Boomer Esiason, who went straight from running the Bengals’ no huddle offense to the no holds barred Monday night TV booth and later to the MNF radio side, has fond memories of day games. Now that he’s announced he’s stepping away from prime time, in part, because of the randomness of the Rand McNally schedule, he recalls his MVP season of 30 years ago came in 16 afternoon games.
“Perfect,” says Esiason when told his striped descendants of 2018 have all but two games at 1 p.m. Sunday. “Until the end of the year when they start changing it and make you play Monday night games. So maybe you go 9-3 after 12 with all those one o’clock starts. The next thing you know you’re everybody’s darling and you have to be on Sunday and Monday nights.”
And how about those 5 a.m. arrivals home?
“It sucks,” Esiason says and he more than any other man alive should know. As the talkmaster of New York City’s powerhouse WFAN radio morning drive program, he often had to fly out Monday after the show and private plane it back right after the game Monday night so he could be behind the mike at 6 a.m. again.
It turns out his last game for Westwood One is the first Thursday night game of the year when the Super Bowl champion Eagles host the opener against Atlanta on Sept. 6. The Bengals open their home season the next Thursday on Sept. 13 against the Ravens.
But Esiason, 57, who quarterbacked the Bengals to the Super Bowl 30 years ago, isn’t exactly taking a knee in the archives. He continues as an analyst in the CBS studio for “The NFL Today” pre-game show and Showtime’s “Inside the NFL.” Which means the opinions are going to keep coming and that means his support of Ken Anderson for the Pro Football Hall of Fame continues while he remains puzzled by former Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens’ decision to by-pass his Hall induction next month.
Owens, who retired after his one-year stint in Cincinnati in 2010, becomes the third player who spent at least a season as a Bengal to make the Hall, joining Anthony Munoz and Charlie Joiner. With the Hall’s senior committee set to name a candidate next month for the 2019 ballot, Anderson is again at the forefront of the annual prospects as he tries to become the fourth.
Esiason calls Owens’ plan to skip the festivities “a disgrace,” but with tongue firmly in cheek sees a silver lining for Anderson.
“In the nuancing of his message he’s saying he’s doing it for all the guys that are snubbed, so maybe he’s actually doing it for Kenny Anderson. I don’t know,” Esiason says. “If you think T.O. is mad, can you imagine if Kenny were T.O.? Holy crap. I can’t even imagine what would happen.
“I advocated for (Owens) to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. I don’t know why he wasn’t, if it was because of the crap he pulled. It doesn’t matter. Every game I ever did of his he stood out. I knew he was going to get in, but I’m saddened by the fact he’s not going because of his personal story and where he went to college is a testament to the perseverance, intensity and competitiveness he brought to the field and that should be celebrated with all the great players who wear the gold jacket.”
After Esiason replaced Anderson as the Bengals starter in 1985, Anderson retired in 1986 as the NFL’s all-time leader for completion percentage in a season, game and post-season career during a 16-year run his successor sees only gold.
“A no-brainer,” Esiason says. “It should have been the year 20 years ago and he’s not the only one. There are guys like Joe Klecko. These guys get overlooked. Harry Carson got overlooked for many, many years. I’d like to sit here and say it’s the market or because nobody is advocating Kenny. But I don’t know if that’s the truth or not.
“The problem is the game has changed so much in the last 15 years most of us who played it have become pretty much irrelevant when it comes to the record books and everything else. It’s unfortunate because any quarterback that completes 70 percent of his passes for as many as he threw has got to be one of the greatest single seasons a quarterback ever had.”
Esiason is still amazed how Anderson rung up 70.6 percent in 1982 to become the first man in the Super Bowl era to hit 70 because the action downfield was pretty much “hand-to-hand contact.” He’s uncomfortable comparing Anderson because he doesn’t want to denigrate any Hall-of-Famers. But he notes when the Bengals won the 1981 AFC title game, Anderson beat Dan Fouts, “in the biggest game of their lives.”
“He was like Joe Montana before Joe Montana,” Esiason says. “Smooth. Very calculating. A very precise quarterback just like Joe was. In my eyes when I was there he was a refined professional. I was a bucking bronco about to buck out of the stable. I was all over the place. After my rookie year I don’t think they even thought they had a chance to get anything out of me. All of a sudden the light went on the second year and Paul Brown said play him and that bucking bronco basically never looked back.”
He certainly wasn’t this week when he ended his 18-year run in the Monday night radio booth. It all began 20 years ago when Esiason headed to the TV booth after turning down a two-year, $8 million deal despite ending his one season return to Cincinnati with the best five-game stretch of his career.
“No regrets whatsoever,” Esiason says. Which is exactly what he said last December, when he returned to be honored as one of the First 50 Bengals.
“I was so exhausted after those five games because I put so much into them and I didn’t know if I could do 32 more,” Esiason said then. “No regrets. I don’t blame anybody. My decision. Mike (Brown) gave me a fair offer to come back. When I first went into the TV booth, like Tony Romo probably did this year, you kind of wonder if you did the right thing. But here I am 20 years later and I have to say that I did do the right thing.”