Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, the Bengals accidentally leaked what very much looked like the start of a Ring of Honor. After 50+ years since their inception and 40 years since their first Super Bowl run, it’s about time the club honors its greatest and most influential people.
In this series, we will highlight players we feel are either well deserving of a spot, or will be worthy very soon. The list has grown fairly sizable with how long Cincinnati has hosted the Bengals, and they have plenty to catch up on with the potential installation.
Today we talk about yet another player who left his mark on NFL and Bengals history during his time and Cincinnati. Also he helped to turn one of the worst season’s in franchise history into a Super Bowl appearance the following season.
Norman Julius “Boomer” Esiason (No. 7)
- Height: 6-5
- Weight: 224
- Position: Quarterback
- Bengals Career: 1984-1992, 1997
- Drafted: 2nd round, 38th pick (1984)
The Bengals lucked out in the 1984 draft when Boomer Esiason landed in their lap. He fell unexpectedly on draft day, and he ended up being the perfect pick to push the then starter, Ken Anderson. It was a bold move by the franchise to so openly bring in the replacement for one of the greatest quarterbacks in franchise history who had just taken the team to their first Super Bowl. Esiason came in with huge shoes to potentially fill.
Esiason was a big quarterback with an even bigger arm. That was apparent when he took over for Anderson four times in 1984 due to injuries and went 3-1. After Anderson and the Bengals started 0-2 in 1985 it became Esiason’s time to take over. The second-year quarterback threw 27 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. He had a record of 7-7 in the rest of the season.
More importantly, behind head coach Sam Wyche, Esiason excelled at running the no-huddle offense throughout games for the first time in NFL’s history. It would later become popularized by the Bills, but it started with Esiason and Wyche in the Queen City. This was a huge development in NFL offenses, and it helped pave the way for it to become a popular addition to offenses through out the modern history of the game.
Things were going smoothly until 1987. This was the year that the players’ went on strike, and Esiason stood his ground with his teammates. The fact he did this while also being one of the few players with a million dollar contract, combined with a down season, didn’t sit well with fans. He was booed constantly and even allegedly had beer thrown at him. This led to him saying he was open to a trade due to his treatment from the fans. Ironically, his comment included thinking the only way to land in the good graces of the fans was to lead the team to the Super Bowl, which turned out to do the trick.
The following season, rumors swirled of Wyche being fired and Boomer being traded, but the 1988 season turned out to be THE year of the Bengals. Esiason threw for just over 3,500 yards, 28 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions on his way to earning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. More importantly, he helped lead the Bengals to their second Super Bowl in seven seasons. Unfortunately, the ending was the same as Joe Montana and the 49ers once again topped the Bengals. This one was only possible after Montana led one of the most iconic drives in NFL history and put San Francisco up in the final seconds.
After that season, Esiason and the Bengals were never really the same. His final winning season came in 1990 when he led the Bengals to a 9-7 record and the team’s last playoff win against the Oilers. After two consecutive seasons of throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, the Bengals traded away the southpaw quarterback to the Jets in 1993.
Esiason’s career outside of Cincinnati didn’t end up being a noteworthy one. Coaching instability in New York led to struggles for three seasons, and a stop with the Cardinals in 1996 appeared to be the end of his career. Until the Bengals talked him into returning for the 1997 season where he ended up taking over for Jeff Blake and going 4-1 with 13 touchdowns to only two interceptions.
Despite the late career success, Esiason chose to join the booth as a broadcaster rather than return to the Bengals. He has since become one of the most recognizable names as an analyst and broadcaster, and he made national news last season when he handed Heisman winning quarterback, Joe Burrow, a Bengals helmet and welcomed him to the family.
- Four-time Pro Bowler
- 1988 NFL MVP
- 37,920 Career Passing Yards - 24th in NFL (27,149 with Bengals, third in team history)
- 247 Career Touchdowns - 25th in NFL (187 with Bengals, third in team history)
- 7.6 YPA with Bengals - First in Bengals history (among leaders with at least 500 attempts)
- Passed for 3,000+ yards seven times
- At age 36 in 1997, Boomer took over for a team that started 1-7 and set a career high in Passer Rating (106.9) in route to going 4-1 as a starter, winning four of the last five games
- Best playoff record in team history (3-2) and only Bengals QB with a winning playoff record
The Ring of Honor for the Bengals is about one thing, and that is remembering those who had the biggest impact on this franchise. Esiason is one of only two quarterbacks to even lead the Bengals to a playoffs win, much less a Super Bowl. His success with the team may have burned out as quickly as it started, but that Super Bowl appearance still lives large in Bengals’ history. Had Montana not done what he did, we aren’t discussing if Esiason deserves in the ring, we would be discussing if he is an inaugural member.
Esiason’s place in Bengals history should be secured as he still remains one of the franchises’ most successful quarterbacks.