You grew up in Long Island; were you an Islanders fan growing up?
BOOMER ESIASON: I’ve been a New York Rangers fan since 1968 when Madison Square Garden opened. Rod Gilbert was my favorite player and he’s the reason I wore No. 7. I grew up in Long Island, but the Islanders weren’t in existence when I was a kid. But I’m friends with a lot of the guys from their dynasty in the 80’s like Mike Bossy, Bob Nystrom and Clark Gillies. Most of them still live in the area and they still give me heat about that. (laughs)
As a New Yorker, does any building compare to MSG?
BE: Even though I love the Garden, the Bell Centre is the Taj Mahal of hockey. Hockey lives and breathes in this building. People here watching the Canadiens play remind me of us back home when we watch the Jets or the Giants play. It’s that kind of fan passion.
Did you play any hockey growing up?
BE: I didn’t skate when I was a kid. The only hockey I played was sometimes when I played goalie with my snow boots on. Growing up, I played football, basketball and baseball.
|Esiason and Brandon Prust got into a minor Twitter tiff when Prust first joined the Canadiens. |
We noticed you got into a little Twitter war with Brandon Prust a few months ago. Have you guys kissed and made up?
BE: I was being sarcastic. He knows I’m a Rangers fan. I don’t know him personally, but he knows I go to the games. His Canadian sense of humor didn’t understand what I was doing! (laughs) I just decided that I wasn’t going to reply to it, but then all the fans went crazy. But what people might forget is that when he signed with Montreal, I was the first one to congratulate him for his contract and I thanked him for being a great Ranger. Twitter can be dangerous. I have nothing against him.
Did you expect that losing Prust would have as big an impact on the Rangers as it did in 2012-13?
BE: We missed Brandon a lot in New York. I’m pretty sure that if the Rangers had to do it all over again, if we could’ve moved [Marian] Gaborik earlier and brought in [Rick] Nash and kept Brandon and some other of our core guys, we would have been a lot better.
Have you ever said something about a player on camera and then had to answer to him on the field the next time you saw him?
BE: Being on national television every week, I’ve never, ever, backed down from anything I’ve said on TV or on the radio. If I make a mistake, I’m the first one to come out and admit that I made a mistake and I’ll apologize if necessary. I always feel that whatever I say comes with a lot of credibility. Sometimes it might be stinging to an athlete, but it’s what I get paid to do. I’m not paid to back the Rangers; I’m paid to sit there and have an opinion. And if a guy is not playing well, he’s going to hear about it.
There are a ton of former NFL stars making it in their second careers as broadcasters and analysts. Which of your former teammates or opponents’ TV debuts have you been most impressed with?
BE: Me, 100%. (laughs) My old teammate Cris Collinsworth has been great. I don’t know if there was something in the water in Cincinnati when we played there; maybe it’s just the lunacy of our whole team that gave us our personalities. I never criticized any of the guys because they’re doing what I’m doing. They’re making money, they have an opinion – I might not agree with some of them – but the fact is that I do believe that there’s enough for everybody. There’s enough air space, there’s enough interest in our sport. Here it’s hockey, hockey, hockey and there it’s football, football, football.
|Esiason spent his NFL career wearing number seven in honor of his favorite hockey player, Rod Gilbert. |
Through the years, it seems that the Cincinnati Bengals have never had it easy and it seems like players often wanted to get out of there after a while. Be honest, what was your reaction when they drafted you in 1984?
BE: Going all the way back to 1984, I thought I was going to be a first round draft pick, but I ended up being selected in the second round. I was very disappointed by where I was drafted and not by who drafted me. I remember the previous year, the Bengals played in the AFC Championship game against San Diego and it was 65 below zero. I was watching the game at home and I was hoping they wouldn’t draft me because of that! (laughs) Sure enough, they drafted me a year later. Ultimately, it was good for me because they already had an excellent starting quarterback in Ken Anderson, I had a great coach in Sam Wyche and it turned out to be a great place because I had teammates like Collinsworth, Anthony Muñoz and Ickey Woods for six years there. We were as good an offense as the NFL has ever seen. Unfortunately we had free agency come to the league and Cincinnati is a team that doesn’t spend money. But I never regret one snap there; one season there. It was great to be there – it’s a small city you could compare to Winnipeg in Canada. It wasn’t a market like New York, Dallas, Los Angeles or Chicago, but it was good to play there.
Just between us, do the QBs really get all the girls, or is it just Tom Brady?
BE: (laughs) Well, he got the girl, didn’t he? He got the ultimate girl. I think we all did okay for ourselves. I don’t kiss and tell, but I will say it would rival any centerman in the NHL. If you ask me, a centerman is like a true quarterback of a hockey team.
Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick: all four had breakout seasons last year. When all is said and done, which QB will have had the best career?
BE: Wow, that’s asking a lot. I would say that right now early in their careers, RG3, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are going to have really good teams around them. Their salaries are going to be stuck for the next few years, so they can’t get paid like a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady yet. The teams they’re with will be able to invest in other positions around them. All three of those players will become tremendous football players. As far is Kaepernick is concerned, he’s going to have a great defense, he has a great head coach and he has a good offensive line. All four of those guys are going to have great sustained football careers. The guy who I’m most intrigued by is Russell Wilson, because he’s about as tall as Brian Gionta. He’s 5-foot-10, but in the world of football, that’s like being 5-foot-6 in hockey. He lights up the room with his size, his personality and his explosiveness.
|According to Esiason, Brian Gionta and Russell Wilson have a lot in common. |
We know it’s a bit premature, but give us your early Super Bowl picks for next season.
BE: In my estimation, it’s either going to be Denver or New England out of the AFC and it’s either going to be San Francisco, Seattle or Atlanta. Those are five teams that I think have the best shot of getting to the Super Bowl.
Almost 20 years ago, you’ve launched the Boomer Esiason Foundation after your son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. How is he doing now and how rewarding has it been to see the progress made towards awareness for this cause with the help of your foundation?
BE: When I do all those events to continue our fight against cystic fibrosis, it’s because I know that life is too short. You have to do what you love; you have to do what you’re passionate about and do it with friends. As we know, your life can change in an instant. But our foundation has raised over 100 million dollars and we support hospitals, drug development, scholarships, and lung transplants. We’ve done pretty much what I expected 20 years ago when we started. But 10 years into it, on 9/11, we lost everything. Twelve years later, we’ve rebuilt everything, we’re doing great, we’re raising a ton of money and we’re making a huge impact on the lives of people who have CF. There’s still no cure and we still have a long way to go, but we’ll make it.
Do people nowadays ever call you by your actual first name, Norman?
BE: Yeah, I have some friends who still call me Norman. But you know what? My friends in hockey call me Reggie. For Reggie Dunlop in Slap Shot!
Catch Esiason’s commentary on The NFL Today on CBS, read more about the Boomer Esiason Foundation at esiason.org or follow Boomer in real time on Twitter.
This article, written by Hugo Fontaine, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 27 No. 4.