Esiason attempting to take Jets where Namath has gone before

ON THE NFL

November 27, 1994|By VITO STELLLINO

Boomer Esiason was an 8-year-old fan growing up on Long Island when Joe Namath guaranteed victory for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III over the Baltimore Colts and then pulled it off.

Esiason never dreamed that one day he would become good friends with Namath and follow in his footsteps as the Jets' quarterback.

"You always have to live in the shadow of the myth, which is fine," the former Maryland quarterback said last week.

Esiason isn't the only quarterback who has struggled in that shadow. The Jets are the only team that hasn't won a division title since the 1970 merger with the AFL. Even the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done that.

But that myth is not a burden for Esiason, who took the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1988.

Esiason thrives on the pressure of playing in New York. In this era when football is all about money, Esiason is one player who still acts as if he enjoys the game.

"I love playing for the Jets. Playing here has been fantastic," he said.

He also appreciates the way the fans embraced him when he went public with the fact that his son, Gunnar, has cystic fibrosis. He has been a tireless fund-raiser in the fight against the disease. He only does commercials for companies willing to make contributions to help fund CF research.

He made an appearance on NBC on Thanksgiving Day with his son squirming on his lap to continue sending that message.

"I wanted everyone to know how thankful we are for the people who've supported our fight," he said.

During that fight, Esiason has never lost his zest for the game and for life.

He knows what's at stake for the Jets today when they play host to the Miami Dolphins.

The Jets are 6-5, one game behind the Dolphins in the AFC East, and have a shot at their first division title in a quarter of a century.

After years of playing second fiddle to the Giants, who are 4-7, the Jets have a chance to become the only contender in New York.

"I realize the importance of this season for our franchise. It's a chance for the Jets to make a statement," he said.

Nobody will enjoy the challenge more than Esiason.

"I have a lot of fun in what I'm doing. Through all the ups and

downs, I enjoy what I do," he said.

Ready to move

Despite the official denials, the apparent deal that St. Louis businessman Stan Kroenke made to buy 40 percent of the Los Angeles Rams means the team will move if owner Georgia Frontiere approves.

The only question is when the announcement will be made. Don't be surprised if the Rams wait until after the season ends. Team president John Shaw has a reputation for dragging things out as he takes care of the final details.

It's noteworthy that Kroenke will pay $60 million for 40 percent as a passive investor with no input. That translates into $150 million for the franchise. If Kroenke wanted input, the price would have been $80 million for 40 percent, which would have meant $200 million for the franchise.

The $200 million projection probably isn't a coincidence. That's what Orioles owner Peter Angelos has said he is willing to pay for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The injury list

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is so annoyed at the $10,000 fine he got for hiding Troy Aikman's injury that he has decided to make a mockery of the injury list.

The Cowboys put 26 players on the list before Thursday's game with the Green Bay Packers. The previous week, the Cowboys had eight players on the list.

Jones is a member of the competition committee. When Al Davis of the Raiders started taking the same attitude about the rules 15 years ago, former commissioner Pete Rozelle yanked him off the same committee.

Don't look for Paul Tagliabue to do that to Jones. Tagliabue likes the perks of being the commissioner and isn't going to alienate Jones. He remembers what happened to former baseball

commissioner Fay Vincent when he alienated the owners.

Grading the officials

The NFL keeps insisting the quality of the officiating is as good as ever, despite a rash of bad calls.

The latest example was in the Seattle-Tampa Bay game, when three bad calls helped the Seahawks gain a 22-21 victory.

The final one was on the last play, when Seattle safety Dave McCloughan pushed down wide receiver Horace Copeland in the end zone. There was no call, but a pass-interference penalty should have given Tampa Bay the ball on the 1 with a chance to kick the winning field goal.

Seattle coach Tom Flores' reaction was to bring up his 17-15 loss to Indianapolis when the Seahawks blocked a punt and the officials gave the Colts the ball.

"You have flashbacks about bad calls," Flores said. "You forget the bad calls that were for you."

As long as teams take that attitude, nothing will change.

Happy meals

How's this for a commercial?

A group of hungry travelers is on a bus trapped in traffic. They spot the golden arches about three-quarters of a mile away. They decide to jump off the bus for some fast food.

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