Accorsi on flip side of draft trade winds

NFL: Ernie Accorsi's draft-day trade for Eli Manning is a far cry from his Colts days, when his 1983 bid to land John Elway failed.

May 01, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

John Elway and Ernie Accorsi are inextricably linked in NFL history because of what happened 21 years ago - the draft pick so stubbornly fought, the trade so capriciously made, the repercussions that lasted for so many years.

Elway was the Stanford quarterback who wanted no part of the Baltimore Colts in 1983. Accorsi was the Colts' general manager who took him anyway with the first overall pick in the college draft.

When Colts owner Bob Irsay surreptitiously traded Elway to the Denver Broncos a week after the draft, it set in motion a series of events that would ultimately haunt two cities - Baltimore and Cleveland.

History repeated itself last week when Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning stared down the San Diego Chargers with an Elway-esque threat and achieved a draft-day trade to the New York Giants.

Beneficiary? This time it was Accorsi, now the general manager of the Giants, who has come full circle in his pursuit of franchise quarterbacks.

Not that Accorsi was trying to balance any scales.

"I'm trying to get a quarterback to win the Super Bowl for the Giants," he said. "This isn't about me. Do you think 11 million people in New York care if I square my destiny?"

When destiny knocked 21 years ago, Accorsi stood up to Elway's threat to play baseball and drafted him, only to be undermined by Irsay's rash trade (the Colts got rookie guard Chris Hinton, backup quarterback Mark Herrmann, a future first-round pick that became guard Ron Solt and the visitor's share of an exhibition game in Denver).

Reverberations were immediate and long lasting. The Colts left Baltimore after the 1983 season, the Broncos beat the Cleveland Browns in the AFC championship game three times in four years in the decade, and quarterback Dan Marino wound up with the Miami Dolphins.

Had Accorsi been able to engineer a trade for Elway, he said this week, he would have taken Marino long before the Dolphins got him with the 27th pick.

Had Elway played here, Accorsi said, Baltimore still might have the Colts.

"I can't predict something like that," Accorsi said. "I just think what would've happened is, we would have sold a lot of season tickets; there'd have been a lot of excitement around a guy like that.

"As it turned out, if we'd drafted Marino, it might have happened, too. The excitement and aura that comes with somebody like that, you don't know. Maybe we'd have been able to build a [new] stadium."

Accorsi wanted a record deal for Elway before the draft. He asked for three first-round picks and two seconds. The Chargers had two firsts and acquired another from San Francisco, but wouldn't trade all three.

The Oakland Raiders, meanwhile, came closest to a trade. They needed only to complete a deal to gain the Chicago Bears' fifth pick in the draft and Elway would've been theirs.

"They, at one point had it ... and mysteriously, that was vetoed," Accorsi said, without elaborating.

The New England Patriots and Dolphins also made a run at the Colts, although Accorsi refused to trade Elway to a team within his own division.

In Denver, Elway's legacy included those three AFC title-game victories over the Browns.

"He haunted us to death in Cleveland," said Art Modell, the former Browns owner. "Year after year, he would knock us out of the race. He was probably the best two-minute quarterback I've ever known."

Absent the Elway factor, the Browns might've won a Super Bowl or two and perhaps never left Cleveland in 1996 for Baltimore.

"John Elway kept Art Modell from three Super Bowls," said Kevin Byrne, the team's long-time executive. "I think we would have played better in two of those Super Bowls than the Broncos did, and Art might be in the Hall of Fame now.

"Had we won, the business leaders in Cleveland might have been more sympathetic toward Art about giving him a new stadium. ... Maybe we wouldn't be here."

Elway's rejection of Baltimore had to do with a feud between his father, Jack, and Colts coach Frank Kush. The senior Elway and Kush had coached and recruited against each other at the college level. Curiously, that fact never surfaced until years later.

Now, 21 years later, Accorsi has positioned the Giants for the long haul, hiring a new coach, Tom Coughlin, and installing a franchise quarterback in Manning.

"The irony of it is, [Manning] will have a lot longer career than I have left," said Accorsi, 62. "I won't be here when he's having his best years. But I feel good about the coach and the quarterback."

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