VAR500 Awards: Winning And Losing With Boomer Esiason

Former NFL football quarterback Boomer Esiason treated the attendees at Everything Channel's VAR500 Awards dinner, held in New York City on June 8, 2010, to a humorous, sometimes acerbic, but heartfelt and personal talk.

Esiason, the 1988 NFL MVP as the quarterback of the Cincinati Bengals, is currently an analyst for CBS's NFL Sunday, and the co-host of the "Boomer and Carton" radio show on New York's WFAN. The New York native spoke about communication, commitment, and the ups and downs of life to a full house at Cipriani Wall Street in New York city.

"It's good to know everyone gets an award," Boomer teased the audience.

"Life has a way of throwing you things you can't prepare for," Esiason told the VAR500 attendees. The high -- and low -- point of Esiason's NFL career came in Super Bowl 23. A steep underdog to the San Francisco 49ers, Esiason's Bengals were nevertheless up by 3 points late in the fourth quarter. "Three minutes and thirty seconds away from winning the Super Bowl," Esiason described the situation, noting more than once, "We were ahead when I left the field!"

So Esiason found himself on the sidelines, practicing his "I'm going to Disney" line with the Disney video crew, in anticipation of victory. Meanwhile, he turned and noticed, "on the field, Joe Montana was completing passes..." leading to a 49ers touchdown, and the lead, with 35 seconds to go in the game.

With that, the Disney crew abandoned Boomer and dashed around the field to find Montana. "It was the ultimate indignity," Esiason acknowledged, (a last minute pass attempt from Esiason was broken up) and Esiason didn't go to Disney. "I went to Aruba, and it was awful."

Esiason nevertheless won the NFL MVP award for the 1988 season. While he was at the MVP awards ceremony, Esiason found himself moved during sporstwriter Frank Deford's description of the loss of his daughter to Cystic Fibrosis.

"Suddenly the MVP didn't mean as much to me." Esiason explained. He spoke to Deford and subsequently became involved with supporting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

It was therefore tragically ironic when, four years later, Esiason would find himself "hit with a sledgehammer" with the news that his own two-year-old son, Gunnar, had been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. Esiason became committed to finding a cure, and his Boomer Esiason Foundation has raised over $80 million to date for Cystic Fibrosis research and family support.

"I tell my son things aren't going to be easy," Esiason said, and found an example close to home with his own career post-MVP. Playing for the New York Jets, the Arizona Cardinals, and finally returning to the Cincinati Bengals, Esiason described the three teams as "The Bermuda Triangle of the NFL."

At the Jets, Esiason enjoyed two successful years, but then found himself at the start of the third year, playing for a coach, Rich Kotite, whose plan, as Esiason came to realize, was to "rebuild the team without Boomer."

The situation was grim. Even years later at the VAR 500 dinner, Esiason didn't avoid criticising his Jets teammates that year. They "had no idea what was going on," and he noted, "you're only as good as the stupidist guy on your team."

The Jets opened that season against the powerful Miami Dolphins, and Boomer found himself intercepted and slammed to the ground on the very first play. "That's what happens in the NFL..."

Addressing his solution provider audience, Esiason turned to lessons he's learned in business, broadcasting and sports. In the technology business, "Not everybody is going to be the HP, the Samsung, the Microsoft. There's going to be somebody that loses. Don't let it be you."

The key questions becomes "How much do you care about what you're doing? Do you believe in yourself? On the field, I always thought we could win," Esiason declared.

"People want to be challenged," he stated, "Though sometimes I challenge my employees like my coaches used to challenge me: Do it or you're fired!," he (sort-of) joked.

"After everything I've been through, life has come full circle for me." Esiason concluded, turning serious. "What I care about -- what drives me now -- is for my son to outlive me." On the heels of that earnest admission, Esiason immediately lightened the mood. "Actually that might not be that hard, given that I also have a 17-year-old daughter who's trying to kill me." (Gunnar Esiason is currently healthy and attending college.)

But noting his daughter Sydney's predilection for always-connected communications, Esiason threw a barb at his audience of technology integrators: "You're the people that are ruining my life!"

Ultimately, success in business comes down to the personal touch, Esiason concluded. "The most important contact you can have with someone, is to be able to look them in the eyes and see their soul... That's the ultimate communication."

And for the people that are helping you be successful, he said, "A handshake goes a lot farther than an e-mail from the cloud... Stay personal, and have a great year!"