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With Game, Radio Gig, Boomer's Going 24/7


Boomer Esiason just doesn't get much sleep these days. Almost 10 months into his radio position as morning co-host on WFAN here in New York, Esiason's new role has proved to be challenging.

"Morning radio is tough," he said Tuesday evening. "It's the first time I've ever had a full-time job."

Perhaps the lack of Zs has made Esiason forget his illustrious 14-year career in the NFL. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, the University of Maryland product played for three teams, including his hometown Jets, from 1984-96. Like any good quarterback, he values teamwork in any industry.

"If you have a good partner — like a quarterback needs good linemen — you can really be successful," he says. "My partner is a fantastic radio personality and at this point I feel lucky to be paired with him. It's actually made it a little bit easier for me."

Craig Carton, a non-stop bottle of energy who can be engaging one minute and grating the next, serves as Esiason's devilish companion. Like a 7-year old who's just digested three packs of Skittles, the talented Carton is all over the place. He's the shock jock while Boomer often balances his partner by offering a more reasoned approach.

"He is wide-open. Full-throttle wide-open," Esiason said. "For me, I'm a little bit more reserved. I've accomplished some things in my life that I want to make sure people remember me for as opposed to just a radio gig."

They talk sports, but they also dabble in Hollywood, politics and other current events. Carton, a seasoned radio vet, and Esiason, who has appeared in front of the camera for years on MSG and CBS Sports, know stat boxes won't cut it for listeners at 6:45 a.m.

"You have to remember morning radio is supposed to be entertaining as opposed to just informative," Esiason said. "We don't really try to bog ourselves down with stats and trades and trends and all that other stuff. We just let it go and see where the microphones take us every day."

On this late afternoon, it's about two hours before the Empire Challenge kicks off at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium. The 13th annual game, played between the top high school football players from New York City and Long Island, actually began as a contest between Long Island's two counties.

"It was Nassau vs. Suffolk the first few years and we weren't just getting enough people, we weren't getting enough support," Esiason said. "Then once I opened it up to the New York City kids and it was NYC vs. Long Island, the sponsors started really taking notice, which really helped. Without the sponsors that we have, we couldn't pull it off at this level."

Proceeds from the game will benefit three causes: New York area youth football, the Boomer Esiason Foundation's fight against cystic fibrosis, and the Gunnar H. Esiason Endowed Scholarship at Hofstra.

Esiason, a native Islander who attended East Islip High School, was traded from the Bengals to the Jets prior to the 1993 season. But just a couple of months later, he was informed that his 2-year-old son, Gunnar, had cystic fibrosis. The disease affects the lungs and digestive system of children and has no cure, but Esiason decided he would work to change that fact.

"We just felt like there was a missing piece in the world of cystic fibrosis," he said. "They didn't really have anybody with a name that sports fans knew or anyone else knew, so when I became quarterback of the Jets I just basically blurted it and all that came with it from a media standpoint.

"Since that time, we've raised over $65 million dollars for cystic fibrosis."

Gunnar, now 17, has achieved his goal of playing quarterback at the high school level (Friends Academy). He is a battler and you'd expect nothing more from Boom's boy.

Before the Challenge began, Esiason promised to stay in the background and let the dozens of volunteers run the show.

"As the president of my foundation says, 'Boomer, when you have a walkie-talkie, it's like the fall of Saigon.' It's like madness all over the place," he said with a laugh. "But it's been really well run over the last six years to the point where it's been flawless, so I just try to stay out of the way now."

The game turned out to be a thriller as New York City scored a touchdown in the waning seconds and captured a come-from-behind 21-20 victory. There were 11,005 in attendance and when the game ended at 10:28 p.m., you know Boomer must have felt tremendously satisfied but probably ready to beat the traffic as well.

The alarm clock was going to buzz in a few hours, and Norman Julius Esiason was working the early shift again.

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