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Boomer always on the run, and we went along for ride

Boomer Esiason prepares to call Monday night's game

Boomer Esiason prepares to call Monday night's game between the Packers and Bears in a radio booth at Solider Field in Chicago. (Sept. 27, 2010) Photo Credit: Dave Rimington

Boomer Esiason had been talking for the better part of a day and a half, with another 16 hours or so to go, but you never would have known it.

The audience was a tableful of executives from DeWalt, the power tool company. The subject was Dave Rimington's twinkling toes, and Esiason was gesticulating as if telling the story for the first time.

Seems Rimington, Esiason's old Bengals center and roommate, had a habit of rubbing his toes together nervously while sleeping before games.

The tougher the next day's opposing defensive lineman, the louder it got. Facing the Jets was the worst; Rimington inevitably would dream noisily about Joe Klecko.

The people from DeWalt laughed heartily as Esiason described all this. Rimington himself, seated at the end of the table, also laughed.

Esiason was a hit, as usual.

This was Monday at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, just up the road from Soldier Field, where two hours later he would analyze Packers-Bears for Westwood One radio.

So: Time to go. Lee Becker, who helps hold the scheduling tightrope Esiason walks during football season, stepped in to break it up.

There was a Memphis radio station waiting to interview him on his way to the game. Then he was on the field pregame, chatting up coaches and players. Then showtime again.

All this after having spent 12 hours at CBS Sunday for "The NFL Today," watching close Jets and Yankees games at his Manhasset home till midnight, leaving for WFAN's TriBeCa studios at 4:30 a.m. Monday, taping his weekly segment with WEEI of Boston in his office at 5:30, co-hosting his own show from 6 to 10, recording a video for an SI.com podcast, driving to Teterboro, N.J., in his SUV, boarding a private jet to Chicago and spending nearly four hours that afternoon with business contacts.

After the game, it was back to New Jersey, where he landed at 2:35 a.m. Tuesday, just enough time for a stop at a Soho hotel for a nap and shower before his return to WFAN at 5:44.

"He's crazy, but he loves it, too," CBS colleague Dan Marino said at 10:15 Sunday morning. Forty-eight hours later, Esiason sat in his office and confirmed both observations.

"It is a whirlwind any football fan would love to do," he said. "It's a lot of work. I know that. But I'm not whining about it."

All for a good cause

Why does Esiason do all this? As he said, he loves it. He is paid a lot of money, too.

But another motivation runs more deeply.

It's been 17 years since a memorable Sports Illustrated cover introduced America to Gunnar Esiason, the then-toddler who had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. (He now is a sophomore at Boston College, where his sister, Sydney, also is a student.)

Soon Esiason, Rimington and Becker were launching the Boomer Esiason Foundation. Now, $82 million later, they still are at it, seeking to further the gains in average life expectancy for those with the disease - a figure creeping toward 40 compared to single digits a half-century ago.

The visibility Esiason gains from his media work keeps him in the public eye, maintaining his fundraising power. And his Monday trips enable him to meet and greet far-flung business partners - in Chicago it was Thermos, Abbott Laboratories and DeWalt.

Some of it is schmoozing, some serious nuts and bolts. In Chicago he met with two top Thermos executives to discuss a deal with UnderArmour that Esiason helped broker and that will benefit the foundation.

"It all works together," Esiason said. As much as he enjoys the Monday games for their own sake, "in reality they give me access to things to help me raise money for our foundation and for CF. Ultimately, that is the only thing for me."

Energy and dedication

Esiason, who grew up in East Islip, has relied on private planes to make his Monday gig possible since the WFAN show launched three years ago.

But this autumn brought a new challenge: His morning show with Craig Carton is simulcast on MSG, meaning Tuesday phone-ins from distant cities no longer will do. Overnight charters, which Esiason pays for, are a must.

On Monday, he began the flight by preparing his charts for the game, but soon he dozed off. Five minutes later, turbulence awakened him.

"I was out," he said. "I was dreaming of Craig Carton."

On the way home, the flight was smooth, and he slept for most of it. Which meant all of 90 minutes of shut-eye.

Esiason, 49, is naturally caffeinated and extroverted, but many of those he interacts with marvel at his energy and dedication - post-playing-career traits not always evident in former NFL MVPs.

"There are not a lot of guys who did what he did successfully in the NFL, then 15 years later decided this would be the lifestyle they want," Carton said.

There are benefits, too. Both hosts noted the early shift frees more family time later in the day.

"If you asked my family at the beginning, they'd have said, 'You're crazy,' " Esiason said. "But the best part has been that I'm around. I have to be around. They just know I'm really tired."

That's entertainment

Viewers often accuse CBS' NFL studio panel of forced, incessant laughter. Incessant it may be, but forced it isn't.

There is more of it when the cameras are off than on. On Sunday, the panel was riveted by the Falcons-Saints game, which Atlanta won on a field goal in overtime after the Saints missed a short one.

Shannon Sharpe began singing and dancing to "When the Saints Go Marching In" as New Orleans drove for the presumed game-winner, taunting Marino, who picked the Falcons in an upset.

When the Saints missed, the studio was in an uproar, no different from fans watching in a bar, only with expensive suits and without adult beverages.

The scene spoke to one perk of Esiason's lifestyle: Thirteen years removed from his NFL career, he relives locker room-style camaraderie several times a week.

En route to Chicago, he offered the four other passengers $500 if they could answer obscure sports questions such as, "What teams currently are in first place in the CFL?" (No one won.)

At WFAN Tuesday, he critiqued Jerry Recco as the update man practiced long snaps to Carton during a break. On the air, he hit Recco in the face with a plate of whipped cream.

"We're not splitting atoms here; we're trying to entertain people," Esiason said. The show lately has rated No. 1 among men ages 25-54.

By midmorning Tuesday, several 5-Hour Energy drinks into his week, he was fading and ready for a long nap at home, a visit to the gym and an early bedtime.

Wednesday would bring another WFAN show, interviews at Jets camp for CBS and an appearance at Citi Field with Carton.

Come Sunday, things will get really complicated again. The next Monday night game is in South Florida.

"I have all these people all around me," Esiason said, then listed a dozen friends, relatives and business associates who help get him through each week.

"Nobody, from that standpoint, is any luckier than I am or will ever be any luckier than I am. It's great."

New York Sports