BROWNE: Objectionable Conduct: Boomer Esiason’s CFL Blunders Fuelling Longtime Misconceptions

CBS NFL analyst Boomer Esaison certainly made his presence felt on Sunday’s broadcast of the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams regular season finale.

The 59-year-old, a veteran of 14 NFL seasons split between Cincinnati, Arizona and the Jets, was filling in for Tony Romo – alongside veteran play-by-play man Jim Nantz – due to COVID-19 protocols. He has experience as a colour man in the past, working at ABC with Al Michaels on Monday Night Football and then at Westwood One radio as their MNF game analyst. He has primarily, however, been a studio analyst for CBS.

So, while it wasn’t foreign territory for Esiason, he didn’t exactly make a great impression in his return to the broadcast booth – especially among CFL fans.

Former CFL quarterback Chris Streveler – a Grey Cup Champion in 2019 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who was signed by the Cardinals in the offseason – was rumoured as the potential starter for Arizona in their Week 17 matchup with L.A. due to an injury to starter Kyler Murray. Murray gave it a go, but exited the game in the first quarter due to the nagging ailment.

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This isn’t the Grey Cup; this isn’t the CFL. You can’t just take chances and throw the ball down the middle of the field and expect someone not to come down with it. – Boomer Esaison

Streveler threw a touchdown pass on his second pass attempt, but, as the first half was winding down, threw a pick-six to the Rams Troy Hill, who promptly returned it 85 yards for the go-ahead major.

After the play was over, Esiason said, “What a horrific mistake by ‘Reveler.’ You know, this isn’t the Grey Cup; this isn’t the CFL. You can’t just take chances and throw the ball down the middle of the field and expect someone not to come down with it.”

Courtesy: Twitter/@RamsNFL

It’s almost impressive to consider that in a matter of about 25 seconds, Esiason managed to: mispronounce Streveler’s name; slam an entire league and the athletes that make it; and insult an entire nation – all on live television.

The remark made waves quickly on social media, drawing the ire of CFL players, coaches media personnel and fans, alike. Calgary Stampeders OL Derrick Dennis said, “Boomer just hatin’ now.” A couple retired former Most Outstanding Players in Travis Lulay (2011) and Chad Owens (2012) also chimed in, Lulay saying, “Boomer knows this doesn’t work in the CFL either, right?,” with Owens tweeting, “Man, c’mon with the CFL shots. We don’t just throw it up for grabs.”

Could it be that a run-package quarterback who threw eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions in the CFL regular season last year might not always make great decisions? No, it’s the entire league that’s wrong. – Esiason

And, to think that might not have been the worst of it, Esiason also said, “Could it be that a run-package quarterback who threw eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions in the CFL regular season last year might not always make great decisions? No, it’s the entire league that’s wrong.”

There are so many problems with both these remarks, but let’s start with what should – to anyone who follows the CFL, even sporadically – be plainly obvious. These are cheap, unnecessary jabs at a league Esiason clearly knows little to nothing about. As Lulay and several others correctly point out, throws down the middle of the field are generally picked off North of the border, as well. CFL quarterbacks aren’t arbitrarily throwing balls into mid-air, closing their eyes, dropping to their knees and praying the ball somehow, miraculously gets caught.

Again – something that is evident to anyone who has watched even one series of a CFL game in their lives.

Next, there’s the fact that almost everything Esiason said was factually inaccurate. Aside from his assumption that throws like the one Streveler made are commonplace among CFL pivots, the throw Streveler made was a) not into the middle of the field (it was intercepted in the final third of the field, between the outer hash and the sideline; and b) it wasn’t into “3 Rams defenders” (there were two in the immediate vicinity, as well as two Arizona receivers).

Now, let me be very clear: this isn’t to defend the throw from Chris Streveler (it was bad, although, in fairness, the Rams were offside and Streveler thought he had a free play), and this isn’t even to hype up Chris Streveler (he is not a good throwing quarterback, as illustrated by his 8-14 TD-INT ratio in 2019). Streveler was serviceable for the Bombers because they designed play packages that aligned with his skill set – option plays, QB keepers and short, intermediate throws.

My problem is Boomer Esiason getting up on his soapbox and defaming an entire league while simultaneously implying that Chris Streveler is representative of top-notch CFL talent.

He’s not. (Somewhere Alex Singleton is sitting down grinning with his hand half raised.)

These comments by Esiason speak to a couple things, namely: his lack of respect for, and knowledge of, the Canadian Football League; and his lack of preparation for the game.

Some have said, ‘well, he only got the assignment the day before, that’s not enough time to prepare.’ Well, I beg to differ.

As someone who calls games myself, I know what it takes to prepare for a game. When you have an idea – as Esiason should have – that Streveler would quite possibly play, or even start the game, you must have a baseline idea of who the player is. I have no problem critiquing Streveler’s poor execution, or even referencing a past tendency that he doesn’t always make good decisions with the football, citing his interception numbers as evidence. That puts the blame squarely on the player for a poor play without demeaning and discrediting the skillset of an entire league.

The most unfortunate – yet equally heartwarming – thing to come from this is the fact that those close to the CFL are once again forced to jump to its defence against needless, and, frankly, harmful, disparagement. This is a league that needs to bring in more fans, not less, and comments like these from Esiason don’t help. What ignorance like this does is promote fallacies that have prohibited the growth of the CFL for years: that it isn’t professional, that the talent discrepancy is vast and widening, and that the game itself isn’t worthy of respect.

All those things couldn’t be further from the truth. In all my years watching and covering sports, I’ve never seen a league receive so much vitriol from people who claim to love football. Is it different? Of course. But is it a league full of tremendous, talented athletes putting their hearts and souls on the line every single week for the love of the game? Absolutely. It is also, I would argue, a league with a more entertaining product. That, however, is merely subjective.

So, while unfortunate that they needed to come out against such ignorance, it was wonderful to see those who hold the CFL dear rally in full force to denounce Esiason’s claims. If nothing else, it has lots of people talking about the CFL right now.

The other positive? At least Esaison took time out of his busy schedule to compliment the Grey Cup trophy?

I guess?

Yeah – okay, Boomer.

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