2-22-03, 7:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ The reason the Bengals can think about Michigan State wide receiver Charlie Rogers or Penn State defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy with the No. 1 pick is because NFL people think there might be a pretty good quarterback waiting for them with the first pick in the second round.
One of the reasons is Chris Simms of Texas. Another is California's Kyle Boller. But with Simms, there are already murmurings in Cincinnati of another tall, blond second-round quarterback who throws lefty. The Bengals like his pedigree, his poise, and the response to harsh times in football-mad Austin.
"Most people in New York always think he's my dad," said Simms of former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason. "They say, 'Are you Boomer's kid?'"
Of course not. His father is Phil Simms, the Giants' Super Bowl quarterback who now broadcasts NFL games for CBS. But since Chris grew up in New Jersey and was an avid fan of quarterbacks in the '80s and '90s (Troy Aikman became his favorite when his father retired), he bumped into Esiason on occasions in the New York area.
"He always told me to stay cool," Simms said. "That's the one thing. He actually wrote it to me on a football once. It said 'Chris, Stay cool kid."
The 6-4, 221-pound Simms has been cool enough to rise in the draft rankings despite a batch of adversity at Texas. He has taken heat for his poor performances in The Big Game, which includes an 0-4 record with no touchdown passes and 15 turnovers against top ten teams. He was 0-3 against Oklahoma, threw three interceptions his junior year in the Big 12 championship game, and in last month's Senior Bowl threw a red-zone interception that got returned for a touchdown.
"No question he has all the physical tools," said Rick Spielman, senior vice president of football operations for the Dolphins. "There are questions of his play in those big games and that's something that people are going to have to look at. But he's got the physical abilities and the mental part of it as far as the Xs and Os and knowing the game."
But he did throw 26 touchdown passes this season with 12 interceptions for a 143 passer rating and started more than 20 wins for the Longhorns.
"They do ask me. I think they want to see how I handle it," said Simms of the NFL people's questions about his big-game meltdowns. "At least what I think of the comments that are made. I pretty much said the same thing. The whole big game thing always comes back to the Oklahoma game. I can't say more than I had some bad plays here and there, and they just beat us man-to-man."
Simms isn't worried about the whispers. He heard them from the moment he stepped on a football field and basketball court in youth ball. "There's the Simms kid," he could hear.
"I always looked it, 'Well, they're all looking at me, so why don't I just show my stuff and help myself out instead of being critical of myself?"'
The kid has that New York State of mind. Steel-belted confidence. He said he has a pretty good idea where he's going to be drafted but didn't want to say. "You're the ESPN draft expert," he told John Clayton when Clayton asked when he thought he would go.
But there's no question he sees the first round. Check out his reaction to the Bengals' situation.
"Great opportunity," Simms said. "That's all I can say. It's a franchise that will definitely turn around at some point. Who woudn't want to be the No. 1 .pick in the draft? That s a dream come true for a quarterback."
That's a dream for Simms. But the Bengals might be dreaming about him a little later.