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Boomer And Burrow in PBS Summit: 'He's A Better Player Than I Ever Was'

Boomer Esiason (right) Xs and Os with Joe Burrow Thursday.
Boomer Esiason (right) Xs and Os with Joe Burrow Thursday.

Whether he was the NFL Man of the Year or the NFL MVP or the Voice of Monday Night or just the plain best locker room leader the planet has ever known, Boomer Esiason always went in style. And so Thursday is no different as a golf cart takes him between appointments at Paul Brown Stadium.

"He didn't wear a wristband as a rookie. I love that kid," Esiason is saying after shooting an NFL Network interview with his no huddle nephew Joe Burrow. "Impressive. I was impressed with him before this.

"Carson (Palmer) and Marvin (Lewis) had this team right there," he says of the quarterback and coach who led his Bengals back to the top of the division where Esiason left them as the 1980s turned into the 1990s. "This kid will get them there. He's too good."

Burrow is coming off just 10 games and when the Bengals take on the Vikings in the Sept. 12 opener at PBS, he'll be less than 10 months removed from reconstructive knee surgery.

But Esiason has seen enough.

(By the way, if Anthony Munoz is the best Bengals player ever and Ken Anderson is the most important and Chad Johnson is the most influential, then Norman Julius Esiason, radio and TV star, is the most versatile and heard.)

"I know one thing. He's a better player than I ever was. Already. I can see it," Esiason says. "He's a much more accurate passer than I was. He's also fearless. He's not afraid to throw the ball down the field, which in today's game is valuable and is going to help them be successful. I think he's in the (hunt) for Comeback Player of the Year."

Esiason has no idea what tape the NFL Network people are going to ask him and Burrow to dissect. After Burrow finishes lunch before practice, he meets Esiason and Esiason has to smile.

"He's pretty relaxed. He could do TV right now if he wanted to," Esiason tells Dan Hoard and Dave Lapham for their podcast. "That only took you one take?"

So it doesn't matter that they pop on the L.A. Chargers game from last year, Burrow's NFL debut, or the L.A. Rams game from 31 years ago, when Esiason set the Bengals passing record with 490 yards.

Esiason is raving about a clip from the Indy game in October as Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus tests Burrow with a zone blitz. Burrow sniffs it out, knows he has enough blockers in front of him so he can stand in the pocket and hit rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins deep down the sideline.

"Think about the way he played as a rookie. Think about how he handed the offense," Esiason says. "He's making checks at the line of scrimmage. He's calling his own number on quarterback draw.

"Those are things I wasn't capable of doing," says Esiason, who was smart enough to make the no huddle offense a household name. "I just faked it. He's the real deal. You can tell."

Here's something else you can tell. Esiason loves being back in town and around his team.

He's accompanied by his son Gunnar and while his father did the football, Gunnar had a meeting at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital, home of the Gunnar Esiason Cystic Fibrosis wing.

Gunnar was born in Cincinnati 30 years ago and diagnosed here in an era when those patients didn't reach 30. And it's here where Boomer declared war on a disease the father and son have battled with grace and success. The fact Boomer Esiason has a son older than the current Bengals quarterback is towering testament to both.

Gunnar got married on Father's Day weekend. The proudest moment of a proud life is watching Gunnar go down the aisle. But it was that Thursday night he brought his father to tears when he gave him a framed sonogram of his grandson.

"My only two goals," Boomer Esiason tells Hoard and Lapham of the battle, "were, one, that my son outlive me and the second is that he become a father. When they handed me that thing, I couldn't talk … That whole weekend was like a blur to me. It's everything I could have asked for."

After meeting Burrow, Esiason carts off to visit with Bengals president Mike Brown and his family. But not before the Bengals scoreboard crew recruits him to record a couple of messages that sound like they'll bring the PBS crowd to its feet like one of his play-action bombs that shook Riverfront Stadium.

"C'mon," Esiason barks as he emerges from the room. "Let's go."

Nice. At some point in 2021 the greatest team leader in club history fires up the latest locker room.

Then when Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn brings her daughter down the hall to say hello, he has a chance to tell Elizabeth Blackburn how much he appreciates the new Ring of Honor she has brought to PBS.

Esiason was one of the 17 former Bengals nominated, but Ken Anderson was voted the quarterback and that's just fine with him.

"He's the face of the franchise," Esiason says. "Why wouldn't Kenny Anderson be the first guy that that goes in along with Antony Munoz, Paul Brown and Kenny Riley? People forget there was a group before us and he was a big part of them."

Elizabeth Blackburn presents him with two of the Bengals' new jerseys, a black and a white No. 7 complete with the Paul Brown signature in the back of the neck ("That's cool"), to wear on the air as he vowed. One for him and one for Gunnar.

Then he went to the corner office for a chat with Mike Brown and that is always sure to draw a few guffaws from the Bengals president. Not many make him laugh like Esiason. Esiason can tell you after he threw that last pass in L.A. in overtime to set up Jim Breech's winning field goal that he ran past Breech and asked him to make it because he had to relieve himself since there had been no breaks since regulation.

"I love going down memory road with him. I've always had a unique relationship with him," Esiason says. "He's great to reminisce with. He remembers everything. Sometimes I feel bad because I've been critical at times. He (understands more than most.) At the end of the day this is still home. They're trying. They've got this beautiful stadium. They've always had a good quarterback."

Esiason knows this stat better than most. Since the merger, only the Bengals have drafted four quarterbacks that have started at least 97 games.

"I feel like this franchise has always had that on lock down," Esiason says. "There have been a couple of dead points. But for the most part they always seem to get the right guy. If they have the right personality, then they can do it."

Enter Burrow stage right.

"He knows his players. He knows where credit needs to be given," Esiason says. "He wasn't sitting there extolling his own virtues. He was talking about his center, about his wide receiver, his running back, look at this block by this offensive tackle. He loves his coaches. You can tell that part of him, that is the biggest question mark for every coaching staff and every organization, is easily answered. And he has it. He definitely has it."

From a guy that definitely still has it. No. 7 walked out with two jerseys and one thumbs up for No. 9.

Peruse some of the top images from day two of the Bengals Training Camp, presented by Gatorade.