Year of homecoming brings Boomer back

December 11, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Boomer Esiason left his phone off the hook this week.

"I'll probably have 45 to 50 people there coming down from Baltimore," the New York Jets quarterback said. "I always get a kick coming back to Washington. I have so many friends there. It gets a little distracting. That's why I kept the phone off the hook. I wasn't going to let anybody call me."

The Jets game against the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium today is something of a homecoming for the former Maryland quarterback.

It's his first regular-season game at RFK Stadium since 1985, when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. Although the Jets played at Washington in an exhibition in August, he said, "That doesn't count."

This has been a year of homecomings for Esiason, who returned to his Long Island home this year when he was traded by the Bengals to the New York Jets. It gave him a chance to have his first Thanksgiving in 10 years with his father.

"I'm a big Thanksgiving guy," he said.

Esiason has a lot to be thankful for. A year ago, it was being whispered that his arm was gone and his career was on the downside. He was benched for David Klingler when the Bengals went to a youth movement.

"I never doubted myself," he said.

With the Jets, he led the team to five straight victories before the Jets lost, 9-6, to the Indianapolis Colts last week. He's the AFC's third-rated passer and has thrown for 14 touchdowns, and he's been intercepted just nine times.

"It's been a rebirth for me mentally because I was tired mentally the last couple of years. I feel like I've been rejuvenated. I really enjoy coming to work," he said.

Esiason suffered a jolt in his personal life when his son, Gunner, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

It's typical of Esiason that he doesn't shy from talking about such a painful personal matter. He has become virtually a national spokesman in the fight against the disease.

"He's doing terrific. Thanks for asking. He's a little hero. He's my motivation," he said.

Esiason said that Gunner's illness has spurred him to play well.

"The better I play, the more people will listen to me about CF," he said.

With the Jets, he was reunited with his former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, coach Bruce Coslet.

"I'm in a system that allows me to flourish. I have some really terrific players around here. The premium is placed on me to make quick decisions and to get rid of the ball quickly," he said.

Redskins wide receiver Tim McGee, a teammate of Esiason's in Cincinnati, said: "He was made the scapegoat [in Cincinnati]. He has shown the people in Cincinnati they made a big mistake. I think the con

flict came when Boomer knew more than the coaching staff. David Shula [who became head coach last year] just couldn't run that offense. He wanted to go to a more conservative type offense."

It's not Esiason's style to publicly knock the Bengals. He's looking ahead, and he's thinking about the Redskins this week.

"We look at this game as a playoff game, if you will," he said.

After the game against the Colts -- in which he was bothered by a sore neck -- the Jets can't afford to lose this one if they are to stay alive in the playoff hunt.

It's also been something of a tumultuous week for the Jets. It started after the loss to the Colts when Ronnie Lott said the team was out of the playoff race. That raised eyebrows, and he had to clarify it during the week to say he motivates himself with those kind of comments. "I've always been a person who's been pessimistic. I'm so pessimistic that I don't think my wife is going to get me a present for Christmas," he said.

PTC There was another flap when two offensive linemen, Jeff Criswell and Dave Cadigan, berated a Newsday reporter for writing they were "gloating" despite the loss to the Colts because they had gone seven straight games without giving up a sack.

The Jets hope the flaps will put them in an angry mood for the game.

On the Redskins side, there's not much tension. They seem to be sleepwalking through the end of the season. Instead of having confrontations with reporters, they try to ignore them. Wide receiver Desmond Howard is the latest player not talking to reporters.

The one thing the 3-9 Redskins know is that there will be changes in the off-season. "We're playing for pride and job security," defensive lineman Jason Buck said.

The Redskins find out today if that's enough to spoil Esiason's homecoming.

JETS-REDSKINS TODAY

Site: RFK Stadium, Washington

Time: 12:30 p.m.

TV: Channels 2, 4

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Line: Jets by 3

Records: Jets 7-5, Redskins 3-9

Last meeting: The Redskins beat the Jets, 17-16, on Ali Haji-Sheikh's 28-yard field goal with 54 seconds left in 1987 at RFK Stadium.

The series: The Redskins are 4-0 against the Jets. They're one of only two clubs to have a perfect record against the Jets. The Philadelphia Eagles are 5-0.

On the sidelines: Richie Petitbon, in his first season as Redskins coach, is 3-9. Bruce Coslet, in his fourth season as Jets coach, is 25-35.

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