While many players embraced Paul Brown’s view that a pro football career should underpin one’s life’s work, no former Bengal has pursued his with the determination and necessity of Boomer Esiason. The world can see inside his passionate personal crusade against Cystic Fibrosis on HBO Real Sports, Tuesday, Jan. 21.
Boomer unwittingly gave me a preview during a Memorial Day weekend visit to Bridgehampton, New York. Be it their former Squire Oaks residence in Northern Kentucky or Long Island, Cheryl and Boomer’s home has always exuded a warm, welcoming embrace.
Little changed from his playing days, Boomer still has his big personality. He has the work ethic to match: He is the Sunday studio analyst for CBS’s NFL Today, Monday Night Football commentator for the Westwood One radio network and co-host of WFAN’s Boomer and Carton in the Morning radio show, which dominates New York City airwaves.
Leading him to somewhat wearily conclude: “DJ, I’ve never worked harder in my life.”
Then there is his labor of love. The Boomer Esiason Foundation. It dates back to 1988, when the Bengals quarterback was voted the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Author Frank Deford delivered the keynote address at that MVP banquet and his message found a fateful ear. Deford told of his daughter Alexandra’s struggle with Cystic Fibrosis. A family battle portrayed in the 1986 film, “Alex: The Life of a Child”.
At the time, Boomer’s annual celebrity-stocked golf tournament benefited the Arthritis Foundation. But Deford’s impassioned story led Boomer to throw his support behind Cystic Fibrosis research. That involvement led to a bitterly ironic moment 5 years later when Cheryl and Boomer were informed that their son Gunnar was afflicted with the same genetic disorder.
Boomer’s first call was to his dad.
His second was to Deford. Boomer, his eyes growing moist recollecting the moment, told Deford of their now shared plight.
He thought he’d been disconnected.
“Frank, are you there?”
“Yes, Boomer. I’m here. I just needed a moment. I know the struggle that lies ahead for your family. I hope it ends better than ours," Esiason recalled Deford telling him. "But now this disease has an angelic faced identity, Gunnar Esiason, whose dad is quarterback of the New York Jets.”
And with that, thousands of other Cystic Fibrosis-afflicted families had a team captain to coalesce about the spotty research efforts.
Most of us knew of the support the Foundation garnered in Greater Cincinnati. Events like his golf outing and later a sporting clays shoot spearheaded by Jack Cassidy of Cincinnati Bell, as well as the Celestial Ball, all of which helped fund the Gunnar H. Esiason Cystic Fibrosis/Lung Center at Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
But nothing prepared me for the scope of the Foundation’s nationwide reach. Boomer said the foundation has raised more than $100 million raised since its inception.
I was floored when he told me the figure.
If he does nothing else in his life - which is highly unlikely -- think of the impact he has had on the lives of people he will never know.
The Foundation's miniscule overhead means more money for groundbreaking research. The inroads they’ve made have greatly enhanced life prospects for Cystic Fibrosis patients. According to Charity Navigator, the foundation spent just 7.9 percent of its revenue on administrative costs in Fiscal Year 2012.
While Frank Deford lost his beloved Alex at 8 years of age, Gunnar Esiason, a recent Boston College graduate, is now 22 with plans to become an English teacher.
HBO’s special airs Tuesday at 10 pm. The 10th Annual Celestial Ball benefiting the Boomer Esiason Foundation is June 21st at the Duke Energy Center.
Both are worthy of your attention.