It's odd that two people who really didn't know one another could be so intimately connected through fate and circumstance.
John Elway was drafted by Baltimore in 1983 by then-Colts general manager Ernie Accorsi but instead was traded when the player refused to be coached by taskmaster Frank Kush, eventually playing every down of a Hall of Fame career with the Denver Broncos.
Part of the resume that helped Elway secure his bust in Canton included the infamous drive against Cleveland in the 1986 AFC Championship Game. The Browns' general manager that day: you guessed it, Accorsi.
Still, the two knew each other only peripherally until recently. Accorsi shook Elway's hands at the East-West Shrine Game all those years ago, but that was about the extent of it.
Yet, when Elway was hired in January as Denver's executive vice president of football operations he turned to the man he'd once tortured as a player and Accorsi become one of the ex-quarterback's greatest confidants during his first weeks on the job.
"We seemed to hit it off right away," Accorsi said. "And we covered a lot of territory for speaking in a narrow time frame."
The two were brought together by Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis, who had previously worked with Accorsi in the league office.
"When John talked to me, he laughed and said, 'Are you aware of our history?'" said Accorsi, who retired as an executive four years ago following a 37-career that began as a public relations director with the Colts and morphed into front-office positions with Baltimore (1982-83), Cleveland (1985-92) and the New York Giants (1994-07).
"And I told Joe I don't have anything against John for not coming to Baltimore," Accorsi noted further, adding jokingly, "I do have something against him for 'The Drive,' I'll tell you that."
Accorsi's newfound bond with Elway didn't include his providing insight into the state of the current Broncos since he'd had little exposure to the franchise in recent seasons. But through myriad e-mails and several lengthy phone calls he and Elway discussed the philosophy of building an organization, potential coaching candidates, the interview process, and tips that could prove helpful in meeting deadlines and staying within ever-changing league operational rules.
"He was a great reference to have," Elway said.
That held particularly true given Accorsi's history with John Fox, who once came within a hair's breadth of the Giants' head-coaching job. Jim Fassel worked out contract parameters after a Super Bowl appearance in 2000 in New York or else Fox was the coach-in-waiting. Accorsi discussed other candidates with Elway, too, but was able to provide great insight into Fox's demeanor, coaching philosophy and expertise having worked side-by-side with him in New York for five years (1997-2001).
"I thought he was a head coaching candidate right from the start," Accorsi said of Fox. "He's got it all. He's very smart. He knows his craft. He's got a charisma about him. And he's a natural leader."
At the same time, Accorsi, through that frequent contact with Elway, was able to gauge the latter's preparedness for his new job, the type of position that Elway had previously held only within the confines of the Arena League with the Colorado Crush.
"I was really impressed with his grasp," Accorsi said. "I've been around players that did have a feel for what went on upstairs and some that didn't. ... John was one of those guys where all of the time he was playing he noticed what was going on around him. And he just had a great sense of things."
Accorsi compared Elway's path to one he'd previously seen taken by another Hall of Fame player, Ozzie Newsome, in Cleveland. Following Newsome's retirement in 1990, he was headed for a position with the Browns' community relations department. But Accorsi knew the tremendous instincts Newsome had for personnel. Every summer he'd ask Newsome his analysis of the team's draft picks and new additions to the squad. The depth and breadth of his analysis was striking. Accorsi convinced then-Browns owner Art Modell to add Newsome add to the player evaluation staff instead.
Newsome continues to be one of the top NFL general managers, building a perennial power in Baltimore with the Ravens.
"John reminded me a lot of Ozzie in that it didn't look like there was any apprenticeship needed," Accorsi said. "John got his when he was playing. He was just very aware. He knew what works for an organization. A lot of players don't. And I could tell right away through our conversations."
Accorsi added that the instincts or "feel" Elway demonstrated was borne during the player's career, just like it had been with Newsome. Elway - perhaps unbeknownst to him then -- was practicing to eventually be in management by paying attention to the bigger picture through a 16-year playing career.
"It wasn't just the instincts. He learned," Accorsi explained. "He observed and asked questions along the way, whether to (team owner) Pat (Bowlen) or (former Broncos general manager) John Beake or whomever he talked to and was curious about it. Because he had a knowledge about it."
Beake was another veteran football lifer Elway leaned upon over the last couple months while re-establishing league connections.
But that was a relationship built on a mutual bond with the Broncos. Accorsi was a more out-of-the-box choice, given their history.
"It is interesting," Accorsi acknowledged.
But the two had an easy rapport from the start. Elway's public pronouncement that "he knows what he doesn't know," also voiced privately, impressed Accorsi and leads the longtime league executive to believe the one who once got away in 1983 will succeed in his new endeavor in 2011.
"When somebody says that, you know they're trying to learn," Accorsi said. "I don't have all the answers (either). I just have experience in the league. But John doesn't underestimate the job. He knows he has to learn the intricate parts of it. That's why I think he'll be successful. There's no question in my mind."
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