TAMPA, Fla. -- Even with the New York Giants ahead 34-0 at halftime of the NFC championship game, Ernie Accorsi had no intention of leaving his private box at Giants Stadium.
No way was the general manager going down to the field early to celebrate. Even with a 41-point margin late in the third quarter, the architect of the Giants' amazing run to the Super Bowl stayed in his seat.
"I'm a worrier," the 59-year-old NFL executive said.
Accorsi is much more. He was a sports writer, public relations director, an assistant to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, a general manager and a baseball executive before joining the Giants as an assistant to general manager George Young in 1994. He got the top job after the 1998 season.
"In my mind he is the NFL executive of the year," Giants owner Wellington Mara said.
Accorsi has made one brilliant move after another in transforming the Giants from an also-ran the past two seasons to a team within one victory of its third Super Bowl championship.
He rebuilt the offensive line this season, signing center Dusty Zeigler, guard Glenn Parker and tackle Lomas Brown as free agents. Adding Mike Barrow as a free agent solidified the middle linebacker position.
The biggest and most risky move came the year before, when Accorsi signed Kerry Collins to a $16 million contract despite the quarterback's problems, which included alcoholism.
"Ernie is not a knee-jerk type person," director of player personnel Marv Sunderland said. "He is thorough. 'Let's look it over. Let's make the decision.' It has to come from a conviction."
Collins was a perfect example. Accorsi and executive vice president John Mara wanted to sign Collins immediately after he was waived by the Carolina Panthers midway through the 1998 season.
Patience prevailed. They wanted Dr. Joel Goldberg, the team psychologist, to interview Collins. There was homework to be done.
Rozelle taught Accorsi that.
The former commissioner would agonize over decisions, Accorsi said.
"'Ernie, sometimes they solve themselves,"' Accorsi recalled Rozelle saying. "There is no sense putting an artificial decision in there and altering the whole course of the sequence. I realize you have to do your homework, but trust your instincts because they are compilations of all your work and life experience."
In Collins' case, Accorsi said reports the Giants got from friends and former coaches, including Penn State's Joe Paterno, were excellent.
"All you had to do was turn the paper and study the history," Accorsi said.
Accorsi is a big history buff. He can rattle off sports trivia with the best of them. Some of it, he'd rather forget. Like the 1986 and 1987 seasons with the Cleveland Browns, who were owned by current Ravens owner Art Modell.
Accorsi was executive vice president of football operations and Marty Schottenheimer was the coach. They endured two famous AFC title game losses to the Denver Broncos on "The Drive" and "The Fumble."
"I don't like to talk about it, but it keeps coming up," Accorsi said. "It won't go away. There is always a reason for someone to write the thing."
Accorsi can recall almost all 15 plays on the 98-yard drive in 1986 that allowed the Broncos to tie the game on a 5-yard touchdown pass from John Elway to Mark Jackson. Denver eventually won in overtime on a field goal.
"The television people kept coming into our box to try to get us to go downstairs," Accorsi said. "It was different back then, they made the trophy presentation right away."
Accorsi stayed in his seat, and eventually realized the football gods weren't with the Browns when Elway converted a third-and-20 play after picking up a ball that came loose when the snap hit a tight end in motion.
"We restrained each other from jumping off the upper deck," Modell said.
After the game, Accorsi, Modell and Schottenheimer sat in an office together, devastated.
An only son, Accorsi suddenly remembered that his mother, who was 83 at the time, had watched the game at home in Pennsylvania.
"She was alone and I was really concerned," Accorsi said. "So I ran to my office and called her.
'"Mom, are you all right?" Accorsi recalled asking her when she answered.
After telling him she was fine, she offered him a piece of advice.
"Son, you have to do something about that coach."
He walked back to the office and told Schottenheimer he had already gotten a complaint about him.
Asked from whom, Accorsi replied: "My mom!"
"The Fumble" came the following year and Schottenheimer was gone after the 1988 season. A rout in the AFC championship game in the 1989 season - by Denver again - prevented Accorsi from getting to the Super Bowl.
The losing streak finally ended two weeks ago, with Accorsi on the field at Giants Stadium in tears.
"I feel great responsibility in this job," Accorsi said just before the Super Bowl. "This is a fabled, great franchise. This city has the Yankees. You have a lot of people depending on you.
"I felt like I wasn't getting the job done for these people. They are such great fans. I get so many letters and these people are deeply passionate. That has given me the most satisfaction, that I can look them in the eye now."
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