Easy call


Boomer Esiason

Posted: 8:55 a.m.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - You've got to remember.

There are guys playing in this Super Bowl that were born the year Boomer Esiason sat in front of the bus carrying the Bengals replacement players.

There are guys in the next draft class that were probably born after Esiason's greatest professional disappointment on this very field 23 Super Bowls ago in January 1989. 

And, guess what?

He's still talking, still spewing opinions, still putting himself on the line like a franchise quarterback. If he's not in the CBS Studio marveling at how the rules have made it so easy for quarterbacks nowadays, he's on Westwood One radio advising the Bengals to get rid of Chad Ochocinco. If he's not on WFAN in New York taking on governors and presidents, he's at a Super Bowl news conference swearing that there must have been some game Bill Parcells let Lawrence Taylor play in a drug-induced stupor.

He calls another Super Bowl for the nation Sunday night over Westwood One with his boyhood soundtrack of Marv Albert and he loves it because he feels like he's playing. But now there are is a generation that only knows Norman Julius Esiason as an announcer.

"A lot of my friends don't remember him playing," Gunnar Esiason is saying the other day. "I mean, I do. I remember walking off the field with him after one game. I think it was after that last game in Cincinnati."

The Bengals left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, sees Esiason only as an announcer. He doesn't know much, if anything, about his Bengals career.

"Same thing with (Cris) Collinsworth," Whitworth says. "Those guys are never really around so I don't know them. Anthony (Muñoz) is the only one of the former players I really know because I see him around. But I just know Boomer from TV."

Gunnar Esiason is supposed to remember.

He's really the reason his dad played that one final season with the Bengals in 1997. And there is really no other reason because even though Boomer lit up those memorable final five games for 13 TDs and two picks, the father believes the only thing he had left was the aching desire to give his son a memory of the way it once was before it would never be again.

The arm. The legs. The body. The shoulder he now admits was hurting in his only Super Bowl. All shot.

So the son can tell you the father's last throw was the 77-yard touchdown pass to Darnay Scott. Three weeks later the father began his career in broadcasting on Monday Night Football and now Gunnar Esiason is 18 and a freshman at Boston College sounding an awful lot like a young Boomer Esiason.

"I've got a class in 25 minutes. How long do you need?" Gunner Esiason asks.

If he can remember bits and pieces of those final seasons in Arizona and Cincinnati when he was just starting school, then Gunnar Esiason has watched his dad's broadcasting career from the beginning. He agrees. He thinks Dad does an excellent job in the Monday night radio booth providing analysis, his role on Sunday.

"He works at it. He's always on the Internet looking up stuff," Gunnar Esiason says. "I love sports. All kinds. I root for the Bengals, but my favorite team is the Packers, believe it or not. He'll call me up and we'll talk about some things and he'll ask me stuff and a couple of hours later I'll hear him use something I told him."

A better announcer or better quarterback?

"Boomer doesn't get enough credit for how good he was a quarterback," says Dan Marino, the best of the '80s. "He was a league MVP and went to a Super Bowl but he also played on a lot of bad teams."

Yet Marino doesn't really see him as a quarterback or announcer. He simply is Gunnar Esiason's dad.

"What I'll always remember about Boomer is how much money he has raised for his foundation first during his career and now as a broadcaster," Marino says. "Amazing."

Ever since Cheryl and Boomer Esiason discovered Gunnar had Cystic fibrosis when he was two years old, Boomer has immersed himself in the cause, helping turn the disease from a young death sentence into a condition you can now, at least, wrap your arms around beyond middle age.

Gunnar Esiason is the symbol of the advances. He's living robustly in a dorm with some of his high school buddies from Long Island. After playing in high school, he's continuing to play his favorite sport of hockey every chance he can get in intramurals. He's majoring in economics. He's headed down here this weekend for the Super Bowl.

"I'm just concentrating on living a normal life and I'm really enjoying college," he says. "I don't know if I'll stick with economics, but that's what it is right now."

Normal.

And normal with the Esiasons is sports and opinions and TV and radio.

