NOTE: These all-time draft posts are re-posts from previous years. Since there haven't been many changes over the years, our top-ten lists are relatively the same.
Whenever the name Ken Anderson surfaces within the glorious golden confines of the all-time greats, Boomer Esiason isn't far behind. Depending on one's point of view, you might even place him before Anderson. Favoritism is really based on when you were introduced with the Bengals... If your earliest memories have Ken Anderson leading the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI, then he's probably your guy. If your first recollections of the Bengals feature Boomer Esiason, a rap song and Ickey Woods, then Boomer is your guy.
Kenny Anderson led the Bengals to a Super Bowl, but so did Boomer Esiason, who became the protege of Anderson during the twilight of his career. Anderson holds most passing records in franchise history, but he's also the most tenured Bengals player with 16 years of service, while Boomer Esiason quickly (and wisely) fled a sinking ship with a trade demand soon after Sam Wyche left the organization. It explains why Anderson holds most of the career records for quarterbacks; though Boomer Esiason ranks second on most and was well on his way to holding virtually every record in franchise history.
And to his credit, he does own records. Throwing for 300 yards in 23 career games or posting five 300-yard games in a season -- a record tied by Carson Palmer. And before Palmer, Esiason held the record for most yards passing in a season (1986) and most yards passing in a game (490 yards on October 7, 1990 at the Los Angeles Rams). No Bengals quarterback recorded a higher career average yard/attempt than Boomer's 7.62 and even though he played six less seasons with the Bengals than Anderson, Boomer only came 10 passing touchdowns shy of the franchise record in a career.
Yet, Esiason's career in Cincinnati didn't follow through the game plan that was hoped. The eventual successor to Anderson, Boomer could have rewrote virtually every record in the books with a great offense and a core of personalities that put any Marvin Lewis-era team to shame.
It all spiraled out of control on Christmas Eve in 1991 -- a date that literally set the tone for the next 15 years. During a meeting between head coach Sam Wyche and President Mike Brown, something happened where Bengals fans were shocked to learn that the head coach was leaving the organization. "I can't believe what I just heard," Bengals fan Josh Kirkendall said at the time. Reportedly at the time, when the Christmas Eve meeting was over, two conflicting stories surfaced. The Bengals said Wyche turned in his resignation while Sam Wyche had a different side to the story:
"I was simply fired by Mike Brown at a meeting today," Wyche said in a statement released by his lawyers. "I have no idea why the Bengals have chosen to announce this as my decision to leave."
The method of his exit was important. If Wyche was fired, he was due $1 million for the two years remaining on his contract, whereas if he resigned, he wouldn't see a penny of that money. Wyche was quickly hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the head coach, partially responsible for drafting players like Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch. And the Bengals organization was buried under cloud and ash for an entire generation. The fall. The decline. Let's nominate Christmas Eve 1991 as the date it began.
The initial firing/resigning of Sam Wyche, along with the team hiring the unproven and unqualified David Shula, severely fractured Boomer Esiason's loyalty to the Bengals. Esiason slipped into Mike Brown's office afterwards and demanded a trade. Brown agreed to capitulate to his demand, provided that Boomer stick around for another season while the team groomed a replacement franchise quarterback -- as if they're totally on stock at Kroger. Good on his word, Brown drafted David Klingler and after the 1992 season, traded Esiason to the New York Jets for a third-round pick.
Released after only three seasons with the Jets, Esiason spent a year with the Arizona Cardinals, even posting 522 yards passing against the Washington Redskins; third-most passing yards in a single game in NFL history. That being said, Esiason was verging on retirement.
Until an unexpected thing happened.
The four-time Pro Bowl quarterback signed a two-year contract, returning to Cincinnati on April 6, 1997, backing up starting quarterback Jeff Blake. Bengals head coach Bruce Coslett was also Esiason's head coach during his first year with the Jets. So there was a connection there.
The Jeff Blake led offense struggled all season. During his 11 starts in 1997, Blake sported a 3-8 starting record with only eight passing touchdowns. Blake was benched against the Indianapolis Colts on November 11, 1997 and Esiason led the team with 21 second-half points and a 28-13 win.
Two weeks later, Coslett started Esiason. In return, he destroyed the competition. Starting the final five games of the season, the Bengals went 4-1 and Esiason posted 11 touchdowns and only two picks with a season-long passer rating of 106.9. In four of the team's final five games, the Bengals scored 31 points or more; they scored 31 points only once in the 11 preceding games with Blake as the quarterback.
Boomer was back baby. Hope permeated throughout the city, and memory of the glorious late 80s reigned. It was epic.
Then he retired for good, with Lynyrd Skynyrd's Tuesday's Gone playing in the background of our hearts. Offered a five-year deal with ABC's Monday Night Football, Esiason decided to end his playing career, turning to the next logical phase in his life: television, where you can see him every Sunday morning (ripping the Bengals). Mike Brown provided a moving complementary goodbye on Boomer's career in Cincinnati.
"Everyone in Cincinnati is always going to be fond of Boomer. He leaves here as one of the shining lights in Bengals lore. He was just a great field general. He had a presence on the field that was unequaled. And off the field, he was an exemplar. Look at all he has done with the Cystic Fibrosis crusade. Everyone admires him for that."