Simms, Esiason, and Ryan Entertain at LIA LuncheonWESTBURY, N.Y. – Over a thousand people were in attendance for the Long Island Association’s 2012 annual luncheon in Westbury, New York last Wednesday.
But, the real treat was the amusing banter between former Super Bowl quarterbacks Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason, and New York Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan, as they joined LIA president and CEO Kevin Law in a panel discussion at the Westbury Country Club.
The day started with a private reception taking place only an hour after Esiason wrapped up his daily morning radio and television show on WFAN (660 AM) and MSG-TV in Manhattan.
After that, Esiason posed for pictures with Simms, Ryan, and Law, before Ryan answered questions from the media on the Jets.
Ryan discussed his meeting with team owner Woody Johnson after the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI victory, which followed a disappointing season for the Jets, and said, “We’ve identified things that we have to get better at as an organization. We’re learning from what happened this past season, and hey, we’ve got some scars from it, there’s no question.”
Asked what he learned from the season turning point for both his team and the Giants – wide receiver Victor Cruz’s team record 99-yard touchdown reception in the Giants’ win over the Jets on December 24th – Ryan quipped, “I learned we’ve got to tackle better. The 99-yarder, I don’t know how many more guys you could have covering that guy.”
During the discussion later on, Ryan drew some laughs saying, “We were in triple coverage on that Cruz touchdown. I guess we should be in zero coverage.”
He also praised the Giants’ perseverance to go from a 7-7 record prior to that game to closing the season on a six-game winning streak and winning their second Super Bowl in five seasons. “You’ve got to give [the Giants] all the credit in the world. They found a way to get it done and win [the Super Bowl].”
Questioning his own approach with the Jets somewhat, the normally boastful Ryan reconsidered whether his string of Super Bowl guarantees over his first three years as the Jets’ head coach might have done more harm than help, especially this past season.
“Making the guarantee and all that, I thought was going to put pressure on myself, but I also want to send a message to our team,” said Ryan, who reflected on among other feedback, the remarks of Jets’ veteran running back LaDanian Tomlinson.
“The guys know that I speak what I believe to be truth,” he continued. “Now, it never worked out that way, but that’s what I believed. But, after hearing LaDanian’s comments and having some exit interviews, my intent was not to put pressure on our players. I wanted to put pressure on me, and let them play loose and fast… but, maybe there was more pressure. Maybe opponents looked at us differently because of the guarantee that I made. So, I gotta look at all those things.”
Moments later, Ryan confessed to Law that, “Anyone who’s successful has scars. And, we dared to be successful.”
Earlier, Simms began the panel discussion by providing some candid and humorous insight into his relationship with former New York Giants’ legendary head coach Bill Parcells.
When Law addressed the former Giants quarterback by Simms’ first name, Simms recalled how hard Parcells was on him, saying “First of all, thanks for using my first name. I always thought [my full name] was Effing Simms. I used to have to check my birth certificate and make sure my name started with a ‘P’ and not and ‘F.’ And, if I did well, it was just ‘Hey, boy’ or something like that.”
Simms later divulged that he wanted to leave New York after he was benched early in his career by Parcells.
Telling of when things got better as Simms’ career evolved, Simms said “People would tell me, ‘Hey, you hung in there.’ I was like, ‘What else was I going to do?’ Before that, I told Parcells, ‘Trade me now!’ He tried, but the organization wouldn’t let him.”
As the conversation switched back to the Jets’ head coach, Ryan discussed his team’s tough 2011 season after reaching the AFC title game as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2008 and in each of his first two years as the head coach of the Jets.
“I’m not used to being in this situation,” he said. “Three straight years, I was in a championship game, albeit, I lost all three.”
While the audience responded with laughter, Esiason playfully consoled Ryan by tapping him on the leg.
This year, watching the Jets’ MetLife Stadium co-tenants, the Giants, meet the New England Patriots, the Jets’ main divisional rival, was especially difficult for Ryan, who lightheartedly said, “It was like a cruel joke or something… uhh, let’s see… the Giants… and the Patriots… hmm…”
However, at least the Jets have been much better under Ryan than when Esiason quarterbacked them from 1993-1995.
Although Esiason had a prolific 14-year playing career that included four pro bowls and 37,920 passing yards, other than nearly leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl win in his fifth season, Esiason was often one of the National Football League’s best quarterbacks playing on bad teams.
“I played for the Bengals, [Arizona] Cardinals, and Jets, otherwise known as the Bermuda Triangle in the NFL,” Esiason joked.
He added that as a former player, he appreciates Ryan’s approach. “Rex takes the issues away from the player and puts it on himself,” he said.
But, Esiason also thanked Ryan for being so outspoken now that he’s in broadcasting. “You have made my job so much easier,” Esiason told Ryan. “There’s always something to talk about.”
