Boomer Esiason was on his way home to Manhasset one evening when his daughter, Sydney, called. She announced that she had a new boyfriend, they were sitting in the kitchen waiting to meet him and he was a hockey player.
“I’m thinking maybe it’s Carl Hagelin or someone from the Rangers,” Esiason said last week. “And then she said he played for the Islanders, that his name was Matt Martin. She tried to spring it on me.”
Esiason, a die-hard Rangers fan, told her not to worry. But when he got home, he found a Rangers jersey in the garage. Boomer remembers it being a Rick Nash jersey. Martin and Sydney remember it as belonging to Adam Graves. Either way, Boomer came strolling into the house wearing his true colors. The ice was broken and a tight friendship was formed.
Three years later, Sydney Esiason and Martin live together on Long Island. Sydney, 23, works as an anchor on Sports Illustrated SI Wire, and Martin, 26, is in the middle of the Islanders’ first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers.
Boomer, the East Islip football legend, former NFL star quarterback and co-host of WFAN’s Boomer and Carton show, has become a role model for Martin in giving back to the community.
Since its inception in 1994 shortly after Boomer’s son, Gunnar, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, the Boomer Esiason Foundation has raised more than $115 million to support research for a cure for the disease and support for CF patients, according to the foundation’s website.
Martin, a left wing, can be a nasty guy on the ice. He has led the NHL in hits for five straight seasons. In fact, his 365 hits this past season were 61 more than runner-up Radko Gudas. But Martin wanted to make an impact in a different way when he was off the ice. Having played his entire career with the Islanders since coming in as a rookie in 2009, Martin wanted to figure out a way to give back to the local community.
“I’ve been going to Boomer’s events for three years, and I really see how much he puts into it,” Martin said. “I’ve seen the impact it has and how much he cares. I’m just getting started, but he’s given me some awesome tips on what to do and what not to do.”
The Matt Martin Foundation, launched in September, has raised more than $75,000 for various charities, including NYPD Widows and Children’s Fund, the Association for Children with Down syndrome, the Boomer Esiason Foundation and the Islanders Children’s Foundation. For every regular-season game, Martin hosted a family impacted by one of his charities, giving them free tickets and meeting with them after the game.
“Everyone has that one friend who is the nicest guy in the world and then they get playing a board game or something and a different person comes out. That’s Matt,” says Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who has played on the same line with Martin for the better part of three seasons. “When he steps on the ice, a different level of competitiveness comes out.”
The one area off the ice in which Martin hasn’t been so generous is when it comes to his girlfriend being a Rangers fan. Sydney was a sophomore at Boston College when the two met on Twitter. Sydney had grown up attending Rangers games with her father, and she confessed on an early date that she owned a Henrik Lundqvist jersey.
“When Matt and I were going on our first few dates, I was like I’m never going to convert,” she said. “But then, after the first game I went to and I met all the guys at dinner, I was like, ‘I don’t know how I can root for the Rangers anymore.’ It is one of the hugest rivalries.”
Said Martin: “Sydney had to break with tradition. There was no option.”
Of course, Martin hasn’t been able to convert Boomer, even though they are close and Boomer — who will turn 55 on Sunday — has opened up his house to a number of his Islanders teammates.
“All the single guys come over at Thanksgiving and eat my food and watch football on my TV,” Esiason grumbled. “Believe you me, this hasn’t been a great year for my team in the sense of the rivalry. The morning after the Islanders swept the series, I woke up to find a puck from the game with tape around it that said “first Islanders sweep” on my desk. This is the kind of stuff I have to deal with.”
Of course, the family knows it could get even more intense if both teams manage to advance to the conference finals.
“I can’t imagine. It will be so much anxiety,” Sydney said. “My dad wouldn’t even allow us in the house when the Rangers were playing for the Stanley Cup because he thought it was bad luck. The rivalry is so intense, I will be on the edge of my seat the whole game.”
On the edge of her seat, wearing an Islanders jersey.