Ernie Accorsi grew up in Hershey, Pa., when it was the site of the Eagles summer training camp. That was half a century ago and Accorsi still remembers.
“I went to practice almost every day,” Accorsi said. “I couldn’t believe I was standing next to guys like Chuck Bednarik, Pete Pihos and Bucko Kilroy. I had their football cards and there they were right in front of me. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I loved being around it.”
Accorsi has been around the game, in one form or another, for most of his life. In January, he retired after nine years as general manager of the New York Giants. Prior to that, he was general manager of the Baltimore Colts (1982-83) and Cleveland Browns (1985-92). He helped to build eight playoff teams, including six division champions, and he was named NFL Executive of the Year in 2005.
“There could not be a more fitting winner of the Reds Bagnell Award,” said Ron Jaworski, president of the Maxwell Football Club. “Ernie has given so much to the game and contributed on so many different levels, he is everything we had in mind when we created the award.”
The Bagnell Award was created to honor someone who has made a significant contribution to the game of football. Over the years, it has been presented to notables including former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle (1989), NFL Films founder Ed Sabol (1994), Hall of Fame coaches Joe Paterno (1998) and Don Shula (2000) and Accorsi’s name surely belongs on that list.
A Wake Forest graduate, Accorsi started out as a sportswriter with the Charlotte News in 1963. One of his first stories was an interview with Archie “Moonlight” Graham, who played for a championship minor league baseball team in Charlotte in 1902. Graham became better known years later in the movie “Field of Dreams” when his character was played so memorably by Burt Lancaster.
Accorsi later worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he covered college football and pro basketball. He broke one of the biggest stories in Philadelphia sports history: the 76ers trade of Wilt Chamberlain to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Inquirer copyrighted the story and ran it across the top of Page One. Accorsi had it framed and hanging in his office at Giants Stadium.
“The managing editor said, ‘We’re leading the paper with this story,’” Accorsi recalled. “If you’re wrong, you’ll be covering junior golf next week.’ Thank God, I was right.”
Accorsi made the leap from the press box to the front office when he accepted the position of public relations director with the Colts in 1970. In his first season, he saw the Colts win Super Bowl V. Later, Accorsi moved into the player personnel department and finally worked his way up to general manager in Baltimore.
When he went to Cleveland, Accorsi drafted quarterback Bernie Kosar and put together a team that went to back-to-back AFC Championship games. As general manager of the Giants, Accorsi signed quarterback Kerry Collins when everyone else had written him off and Collins led New York to the NFC title and a berth in the Super Bowl.
Accorsi originally planned to retire following the 2005 season, but when the co-owners Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch passed away within weeks of each other, Accorsi agreed to stay on for another year to insure the stability of the franchise. But at age 64, he vowed the 2006 season would be his last and so it was. He stepped down one week after the Giants lost to the Eagles in the NFC Wild Card round.
All you need to know about Accorsi is that throughout his career he answered every piece of mail from fans with a personal, hand-written letter. “If it mattered enough to them to take the time to write, then I would take the time to answer them,” he said.
Steve Serby of the New York Post once asked Accorsi what he would like his legacy to be. Accorsi replied: “That I was honest. I gave this job an honest day’s work and I gave it everything I had.”
Former General Manager, New York Giants