Slow start fails to dull enthusiasm of Bengals' Esiason


September 22, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

Cincinnati -- Boomer Esiason is on the Baltimore bandwagon in the NFL's expansion derby.

The former University of Maryland quarterback said last week: "I'm telling you, I'm pushing for that [Baltimore's getting a team, but] I don't know if anybody is listening to me at 0-3."

His Cincinnati Bengals team is off to a slow start as it prepares to meet the Washington Redskins today, but he sounds as enthusiastic as ever.

"It's easy for everybody to be pessimistic, [but] the quarterback can't do that. He can't afford to be pessimistic," he said. "I'm as optimistic as I was prior to the season."

Nobody seems to enjoy the playing the game as much as he does. When the Bengals made the Super Bowl three seasons ago, he was like a kid in a candy store. He didn't mind all the vTC media attention; he seemed to enjoy it. He hasn't forgotten this is supposed to be fun even though it's a big business.

"I've always told people that this is the greatest job in the world," he said. "I can't imagine doing anything else.

"Everybody says, 'Hey, you want to be the president of this company. You want to be the president of that company. Wouldn't you like to be the president of the United States?' "

Not Esiason.

"Let me just tell you something: Everybody just wants to be the quarterback," he said. "It is the finest position in all of sports to play. When somebody tells me they're burned out or they can't play or they don't want to play, it's unbelieveable to me that anybody could ever feel that way. It's truly the greatest thing that I could ever be doing right now is playing football. I couldn't even think of another thing that I'd ever want to be doing."

That's the way Esiason talks when he's 0-3.

"That's a part of this game. The struggles are really what makes the game what it is. If everybody had great success, what an easy game it would be, and everybody would be playing it. When you go through valleys like this, it's tough, there's no question, but you have to fight off the adversity," he said.

Esiason said he doesn't believe in pointing fingers.

"That's never been the case with me. I always try to look at myself and see what I can do to make this team better," he said.

Coach Sam Wyche said Esiason hasn't been the problem.

"He's playing great. He's had some interceptions [four], but they weren't because he made mistakes. They just happened. He's as fine a field general as there is in the game right now. I've been around some really good ones, [Steve] DeBerg, [Joe] Montana, [Ken] Anderson and some others, and this guy is right up there with all of those," Wyche said.

The Bengals have paid him that way. He makes $1.2 million a year, and the rumors are the Bengals have moved him up to the $3 million-a-year class, but just haven't announced the new contract yet.

But he ducks all questions about his new contract.

This isn't the first time Esiason has gone through adversity. He experienced a nightmarish, 4-11 season in 1987, when the team was split because of the players' strike and he was the focus of negative attention. The team then came back to get to the Super Bowl the next season.

The Bengals haven't been back, and Esiason said injuries have been one of the main problems.

"The injury cycle has gone through this team the last couple of years like it's been a real bad virus," he said.

Running back Ickey Woods, for example, is on the injured reserve list with a knee injury after being limited to 29 carries in 1989 and 64 last year because of injuries.

Esiason said this year is different from the 1987 disaster, because the team is sticking together.

"This is frustrating, because there are no divisions within this team. Everybody is playing hard for the coach, and the coach is coaching hard for us," he said.

Wyche got some headlines last week when he said that winning isn't everything and that the fans shouldn't live and die with the game.

"I think he was trying to tell our fans that it shouldn't be quite as important for them," Esiason said.

L But its importance hasn't changed for him and his teammates.

"This is our lifeblood, and you get paid to win football games," he said.

Esiason got some headlines earlier this year, when he was quoted as saying that Wyche, who often gets involved in off-the-field crusades, (keeping women reporters out of the locker room was his favorite last season), should focus on football.

Esiason said he made those comments in a positive tone, and they were printed in a negative tone.

"Sam has directed all of his energies this year to football. He's focused on what he's doing, and he's got his team focused," Esiason said.

Esiason, who credits former Maryland coach Bobby Ross and current Maryland coach Joe Krivak for much of his success, said he still keeps in touch with Krivak and sends him game films.

Now, Esiason faces the challenge of turning the season around.

"I've always taken negatives and tried to work them into positives. Someway, somehow, it's going to turn out OK," he said. "That's the only way I can think right now."

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