Boomer and Gunnar Esiason were side-by-side again this week for the 21st Annual United Healthcare Empire Challenge. The Challenge, which has for more than two decades helped raise money and awareness for the Boomer Esiason Foundation's fight against cystic fibrosis, showcases talented high schoolers in a clash between New York City and Long Island. But out of the game's spotlight, the father and son continue the battle they have waged for close to 23 years.
"We are best friends. We do everything together. To have my dad be the person to take responsibility of putting a face to cystic fibrosis means so much to me," Gunnar said. "Hopefully one day we can live in a world without CF."
Shortly after Boomer was traded to the Jets in 1993, Gunnar was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. At that time, the average life expectancy for a child diagnosed with CF — a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States — was 18. But Gunnar is 25, and the BEF has raised over $130 million since its inception.
"I became the quarterback of the New York Jets in the media capital of the world. It became a national launch pad," the four-time Pro Bowler and former NFL MVP said. "It put a face on the disease when it really didn't have one."
Gunnar, a high school quarterback who played two seasons of Friends Academy and participated in the 2009 Challenge, watched this year's thriller as New York City defeated Long Island 39-34. The NYC victory, its first triumph in five seasons, wasn't decided until Sharif Harris-Legree threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Lincoln's Jordan Hannah with 22 seconds left.
"He is doing really well. I couldn't be more proud of him," Boomer said of his adult son. "Even if he threw 5 touchdowns in the Super Bowl."