The Road Not Taken?

January 21, 2008 |

Moments after Fox Sports’ Joe Buck exclaimed, “and the Giants are going to the Super Bowl,” I started to feel resentment over the fact that the Giants were returning to the Big Game sooner than the Ravens. It doesn’t seem that long ago that our Ravens were embarrassing the G-Men in Tampa in January of 2001, yet New York has somehow re-tooled its team faster than Baltimore.
 
With the Giants returning to the Super Bowl with a different coach and a different quarterback than they had in 2000, it’s easy to heap praise on former Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi (who retired last January) for pushing all the right buttons. But a closer look shows that Accorsi and Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome tried to rebuild their teams in very similar fashions.
 
In 2003 the Ravens were in need of a franchise quarterback, and traded up in the first round of the draft to pick Kyle Boller. A year later, the Giants also negotiated a draft-day deal which brought them Eli Manning. Though Boller hasn’t panned out in Baltimore and Manning will be playing in the Super Bowl in two weeks, the fact remains that both G.M.’s basically did the same thing – they identified a young arm that they thought could lead their teams for years to come and did what was necessary to add that guy to their respective rosters. Accorsi hit, Ozzie missed, and the rest is history. And that’s the way it goes in the brutal world of personnel decisions. (By the way, ESPN.com’s Len Pasquarelli gave the Ravens an A-plus for their ’03 draft, lauding Newsome’s draft-day dealing to acquire both Boller and Terrell Suggs in the first round. Goes to show that Ozzie wasn’t the only one who missed the mark that day.)
 
The other major component that the Giants have added to their offense since their 2000 Super Bowl run is Plaxico Burress, with whom Ravens fans are well familiar from his days in Pittsburgh. (Remember when he was Enemy No. 1 for his battles with Chris McAlister, before Hines Ward assumed that role?) Accorsi saw the NFL’s changing dynamic to a pass-friendly league and knew the Giants needed a big, strong, play-making receiver, even if he came with some baggage. So in 2005, he targeted Burress in free agency, taking a gamble on a player the New York Times wrote at the time was “seen as a 6-foot-5 trade-off between ability and distraction, potential and trouble.”
 
Hmmm…can you think of any other receivers who fit that description? Maybe Terrell Owens, who the Ravens tried to acquire in 2004? Obviously, the Ravens also clearly saw the need for a game-changing receiver and thought they had landed one. While I won’t re-visit the debacle that prevented Owens from joining the Ravens (I still wonder: has Dick Cass yet to be involved in anything that could be considered a “win” for the Ravens organization?), it’s clear to see that Newsome basically attempted to improve the Ravens very similarly to the way Accorsi rebuilt the Giants after the 2000 season. In fact, in both cases, he tried to land his franchise quarterback and big-time receiver a year before the Giants were able, so you could argue Newsome identified and addressed key issues even before Accorsi.
 
A third parallel between the organizations is currently playing out before our very eyes. In 2004, the Giants fired “player friendly” Jim Fassel after an injury-plagued 2003 season resulted in player griping, and replaced him with disciplinarian Tom Coughlin. Sound familiar?
 
So let’s see, the Giants fared better with their big quarterback and wide receiver acquisitions, and the coach they hired among controversy has now returned them to the Super Bowl. Let’s hope the third time is the charm for the Ravens and they’ve got the right coach. Now, about that quarterback and big receiver….

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