Hershey, Pa. – Ernie Accorsi’s friendships would make up a very nice American sports hall of fame.
Eli Manning? Accorsi drafted him as the New York Giants quarterback.
Bill Belichick? Accorsi, general manager of the Cleveland Browns from 1985 to 1992, signed him as the team’s head coach.
Tom Coughlin? Signed him for the Giants.
Johnny Unitas? They were such close friends that when the honored quarterback left the Baltimore Colts, he gave Accorsi his last game jersey.
Accorsi, who loves golf as much as he does football, will be on the sidelines of the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship Sept. 8-13, which just happens to be at the course he loves most, the West Course of Hershey Country Club.
“I know this sounds ridiculous, but to me, the West Course is Augusta National,” Accorsi said from his office in New York City, where he is a consultant for the National Football League.
After a long, colorful career with sports media and the NFL, Accorsi is retired. Sort of. He still reports for work as a consultant at the NFL offices, where his background makes him feel right at home.
From 1998 to 2007, he was general manager of the Giants. In 2004, he made one of his most splendid moves, trading draft picks and quarterback Philip Rivers to get Manning, the No. 1 overall draft choice. Manning was a sure bet as a franchise player and Giant fans shouted their approval at the draft. After Manning led the team to playoff appearances in 2005 and 2006, the young quarterback led them to victory over the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Now, as the Senior Women’s Amateur approaches, with stroke-play qualifying beginning Sept. 8, Accorsi is turning his attention to another game. The only thing he regrets is that after retiring from his vaunted NFL position, he isn’t playing more golf.
Accorsi literally grew up at Hershey Country Club. As a youngster he caddied and played there. As an adult, he joined the club. He not only loves the place, he knows every blade of grass.
“That course means everything to me,” he said. “It’s such a historic place. You play through town a little bit. That sixth hole borders Chocolate Avenue. You have the factories. You see the smokestacks. You hear the trains go by and you smell the chocolate. It’s always a special course for me.”
Part of the history of Hershey Country Club is that Ben Hogan, nearing the peak of his vaunted game, was the club’s head professional for a time. Hogan left the position in 1951, but not before Accorsi’s father took his son to see the famed player.
“We actually bought our first TV in 1950 to watch the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion,” Accorsi said. “That was the first Open that was televised. I didn’t know Hogan. As a kid, I thought he was some guy who lived on Caracas Avenue, but then I knew significantly, from the 1950s on, who he was.”
|ERNIE ACCORSI FILE
Born: Oct. 29, 1941 (Hershey, Pa.)
College: Wake Forest (B.A. journalism, 1963)
Reporter: Charlotte News; Baltimore Sun; Philadelphia Inquirer
Athletic Departments: St. Joseph's (Pa.); Penn State
NFL P.R. Director: Baltimore Colts (1970-74)
Commissioner Pete Rozelle's Office: 1975
Assistant NFL G.M.: Baltimore Colts (1976-83)
NFL G.M.: Baltimore Colts (1983-85)
Executive V.P./G.M.: Cleveland Browns (1985-92)
Assistant G.M.: N.Y. Giants (1994-97)
General Manager: N.Y. Giants (1998-2007)
Accorsi remembers seeing Hogan at Hershey, remembers the man and the uniquely styled golf cap that he wore. He’ll never forget it. Neither will he forget the 1965 Masters or the PGA Championship that same year. Accorsi got his start in sports as a sportswriter and covered the events for The Baltimore Sun. Both times, he followed Hogan.
Hershey Country Club has one little-known spot that was a Hogan favorite. “If you walked out of the front door of this little one-room schoolhouse, which they preserved, and looked down to the left, there’s a huge canyon. Hogan used to practice for The Masters in that canyon, because it would protect him from the wind.”
One great day at Hershey Country Club belongs uniquely to Accorsi: It was 1960, He was 18 years old and locked in a quarterfinal four-ball match in the Harrisburg District Championship. While Ernie and his partner had once been five holes up with five to play, they had squandered five holes coming in.
“We choked like dogs,” he remembers.
On the first extra hole, – which is today the sixth hole – his partner knocked his tee shot into a creek.
“I pulled an iron out,” Accorsi recalled. “Almost shanked it. It landed next to that bridge on the right. These two guys, our opponents, hit nice draws and they were flip wedges from the green. I had 3-iron to the green. I holed it for an eagle and we won. The bridge is still there. I always go out of my way to drive by that bridge.”
While Accorsi treasures his memories of the club’s earlier days, the NFL mastermind is fascinated that this place he favors will host one of the world’s finest senior women amateur competitions. He plans on being a spectator once the championship is underway.
“Those players, I could learn more from them than I could ever possibly learn from the current players on The PGA Tour,” he said.
And what about the next Super Bowl? Giants, Accorsi says. “They have an overwhelming pass rush.”
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.