Marty Hurney’s impact on a Carolina Panthers’ team that needs one more victory to become the franchise’s first Super Bowl winner is unmistakable. From coach Ron Rivera to quarterback Cam Newton to linebacker Luke Kuechly and more — much more — Hurney’s contributions have been incalculable.
But when the Panthers travel to California for next Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, Hurney will remain behind in Charlotte, where he has resumed his career as a member of the media after being fired by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
Hurney, a former sportswriter who eventually got into the NFL personnel business and worked his way up the ladder to general manager, was the scapegoat in 2012 after the Panthers got off to a 1-5 start. Richardson fired Hurney and eventually hired former Giants personnel executive Dave Gettleman as his replacement. But in much the same way that former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi left the foundation in place when Jerry Reese took over in 2007 and won the first of two Super Bowls, Hurney is the one who made the decisions that ultimately put the Panthers on the road to a championship.
But there is no bitterness in Hurney’s voice as he explains his emotions about watching the Panthers’ journey to Super Bowl 50. In fact, he is beaming with pride, even if he’s not along for the ride.
“I’m very happy for the team, because I know most of the people there,” said Hurney, who now owns and operates sports talk radio station ESPN 730 in Charlotte and hosts a daily three-hour show. “They’ve done a phenomenal job, and there are a lot of guys I like, Cam, Luke, so many others. We didn’t win when I was there, but I’m happy they’re going to the Super Bowl and I’m ecstatic for Jerry Richardson. Now the key is to win it.”
Hurney is particularly happy for Rivera.
“He was a guy who got it done in different places, in different systems,” Hurney said of Rivera, a former Bears linebacker and a defensive coordinator for the Bears and Chargers. “In Chicago and San Diego, the players respected him. He was ready for the opportunity. He’s got the right personality for the job.”
Like Accorsi, himself a former sportswriter with the Charlotte News, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer before switching to football operations, Hurney went from covering the NFL for the Washington Times to working under former Washington GM Bobby Beathard in San Diego and eventually landing the Panthers’ GM job in 2002. The team made a swift turnaround after the failed George Seifert era, and he and coach John Fox teamed up for a Super Bowl run in 2003, where they were beaten by the Patriots.
When Fox’s run ended after the 2011 season, Hurney began another major rebuild, setting the foundation for what would become another Super Bowl team, albeit without him. In addition to Rivera and Newton, Hurney drafted linebackers Kuechly and Thomas Davis, traded for Greg Olsen, who has become one of the most productive tight ends in the league, and drafted four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. Other key players Hurney brought to Carolina: cornerback Josh Norman, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2015 as one of the league’s top cover corners, running back Jonathan Stewart, defensive end Charles Johnson and fullback Mike Tolbert.
In all, nine of the Panthers’ 22 starters were brought to Carolina by the former GM. Hurney, however, is quick to deflect any praise.
“They’re the ones that got it done, Dave Gettleman and those guys in the building,” Hurney said. “I really like and respect Dave, and he’s done a phenomenal job the way he has retooled the offensive and defensive lines and a lot more. It’s the people in the building now that deserve the credit.”
Accorsi can certainly relate to Hurney’s situation, although Accorsi left the Giants on his own after retiring in 2006. A year later, the Giants won the Super Bowl, and Accorsi watched as the team he had carefully assembled reached the top. Like Hurney, it was Accorsi who brought in the coach (Tom Coughlin) and quarterback (Eli Manning) and other key players for the team that went on to the Super Bowl without him.
“It’s a funny feeling, but I never thought of it as a regret,” Accorsi said. “The fans don’t give a damn who the GM is and who gets the credit. They care about the Giants winning. That’s all I cared about. It’s not about me.”
But Accorsi did experience a sense of affirmation in the final moments of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants faced the unbeaten Patriots and Manning had the chance to win it on his final drive.
“I learned from my time with [former Colts defensive back and NFL scout] Milt Davis is that you evaluate a quarterback on his ability to go down the field with a championship on the line and get into the end zone,” Accorsi said. “I said to my son, who was sitting next to me at the game, that if [Manning] is what we thought he would be, he does it now.”
Manning soon made the signature play of the game, a desperation heave down the field to unsung wide receiver David Tyree, who made a leaping catch, pinning the ball to the side of his helmet while being tackled by safety Rodney Harrison. The Giants drove for the winning score, as Manning hit Plaxico Burress for the touchdown in a 21-17 win, one of the greatest Super Bowl upsets ever.
Accorsi flashed back to his final moments with the team the year before, when he told his players he was retiring.
“That  team went 8-8, won the last game and went to the playoffs, and I told the player, ‘Very few teams have been through what this team has been through and gotten to the playoffs,’ ” Accorsi said. “I told them, ‘There’s a championship in this room.’ Other people thought I was nuts, and I didn’t expect it to happen within 12 months, but I truly believed that.”
After the Super Bowl win, Accorsi said he felt “nothing but fulfillment and exhilaration.”
And in a twist of fate, Accorsi also helped the Panthers get to the Super Bowl. After being hired as a consultant to find a replacement for Hurney, Accorsi recommended Gettleman, the Giants’ highly respected pro personnel director.
“Gettleman was a great evaluator,” Accorsi said. “If you analyze our [unrestricted free-agent acquisitions], we hit a home run on every one. Plaxico Burress, Antonio Pierce, Shaun O’Hara, Kareem McKenzie, right on down the line, they were hits.”
Accorsi also praised Gettleman’s temperament — “Everyone loves him, he’s so affable” — although the former Giants GM is surprised Gettleman hasn’t changed some of his ways.
“The night he gets the job [in 2013], he calls and says he’s in the [hotel] bar, so I go down and meet him,” Accorsi said. “He’s wearing flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt, spitting tobacco into a cup. I told him, ‘Dave, people here right now don’t have a clue who the hell you are, but tomorrow at noon at your press conference, everybody’s going to know who you are. This act has got to stop.’ ”
Accorsi found out at the Panthers’ playoff win over the Seahawks two weeks ago whether Gettleman took his advice.
“I saw [former Panthers PR director] Charlie Dayton on the sidelines, and he told me, ‘Just so you know, the act has not stopped.’ ”
Now it’s Hurney’s turn to experience what Accorsi felt while watching his former team in the Super Bowl. Hurney will watch the team he helped shape with so many critically important moves, and hopes the Panthers beat the Broncos for Carolina’s first title.
“I gave it all I had for 11-plus years,” Hurney said. “It’d be a great feeling if they win it. I’ll be happy for so many people.”