Bobby Hebert, another Esiason contemporary as the former Saints and Falcons quarterback now a New Orleans sports talk show host, remembers an offseason event for NFL quarterbacks in the late '80s or early '90s.

"We were all there. Crazy Jim McMahon was there, too," Hebert says. "Nobody is talking about football except Boomer. He's talking about a game three months ago and we're all saying, 'Boomer, you guys lost the game. We don't care.' "

Peter King, Sports Illustrated's NFL guru, covered the Bengals for the Cincinnati Enquirer when the Bengals drafted Esiason in the second round and he picked up him and Maryland teammate Pete Koch at the airport in a Volkswagen Rabbit.

Barely had Esiason got in the backseat and he was already offering the opinion that he was bleeped because the bleeping Redskins didn't take him in the first round. After a few more unvarnished remarks, King felt he had to announce, "Hey, there's a sportswriter in the car.'"

"I'm really disappointed in Boomer's radio career," says CBS exec Sean McManus. "You're looking for someone who has opinions and personality and interaction and Boomer has been a failure in all those."

A gag of course because Esiason is textbook, particularly on the morning drive show in New York, "Boomer and Carton In The Morning."

"That might be his best forum," McManus says, "because he can go a little longer and it's things other than sports. But he's a very good Xs-and-Os analyst. I'm one of the people that thought he was good on Monday Night Football on TV, but obviously ABC didn't agree. And he's very good on the radio as an analyst."

Esiason loves the dual role on Sunday. He's in the TV studio pregame and then on the mike during the game.

"I'm not married to the replays and all the nonsense that TV has to do," Esiason says. "We can get into it a little more. You can discuss a little more strategy. I don't have Jim Nantz next to me always throwing in something like '60 Minutes is coming up next,' and that kind of crap.

"(Not being on TV during the game) doesn't matter. I'm at the pregame and that allows me to touch on some aspects of the game. But once I get into that booth for the game, I feel like I'm playing it."

Esiason can rip off the names he followed as a kid listening to Albert back on The Island. Frazier and DeBusschere for the Knicks. Hatfield and Gilbert for the Rangers.

"He takes me where we need to go," he says, "and then he lets me break down the game, lets me talk about coaches' decisions and crazy things like that."

And there is always time for an opinion. Just like he was getting on The Ocho during last Sunday's Pro Bowl broadcast and he elaborated this week.

"Did the Dallas Cowboys become better after Terrell Owens left? What's the question? What's the answer?" Esiason says. "I know (Ochocinco) is flamboyant. I know fans love him, but you have to realize every time he tweets that he's going to be on Revis Island ... I saw it in the Pro Bowl. Asante Samuel didn't want to let him catch a ball. He was playing like it was the freaking Super Bowl against Chad Ochocinco. Why? Because he might tweet, 'Hey, did you see me abuse Asante Samuel?'

"He always brings the best out in the other player. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but in football it's always about keeping sleeping dogs lying. Don't wake them up."

Esiason also rips the voters for failing to place Bengals cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph in the Pro Bowl.

"I was very critical of no one on that defense making the Pro Bowl," he says. "How do you win a division and the only player who goes to the Pro Bowl is (The Ocho) and the only reason he went is because the other receivers didn't want to play. That was terrible."

Normal. Opinions, all pure, uncut Boomer.

That Super Bowl loss to the 49ers on this field in this game in the final 34 seconds still hurts. You can tell because he's talking about Parcells and L.T., and what if Sam Wyche had let Stanley Wilson play?

"Boomer is frustrated by that loss," Hebert says. "It was his time to win. His time to win."

But that is playing and now he's broadcasting and it doesn't really matter what he does best. Certainly not to Gunnar Esiason. The six-year-old memories are nice, but…

"The biggest thing he's given to me is the gift of life when you look at all the things he's done for the foundation," Gunnar Esiason says. "It really is the gift that keeps on giving."

You can bet that the father has delivered some opinions to the son. There is one he has kept in mind more than the others.

"His best advice?" Gunnar asks. "No matter what you do, don't settle for mediocrity. Always give it your best and try to do your best. Don't settle for second best."

Better player or broadcaster?

For Gunnar Esiason, who remembers both, it doesn't matter. 

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