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Time in a bottle

Posted Jun 19, 2014

Gunnar Esiason is now calling plays as his father gathers perspective on his Bengals, Andy Dalton's Bengals, and life. Just ask Boomer about this Bengals offense.

You'd have to say Boomer Esiason is an Andy Dalton guy.

As always, Norman Julius Esiason said it best Thursday.

“You realize how quickly life passes you by. In the blink of an eye you’re over 50,” Esiason said. “The further we get away from what we used to do here playing football, the better it seems it was.”

That freeze-dried perspective of 53 years applied all the way around Thursday when Esiason kicked off his two-day 16th annual Sporting Clays Pro-Am that benefits Cystic Fibrosis at the Elks Creek Hunt Club about an hour’s drive from Paul Brown Stadium.

His Bengals. Andy Dalton’s Bengals.

His son.

Perspective.

Meeting him at the Owenton Ky., range is the eternal poster child-adult-now-role-model for CF, his 23-year-old son Gunnar. Diagnosed at Cincinnati’s Children Hospital 21 years ago, Gunnar arrived Thursday as the head varsity hockey coach at his high school on Long Island, Friends Academy. Not to mention, of all things, the school’s quarterbacks coach and, as Boomer likes to say, “Quasi-offensive coordinator.”

“He was the little cute face (of the disease). Everyone loves to support children’s charities,” Boomer Esiason said. “Now he’s an adult and over the last six or seven years when he had the chance, he hasn’t resisted being that face.

“The amount of people he has touched the last couple of years has been amazing,” Esiason says. “That kid, in my estimation, has already thrown the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. Everything he does in his life on his terms is nothing short of everything I could have hoped for.”

Boomer only has to look at gunnaresiason.com and his son’s first two “Own It,” blogs about living with CF. They’re about his father and his mother and you can see where the kids gets that bottomless vat of determination.

“For as long as I can remember, I have been allowed to do pretty much whatever I have wanted as long as I see it all the way through. I guess you could say he really instilled a never give up attitude in me from the very beginning,” Gunnar writes about his father. “No matter how tough things get, I know what my responsibilities are, and the number one responsibility is always my health, even when I am so sick I can hardly move. If I take care of every responsibility I set out for myself, I know my dad will be happy.

“I will too. I think happiness is certainly tied to a sense of accomplishment, and taking care of any responsibility can provide that feeling. So, when it comes down to it, I know I have two treatment sessions to do every single day, about 80 minutes each. No matter what time it is, or what is going, I’m going to do them. I can count the number of times I missed a treatment in college on one hand.”

A trip to Cincinnati is always an emotional one for the 1988 NFL MVP. He’s a New York Network guy all the way and his voice currently owns the very core of Big Apple mornings on the city’s bullhorn, WFAN radio. But it was in Cincinnati where Esiason became the face of a franchise and his son became the face of a disease and where they first teamed up in what has become one of the most prolific and relentless attacks in medical research history. The Esiasons are to CF what Jerry Lewis is to muscular dystrophy and Danny Thomas is to St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital.

“There are a lot of great memories here,” Esiason said.  “We see a lot of the same people every year. For me, to see all the support for us after all these years is testament to the friendship and the understanding of what we’re doing as a foundation. They’ve held on to the same memories that I’ve held on to.” 

Esiason can still tick off the memories, starting with head coach Sam Wyche:

“Sam, the no huddle, the strike, the Super Bowl, the Jerry Glanville games, Bo Jackson (ending his career) in a playoff game. So many different memories,” Esiason said. “We had a unique group of players.  From Anthony Munoz all the way to Corey Dillon and everyone else in between.”

It must have got Esiason thinking because as he was asked about Dalton and the Bengals offense new coordinator Hue Jackson inherits, his mind went back to the end of the 1985 season, his first as the starter, and how in 1986 they finished No. 1 in the NFL offensive rankings.

“In ’85, we were really good offensively, but I don’t think we even knew how good we were. Each year we just got better and better and better and this offense has been better and better and better under the tutelage of Andy Dalton,’ Esiason said.

“The Bengals are right there offensively,” he said. “They have one of the best wide receivers in football, an up-and-coming tight end, running backs that can catch it and have speed out of the backfield. A big offensive line. They have all the ingredients to be a really good offense. I don’t think they’ll be the No. 1 offense, but there’s no reason you can’t think of them in the top five with the big stud athletic players they have.”

It will be recalled that at last year’s Super Bowl, Esiason was all about Dalton. He still is.

“When I look at his growth chart over the last three years, I see nothing but increases in every single area,’ he said. “His growth chart is exactly what you want.”

But he admits his contract is an interesting question. On one hand, you can’t overpay him. On the other hand, Esiason thinks Dalton has already accomplished a lot playing the game’s most difficult position.

“I wouldn’t sign him to the Joe Flacco deal and I’m not saying Baltimore regrets signing Joe, but I think when you see the amount of money Joe is making and Eli Manning is making, you ask yourself should they have been so aggressive in those deals,” Esiason said. “I don’t turn my back on the guy by any stretch of the imagination.

“What is the alternative?” Esiason asked.  “You’ve got to give me an alternative. Right now he is the leader of the team.  I can think of nine million guys who are 10 times worse than he is. He’s a hell of a football player and you don’t ever have to worry about him off the field. He’s a football junkie, he loves the game, he’s a smart kid. I know his teammates respect him. You have everything you want in a quarterback; you just have to get to that next level.”

If anyone knows the pulse of the fans, it’s Esiason as the Voice of The Fan. But he says the only Bengals’ post-season loss that sticks in his craw is the one back in January because it came at home against a San Diego team they should have beaten. But he says beating the Texans in Houston the previous two years would have qualified as major upsets.

“In the minds of many fans they like Andy but they’re just not happy where the season has ended the last three years,” Esiason said. “I caution fans all the time. This is not an easy league to win in. Especially when you’re in a conference with Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers. Andrew Luck. Those are not easy teams to beat because of those established quarterbacks.”

Esiason is hesitant about saying the Bengals have enough to make it to the Super Bowl. After going through the losses of Wyche, offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, and head coach Pete Carroll, Esiason says the departures of their offensive and defensive coordinators are very real and it remains to be seen how they’ll respond. The secondary, he says, is long in the tooth and first-round picks are always question mark.

He’s hopeful, but waiting. With, suddenly, 53 years of perspective.

“It seems like (my) football career was another lifetime ago,” Esiason said. “It’s hard to remember all those years.”

 

 

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