With the chants of “Boomer, Boomer,” still ringing in his ears and his famous left arm that once claimed an NFL MVP still warm from a 105.2 passer rating, quarterback Boomer Esiason knows exactly what has just transpired at Riverfront Stadium on Nov. 22, 1997. “It was Throwback Sunday in Cincinnati,” Esiason says after his first Bengals start in five years is responsible for a 31-26 victory over Jacksonville, a team that didn’t even exist when Esiason was traded to the Jets after the 1992 season. Now 36 and signed as a backup, the Bengals have turned to Esiason for the last five games after he already rescues a game off the bench earlier this month. And he doesn’t disappoint. As Bengals president Mike Brown observes of what turns out to be the last five games of Esiason’s career, “He’s better than when he was really good.” Esiason knocks the Jaguars back on their heels with two first-half touchdown passes and leads the Bengals on a 97-yard march that is their longest touchdown drive of the season and gives them a 28-10 half-time lead for their most points in the first half since he led the Bengals to their last post-season berth in 1990. “That was like a no huddle offense,” says Bengals tight end Tony McGee. “I could tell he was tired, but he was making us go faster.”
Jags head coach Tom Coughlin says the Bengals’ up-tempo style has taken his defense out of the things they do best. But this used to be normal fare for Esiason, especially back in that MVP season of 1988 when current Bengals head coach Bruce Coslet was the Bengals offensive coordinator and Sam Wyche’s chief lieutenant deploying the NFL’s most devastating offense. “From watching what we were doing over the first 11 weeks, I thought we needed a sense of urgency,” Esiason says. “I think sometimes offense needs to be played that way.” Wide receiver James Hundon, thrilled to be playing with a QB he grew up watching play, takes us inside Esiason’s huddle that includes rookie running back Corey Dillon powering for 88 yards: “He just took control. He’d tell the line, ‘Look, we can’t let pressure up the middle on this play.’ He’d say, ‘Corey, gain your yards and go down. Don’t fight for extra yards because we don’t want any turnovers.’ Just a lot of confidence boosting and things to keep it positive.” But the day belongs to a six-year-old blond boy with a cherubic smile that belies his life-long battle with cystic fibrosis. Esiason’s incredible day ends only when he comes out of the locker room, spies son Gunnar riding on the shoulders of a friend, and calls, ‘C’mon G-Man.” Gunnar, sister Sydney, mom Cheryl, and the NFL’s most famous dad, Norman Julius Esiason, a former Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year honored for taking the disease head on, pose for a family photo in Riverfront’s north end zone. “I make no bones about it,” Esiason says. “Being in the NFL gives me a pulpit to talk about my boy and CF and things that need to be done. Today I heard he was all over TV. Everyone know now what we’re going through. A day like today means a lot. I’m trying to save my son.” A picture says a thousand words and two touchdowns pass them along.