave him a standing ovation. We had a lot of incredible games there. But that was the most emotional."

His biggest disappointment?

"The Drive," Accorsi said. "That was worse than The Fumble. The Fumble game, we were on the road. We were down 28-10, and tied it at 31. It was such a miracle comeback. But when we scored the touchdown and the ball was called dead, you could sense the crowd knew we weren't going to the Super Bowl.

"But there was a play in The Drive. We had just gotten to [John] Elway. It was third-and-18. Elway told [former Cleveland coach Marty] Schottenheimer at the Pro Bowl. I've since asked Dan Reeves about it. They weren't trying to get 18. They were trying to get 9, then 9 more.

"The ball hit the tight end who was in motion in the rear end. It could have deflected 1,000 different ways. It deflected into Elway's left hand. He told Marty because of that he never looked downfield. He got up, saw an orange shirt and threw. It was 18 yards, and about a foot. That killed us.

"The feeling in that stadium when they got that first down is one I'll never forget. It was the most hollow feeling I can remember. That got them down to the 30. And in overtime, we were done."

The next day, Accorsi drove his girlfriend to the Cleveland airport.

"It was like a funeral," he said. "It was, like, silent. No one would even talk. They took that thing so personal, it was unbelievable."

Which bring us to The Move.

Something even more personal, even more unbelievable.

"I was real happy that Baltimore got a team," Accorsi said. "But I have to tell you, I feel bad for the Cleveland fans. I bonded with them. You have to when you go through what we went through together. Those were great days."

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