EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - "There's got to be a story behind that tie," someone told Ernie Accorsi Sunday before the New York Giants strangled the Minnesota Vikings, on their way to the Super Bowl.
It wasn't the loud ensemble of color - green, red, a touch of navy blue - as much as it was the little golfers set vertically, nearly down to the belt.
"Not the most beautiful tie," Accorsi said, and, granted, not what a football vice president and general manager customarily wears to a conference title game. He allowed sentiment into his sartorial game plan, Accorsi explained, because it's not how you look getting to the Super Bowl; it's just about getting there.
His Cleveland teams had three times been turned away at the conference title door before he joined and eventually succeeded George Young in New Jersey. And on the day the Giants officially passed from Young to Accorsi three years ago, John Steadman drove up from Baltimore, bearing three small boxes for three old friends.
"He had a tie for me, for George and for Harry Hulmes," Accorsi said, referring to Young's longtime sidekick who was also giving up the day job. "John always wore a tie, unless he was playing golf."
In Baltimore, where Young cut his football teeth and Accorsi debuted as a sportswriter before moving into the Colts' front office, John Steadman usually had the last word on everyone, in his column in the old News American and later The Sun. Before they ever crossed paths at a golf outing and Steadman told Accorsi to go ahead and interview Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis first because "you're the beat guy," Accorsi regarded him as a great man, the city's "moral conscience."
Steadman loved his column but he really loved football. So much so, Accorsi recalled, that on the day the Orioles beat the Dodgers to ice the 1966 World Series, Steadman went out of town, to Chicago. Accorsi, laughing, said: "I remember [Orioles official] Frank Cashen saying to me, `He's my best friend and he went to the Colts-Bears game!' "
Once upon a less contentious time, it was manageable to be friend and critic, at least for Steadman. He didn't like it when the Colts added preseason games to the season-ticket package and he hated it when Bob Irsay sneaked a revered franchise off to the wide, flat avenues of Indianapolis.
Accorsi was the Colts' last general manager in 1983, and then went to the Browns, who would later, strangely enough, become the Ravens. Steadman never completely warmed to Art Modell's heisted team - how could he, he told Accorsi, after what he wrote when the Colts ran off? Nonetheless, to New Year's Day, the day he died of cancer at 73, Steadman was on the job, telling Accorsi in their last telephone conversation that these Ravens "might have something going" and wondering: "How good is your team?"
Accorsi didn't know, certainly not when he and Young drove to the funeral a few days before the Philadelphia playoff game. In the church, they played the old Baltimore Colts fight song and it took Accorsi an hour to get through a line of Colts, the Colts of Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore. Accorsi couldn't say if Unitas was speaking for them all when he referred to the Ravens, surprisingly enough, as "we."
So here, now, comes an irresistible angle for which Steadman would surely have bargained one more day in the press box. Another football showdown between Baltimore and New York, like the Giants-Colts classic of 1958, or the Jets-Colts Namath Bowl in 1969. They say the former was pro football's breakout game, though the latter was the first Super Bowl binding this event with the American sporting psyche.
Strange times and ties, Accorsi was thinking Monday in his office, rifling through the years and the last couple of weeks. Sad as the occasion was, it was good to spend hours in the car with Young, who called him Saturday night to wish him luck and offer advice.
"Just go sit in the box because there's nothing else you can do now," he said.
Accorsi watched the massacre unfold, not wanting to jinx the Giants, not wanting to move, but finally going down to the field with 12 minutes and change left, his team winning in a magnificent romp.
He took in the last minutes with his assistant, Rick Donohue, and together they looked around the raucous stadium and then Accorsi happened to glance at his tie.
It didn't, by now, look half bad, this keepsake from a special friend in what is now the enemy town.
"I'll wear it once more," he decided. "In Tampa."