It happens in airports, in grocery stores and practically
everywhere else Boomer Esiason goes. People see the white hair
and the 6'5" frame, and there is a glint of recognition, followed
by the same question, always the same question: "How's your son
doing?" Rarely do they ask Esiason about his 14-year NFL career
or his work as a commentator on The NFL Today and Westwood One
radio. No, it's always about Gunnar, the little boy they remember
with cystic fibrosis. "People kind of forget what I did on the
football field," says Esiason. "That's perfectly fine with me.
That means we're making a difference."
This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue
It was nearly a decade ago that Boomer and Gunnar appeared on the
cover of SI, the 2 1/2-year-old son perched on the father's
shoulders. Since then Esiason has gone from being the starting
quarterback for the New York Jets to the country's most visible
advocate of research for cystic fibrosis, a disease of the lungs
and digestive system that afflicts 30,000 children and young
adults in the U.S. and 70,000 worldwide. The Boomer Esiason
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has raised more than $22 million since
it was founded 10 years ago.
As for Gunnar, the second-youngest cover subject in the history
of the magazine, he is now a wiry 5'5" 85-pounder headed into the
seventh grade on Long Island. Though he has suffered no serious
complications from the disease in the last 10 years, he is thin
for his age and will remain so. His dad affectionately calls him
Like most 12-year-old boys, Gunnar is attached to his Nintendo
Gamecube, his PlayStation 2 and his XBox, but he also plays
baseball (second base), hockey (left wing), lacrosse (attack) and
soccer (fullback). Of course, Gunnar is nothing like most
seventh-graders in other ways: He has a persistent cough,
undergoes two sessions of about 30 to 45 minutes each day, during
which Boomer or his wife, Cheryl, clear the mucus from his lungs,
and swallows eight enzyme tablets with every meal to help digest
Not that you'll hear Gunnar complain. Last March he got up at his
father's annual cystic fibrosis black-tie event and gave a
three-minute speech about life with the disease. "I talked about
how my dad was my hero and about my experiences," says Gunnar,
who admits he was "real, real nervous" speaking in front of a big
crowd for the first time. When he finished, all 600
people--including his beaming dad--stood and applauded.
Since retiring from the NFL after the 1997 season, Boomer has
devoted most of his free time stumping for the fight against
cystic fibrosis and says that he's driven by one goal. "I want to
allow Gunnar the honor of being a father himself," says Boomer.
"And I'm not going to stop working until we beat this
thing." --Chris Ballard
After starring as an NFL passer, Boomer has led the fight against
cystic fibrosis, the disease that threatens the life of his son.