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That (2-5) Was Then, This (5-5) Is Now for Boomer and Bengals

November 17, 1985|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

The so-called future has arrived in the form of a lefty from Long Island who looks more like a surfer from Long Beach.

He's 24-year-old Norman (Boomer) Esiason, who'll tuck his platinum-blonde hair into a Cincinnati Bengals' tiger-stripe helmet today at the Coliseum and see what he can do about adding to the Raiders' problems.

"The so-called future" is what the Boomer calls himself, a wry reference to the 1984 draft, when every NFL team passed him over, and the Bengals, who had already selected three players, finally consented to take him, as a "future."

As recently as the season opener, when the No. 1 Bengal quarterback, Ken Anderson, faltered and the call went out for the No. 2, Turk Schonert, Boomer was heard moaning playfully: "I'm the future. I'm the future."

He has moved up in time. Put in the lineup two weeks later, Esiason shot to the top of the quarterback rankings. Dan Fouts had to hit the Raiders with 436 yards last week to nose him out for No. 1.

Esiason is big--6-4 and 220 pounds--agile, mobile and facile, sort of a Bobby Douglass with brains. He has brought the Bengals with him, from a 2-5 start to 5-5, tying them for first place in the torrid AFC Central race.

How could a talent this big, a quarterback at a major university (Maryland), get drafted 38th?

"One thing I heard was 'uncoachable,' " Esiason said from Cincinnati. "I heard, 'He likes to keep late hours.'

"Well, there aren't many places in Cincinnati to keep late hours, so I don't have to worry about that.

"I think everybody had the wrong idea. The fact that I was from New York, I guess they all figured I was going to be another Paul Hornung or Joe Namath, staying out late. It was just something like the herd mentality, everybody jumps on it like flies on (bleep), so to speak.

"Maybe, it's just because I tend to say things that are honest and on my mind, and I try not to be too diplomatic about things."

Maybe it was an old scouting report. In the days before Boomer ever heard of diplomacy, he described his early years at Maryland this way:

"I was a rock 'n' roll freak. I went out every night. I had long hair. I had no discipline, really."

He has oodles now. He is diligence, itself. Tackle Anthony Munoz said that Boomer is the only quarterback he's ever seen in the line's film session.

Teammate Cris Collinsworth said: "When we first saw him, he was a big, strong-armed thrower who almost looked like he was trying to show off his arm on every play. Whoever the deepest guy on the football field was, that's who he wanted to throw it to.

"I think we all assumed that eventually Kenny (Anderson) was not going to be the starter around here, much as we all dreaded it (happening). Then it was a big decision. Turk Schonert, every time he's been called upon, he's come in and done a great job for us. He's won a lot of football games for us in clutch situations. I think a lot of us assumed that he was going to get his shot.

"The decision surprised a lot of us. I know Turk was hurt by it. It disrupted the team. If Boomer had gone out the first three weekends and had poor performances, it could have really torn at the heart of this football team.

"What's he like?" Collinsworth laughed. "He's about as big a jerk as any quarterback on this team.

"Not only is he a leader on the field, but he's a leader off the field. He's leading the team in commercials now.

"Kenny Anderson is kind of a humble, family man. The other two (Esiason and Schonert) are in a bag all by themselves. If you try to compare the cockiness of those two, I'm not sure the Richter scale can cover that one.

"You knew from the first day he walked in this place, wearing his $500 suit, with his little strut. He's from New York City and he has the Long Island accent, so everybody's got their own little imitation of Boomer Ball around here.

"He weighs about 240 pounds. Either 215 or 240, I've forgotten which one it is. We've got a big fullback around here named Larry Kinnebrew. Every time Brew gets the ball, everybody starts yelling, 'Brew! Brew! Brew!' Last week, Boomer took off a couple of times, and a few mistaken people in the crowd were hollering, 'Brew! Brew! Brew!' "

The Raiders have a streak, too--two losses. Last week at San Diego, they gave up 593 yards, their most ever, beating the 539 the Los Angeles Chargers got off them at the Coliseum in 1960, the first AFL season.

Howie Long said: "The bottom line is we stunk. This is a week of redemption."

Lest they forget, the coaches put them through tackling drills, which are usually forgotten after training camp. This indignity is not expected to do anything for their mood.

Raider Notes The Bengals are the NFL's highest-scoring team but have the 25th-ranked defense. They put their winning streak together against the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Mark Malone out, the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns. The Raiders are six-point favorites. . . . Dave Dalby, supplanted as the starter at center by Don Mosebar, today will become the 13th player to appear in 200 straight games. . . . The Raider offense remains more of a week-to-week problem. They have gone back to a traditional wide-open attack, with mixed results: two 34-point games, both against the Chargers, and a 3-point game. Marc Wilson has thrown for 711 yards with 3 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.

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