Monday, November 24, 1997
Could Boomer be the future?

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

esiason
Boomer Esiason will start again next week at Philadelphia, and after that...?
(AP photo)
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Boomer Esiason is not making this easy. He has taken the Cincinnati Bengals' best-laid plans, and spiraled them toward the trash. He has resurrected issues that were supposedly resolved years ago.

He is making quite a nuisance of himself.

Sunday's 31-26 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars was a sweet exercise in nostalgia, but the euphoria Esiason has engendered can only lead to an excruciating decision. The Bengals must soon decide whether their future lies with a 36-year-old relic or an expensive, depreciating reserve.

One of them will probably have to go because the Bengals will be looking for a younger guy to groom in the draft, and they will be hard-pressed to keep three big salaries at the quarterback position. Things would have been so much simpler had Jeff Blake held his job or Esiason fallen on his face. Since the exact opposite has occurred, the Bengals are now faced with the prospect of casting their fate with the same fellow they traded four years ago for the sake of David Klingler.

For the moment, they have no choice.

Bengals' coach Bruce Coslet was slow to make the switch to Esiason, but was quick to anoint him the starting quarterback for next week following Sunday's performance. Boomer completed 26-of-36 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, begging the question of what might have happened had the move been made earlier.

Hindsight 20-20

''I'll let you guys be the Monday morning quarterbacks,'' Coslet told reporters. ''Hindsight is always 20-20.''

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Esiason shows he still has some mobility in his 36-year-old legs.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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Foresight, inherently, is foggier. Still, even if he does not duplicate Sunday's statistics next week in Philadelphia, Boomer has made himself hard to bench. The Bengals play more crisply, more passionately and (so far) more effectively when he is on the field, as they did for Blake when he replaced Klingler in 1994.

''When you play with a player like a Boomer Esiason,'' said running back Eric Bieniemy, ''he's the type of guy a lot of guys follow. He's the type of guy you don't want to disappoint.''

He is the type of guy who knows his place, and understands football politics. Last year, Esiason walked out on the Arizona Cardinals because he was convinced they had benched him to save on incentive bonuses. This year, he agreed to a backup role with the Bengals, and deferred to Blake when the rest of the city was restless for change.

''I know what I signed on for, and I don't want to be a hypocrite,'' Esiason said.

He need not say a word now, for his actions have forced the Bengals' hand. Esiason can complain about his age and his aches, and he can praise Blake until the cows come home in Corvettes, and in the end it counts for nothing. After 14 seasons in the National Football League, Esiason realizes that his coaches see through what he says and judge what he does.

More comfortable than ever

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No matter what he says, Esiason clearly wants to play.
(AP photo)
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''I don't know if I can keep it up,'' Esiason said Sunday. ''(But) I am more comfortable than ever with what I'm doing on the field. I certainly don't have the arm I once had. I'm not able to run the ball as well as I used to. But there's no question I see more on the field.''

More importantly, he reacts, taking the quick completion instead of risking the shattering sack. There has always been an urgency to Esiason's game, but now he plays as if each game could be his last.

Each game he has played of late, however, serves to delay that day. Sunday's showing forces the Bengals to consider Esiason a strong candidate to start next season, while each win compromises their chances at drafting a suitable successor.

This is clearly not what Bruce Coslet had in mind when he brought Boomer back for a return engagement, but it does not have to be disastrous. Warren Moon and Dan Marino are both older than Boomer Esiason, and both remain starting quarterbacks on playoff contenders.

''They're both crustier than I am,'' Esiason said.

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