Ernie Accorsi spoke to me Wednesday about arguably the greatest player acquisition of his career: Eli Manning. But the former Giants GM generally avoids interviews these days, preferring to let current team officials, coaches and players speak for themselves.
One interesting thing he mentioned that did not appear in my newspaper article on Manning: He blames himself for putting Eli in a difficult-to-live-up-to position given the theatrics that accompanied the Giants trading up for him in the 2004 draft.
“I feel bad because I put him in this situation,’’ Accorsi said. “That’s made it harder on him, but he’s been unflappable.’’
That’s an understatement. Manning has handled the New York media spotlight more smoothly and uneventfully than any star athlete this side of Derek Jeter. Part of it is his personality, part his pedigree as the son and younger brother of star quarterbacks.
“It’s not like he hired some p.r. firm to guide him into this,’’ said Accorsi, a former sportswriter. “He’s naturally that way.’’
Accorsi was sold on Manning during a Nov. 2, 2002, game for Mississippi against Auburn, in which the then junior led an inferior Ole Miss team on a late rally to a near upset.
“What I saw was kind of a capsule of what he’s doing when the game is on the line,’’ Accorsi said. “He gets the ball in the end zone. It seems like when things are stacked against him he’s at his best.’’
Accorsi never forgets the mantra instilled in him by his old friend the late Milt Davis, a scout and former Colt who played with Accorsi’s quarterback hero, Johnny Unitas:
You judge a quarterback on his ability to take a team down the field with a championship on the line and into the end zone.
Sean Payton, a former Giants coordinator who now coaches the Saints, remembered Accorsi using that line often. So as Manning prepared for what would be the game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLII, he went over to Accorsi, who was sitting near him at University of Phoenix Stadium, and repeated it back to him.
The fact Manning did the job that day illustrated to Accorsi the irrelevance of statistics in football, compared to the relevance of leading a championship-wining drive of the sorts engineered by the likes of Unitas, Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
“I abhor football statistics,’’ he said. “What really finished me off is the first year they came out with the passer ratings, whatever the hell they are, and I saw Milt Plum rated ahead of Unitas. That was it for me.’’
So when I asked Accorsi whether Manning is the best quarterback in Giants history, he cautioned against using statistics to make the call. Not that he actually was willing to make a call himself.
“It’s not fair to say that when you had people like Charlie Conerly and Phil Simms and Y.A. Tittle,’’ he said. “It’s not fair. Obviously I have a different feeling toward Eli than all of those guys because I drafted him, but I’m not going to say that. You have to wait until his career is over.”