Saturday, January 17, 1997
Offer too good for Boomer
to pass up

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Boomer Esiason, with son Gunnar and daughter Sydney, walks off the field for the last time after the season finale against Baltimore.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
Boomer Esiason owes us nothing. He was a hired gun in his second coming with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he did everything he was asked.

He waited his turn. He held his tongue. He tried to guide Jeff Blake when the Cincinnati Bengals' starting quarterback had lost his way. Then, finally given a chance, Boomer came off the bench and was brilliant.

If Esiason prefers Monday Night Football to Sundays in the park with Bruce, he is beyond blame. Think of him as a Shane in shoulder pads, riding off into the sunset to save the National Football League's prime time showcase from the scourge of Frank Gifford.

Boomer will be acutely missed by the Bengals, but how could anyone presume to stand in his way? Monday Night Football is a gig that comes open less often than the Oval Office. If the timing of ABC's offer was less than ideal, the forward-thinking quarterback was still obliged to grab it.

''We made him a pretty good offer at the end,'' Bengals coach Bruce Coslet said Friday. ''If it was any other football team we were up against, we were in pretty good shape. But this is a plum job, and they don't come along that often.''

Still had years left

Esiason could have played another season for the Bengals. Maybe more. He ended last year at the loftiest performance level of his career, with a passing rating of 106.7 and an aura of invincibility. After 13 distinguished seasons, it was as if he had unscrambled some secret code known only to Joe Montana.

Esiason has at least as much ego as most elite athletes, but he has played football too long to think it as easy as he made it look last month. He told a confidante in the Bengals organization that he wasn't sure he had the energy to inspire and motivate this team for an entire season.

Had the Bengals been better, Esiason might have chosen to stick around. Yet down deep, he had to believe the team is nowhere near another Super Bowl. He had to wonder if he could ever script an exit scene more satisfying than his last games at Cinergy Field.

''Always leave them wanting more'' is the show business bromide. It rarely works that way in professional sports anymore because the money is so big, and because few athletes can walk away and land something comparably lucrative.

But Boomer Esiason was blessed. If he was not the finest quarterback of his era, he was clearly the most charismatic. The dynamic personality he displayed on the field is also prized in the broadcast booth. Like Mike Reid and Tommy Casanova before him, Esiason could afford to leave the Bengals at the top of his game because he has other abilities. Whether the Bengals can afford to lose him is another matter.

Examination of options

Esiason's agent, Jerrold Colton, said Friday that Mike Brown might have kept his quarterback had he offered more money at an earlier point in the process. If it were so, it was a grievous fault.

Brown may have low-balled Esiason, figuring the odds were against him landing a high-profile TV job. Yet Esiason never indicated the Bengals were in position to make him a pre-emptive offer. His position was that he wanted to examine all of his options before calling a play.

''On my way to the East-West game, I went to his house in Desert Mountain (Ariz.), and played golf for four days,'' Coslet said. ''He was very truthful with me. He said he'd have to see what offers came in. He had not made up his mind, and I didn't push him.''

Did the Bengals lose Esiason because they failed to grovel? Depends on who's providing the spin. Certainly, Mike Brown should have treated Esiason as a precious commodity. Surely, Esiason had to understand Brown didn't want to play his whole card until he had to.

If Esiason was determined to play, he might have been more willing to wait for Brown's best offer ($8 million over two years). His decision suggests he was, at best, divided.

''I think it came down to this being an opportunity he couldn't pass up, one that might not come along every damn day,'' Coslet said. ''He made the decision, and I support it 100 percent. That doesn't mean it isn't devastating.''