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Boomer Savoring The Ride: "I Didn't Realize How Much of a Bengals Fan I Still Was"


Boomer Esiason, the last quarterback to lead the Bengals to an AFC title game, is going to be at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday (3 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) when Joe Burrow becomes the latest in a rematch against Chiefs future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

He's gunning to put the Bengals in their first Super Bowl since Esiason no-huddled a 21-10 victory over future Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly's Bills at old Riverfront Stadium for the 1988 AFC championship.

He'll be wearing his CBS-TV blazer as a long-time staple of "The NFL Today" studio show, but he'll also be wearing his Who Dey heart on his sleeve.

"I don't think they're going to have me bang the drum," said Esiason of the Chiefs' kickoff tradition. "I'll keep it real. But down deep, I'll be rooting for them. How can I not be?"

1986: Quarterback Boomer Esiason in action.

Esiason is marking his 20th year in the studio and he's relishing the Bengals' run after years of shaking his head over the what-might-have-beens and the did-that-really happens while former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher leered from nearby. He fears they taped his reaction to last Saturday night's AFC Divisional game when Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson caught cornerback Eli Apple's tip with 20 seconds left and are going to air it Sunday.

He plans to both root unabashedly and review critically.

"When Coach Cowher is talking about Pittsburgh or Phil (Simms) talks about the Giants, you're part of a history for a particular team. You're associated with it," Esiason says. "I don't understand why you can't do both.

"How many times do I see Michael Irvin gushing over the freaking Cowboys? How many times Troy Aikman gush over the Cowboys? I'm not allowed to gush over the Bengals? … I can do what I want to do."

Classic Norman Julius Esiason. If anybody knows Esiason is going to keep it real it is the solar system of Bengaldom. Esiason, 1987 player rep, 1988 NFL MVP, 21st century media maven, is one of it brightest sons whose searing Long Island candor made him the greatest locker leader the Bengals have ever had.

So, yeah. He's worried about Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo crafting a scheme that matches monstrous Chris Jones one-on-one inside against a Bengals interior hurting from nine sacks of Burrow Saturday.

Listen to him about Jones. Remember, Esiason called it Saturday before the game. He said watch out for under-the-radar Titans defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons and Simmons took over the game with three sacks. 

He's still wincing from the weekend because it conjured up memories of 1992 and the Bengals giving David Klingler his first start in their effort to pass the torch from Esiason against Cowher's Steelers.

"I haven't seen a Bengals quarterback sacked like that since David Klingler and I was on the sidelines thinking, 'I am not going in this game,'" he says of a day Klingler hit the deck ten times.

But he's also gushing. Start with Burrow, the man he gave a Bengals helmet five months before they drafted him No. 1.

"I don't know why you're calling me," said Esiason, who could have been kiddingly upbraiding a Bengals beat reporter from 30 years ago. "I gave you all the stuff I had on Joe Burrow before the draft. Just go back and re-write that part."

He was 27 in the '88 title game. Ken Anderson was a month shy of 32 in the Freezer Bowl in the '81 bout, also won by the Bengals at Riverfront. They were both NFL MVPs in those seasons. Burrow won't get it, but he's played like an NFL MVP the last six weeks.

"He's 25, right? He's ahead of where Kenny and I were certainly," Esiason says. "He's certainly courageous. Joe has that Tom Brady calmness in the pocket. He's not Tom Brady yet. He's got 22 years to go. But I'm looking to describe what he's like."

Esiason called Bengals head coach Zac Taylor last week and told him his guys were making him irrelevant.

"I think he kind of appreciated that," says Esiason, who loves Taylor handing out game balls downtown after postseason wins. "They're having a great year. Joe's dong everything I told you he was going to do.

"They're making their own way. We were the second (Bengals) team to make it after the '81 team, but they're the first ones to win a playoff game on the road. The way their defense is playing kind of reminds me of how our defense played in '88. These guys have not only come up with turnovers but turnovers late in the game. Our defense would score touchdowns and that's such a help to the offense."

The Bengals are coming off a three-interception game. In the '88 title game, the Bengals intercepted Kelly three times. If the defense has impressed him, the offense has captured him. Esiason says the Bengals Big Five of wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd Tee Higgins, tight end C.J. Uzomah and running back Joe Mixon is as good as any in the league.

"The Bengals' big advantage on Sunday is their wide receivers," Esiason says, "and that can be negated by a pass rush. But we'll see."

He says he hasn't been this pumped about the Bengals since 2005 when they went into the playoffs with Carson Palmer and has texted Palmer such.

"I actually said to my friends the other day, I didn't realize how much of a Bengals fan I still was," Esiason says. "Yes, absolutely they can win. It won't be easy. They're playing in a difficult place. The Chiefs are going to be hard to beat twice in the same year and they remember how they felt walking off the field at Paul Brown Stadium.

"But 100 percent they can win. It's going to be a high- scoring game. Both teams north of 27. It might not be an instant classic like we had with Kansas City and Buffalo. But it will be close."

One thing won't be close.

"I'm not only pulling for them," says one of Bengaldom's favorite sons. "I'm pulling for the city."