Touching on the Giants’ late-season turnaround and the comparative criticism from the media and fans for Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, Esiason said, “They wanted to run [Giants’ quarterback] Eli [Manning] out of town, they wanted to run [Giants’ head coach] Tom Coughlin out of town… and they win [the Super Bowl].”
“Everyone wants you to be [New York Knicks’ point guard] Jeremy Lin or [Giants’ wide receiver] Victor Cruz for that matter,” he added, relating Sanchez to two players who have flourished very early while playing in New York.
“But, it takes time, sometimes… Mark Sanchez gets it,” Esiason said, while pointing out Sanchez’s leadership skills in attempting to diffuse reported earlier issues between Sanchez and Jets’ star, wide receiver Santonio Holmes earlier the same morning.
“He sent out a tweet yesterday (on Valentine’s Day, last Tuesday) to Santonio Holmes, saying ‘Would You Be My Valentine?’ with a picture of a heart-shaped box of cookies.”
At that point, Simms chimed in on discussing social media, joking that if things like Twitter and Facebook were around in his playing days, he “would have had more fines than Rex” and that former Giants’ linebacker great Lawrence Taylor “would have lasted three games in his career.”
Simms and Esiason then detailed how the two blonde-haired former quarterbacks will often get confused for each other in public.
The latest occurrence of that was during Super Bowl week in Indianapolis earlier this month.
“A fan in Indy thought he was me,” Simms said. “And, he asked, ‘Hey Boomer, who will win [the Super Bowl]? And, [Boomer] says, ‘The Patriots!’ He was trying to make me look bad.”
Esiason then told Simms how a fan told him, again thinking that Esiason was Simms, “Eli Manning’s better than you! You suck!”
Of course, Simms actually had a great career that spanned fifteen seasons with more than 33,000 passing yards, two Super Bowl titles, a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award and a pair of pro bowl selections before he, like Esiason, became successful in broadcasting.
Still, Esiason admitted to Simms, “It’s awesome! It’s so good being you.”
Returning the favor, Simms told a story of how he was mistaken in a restaurant for Esiason, and when asked for an autograph, Simms told the Esiason fan that he charges a hundred bucks for such a courtesy.
Back to the topic of Parcells, Simms said he and his head coach “could say anything to each other.”
Yet, that didn’t mean their dealings with each other weren’t often contentious.
“[People] would ask me, ‘Was it really that bad?’ And, I’d tell them, ‘No it was much worse.’ Every day was the end of the world [with Parcells.] Every day! But, it was a great relationship for eight years,” Simms said.
Moving on to far more serious matters, Esiason spoke of the Boomer Esiason Foundation (BEF), which he founded in 1994 after his son Gunnar was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis a year earlier.
“We just eclipsed $100 million dollars in the fight against cystic fibrosis,” a rightfully proud Esiason declared.
“You know how the Giants said they were ‘All In’ [during their run to Super Bowl XLVI]? You’re always all in for your kids.”
Esiason’s son Gunnar takes medication and other daily treatments for his condition, but he is an extremely active teenager who began attending Boston College in the fall of 2009.
The offices for Esiason’s foundation were destroyed, having been located on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower during the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2011.
Thankfully, none of the BEF’s five full-time employees were in the building at the time, but recalling that fateful day, Esiason spoke of Howard Lutnik, who is still the CEO of Cantor-Fitzgerald, one of that day’s most devastated organizations, having lost 658 of its 960 New York-based employees during the attacks.
“Howard Lutnik, my best friend in the world,” Esiason said. “I was trying to come home from a New York Giants game in Denver [as the attacks were carried out]. I actually found Howard on the street [back in New York].”
Others were not as fortunate. About 100 whom Esiason estimated he knew, were killed in the attacks.
Changing gears drastically, the conversation moved back to Ryan and his role as a lawyer and huge Patriots’ fan in Adam Sandler’s upcoming move, “I Hate You, Dad.”
Although he ultimately accepted the part, Ryan thought the offer to play it was a joke coming from his own staff.
“I get a call and it’s Adam Sandler, and I said, ‘Yeah right.’ I thought it was our defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. But, it was Sandler, and I thought there’s no way this kid from Ardmore, Oklahoma with ADD is gonna grow up and get this opportunity again, so I thought why not?”
Having seen a preview of the film, Esiason praised Ryan, saying, “You were great! I don’t know how Jets fans will take to it, but it’s just a movie and you’re just playing a character.”
Law asked Ryan whether a Lombardi trophy or an Oscar award would come first for Ryan, who responded with a grin and a nod, and said, “A Lombardi trophy,” a response that drew a lot of applause from apparently many Jets fans in the house.
The dialogue then shifted to how some things in today’s game are different than the years in which Simms and Esiason played.
On the rules changes to keep quarterbacks healthy, Simms drew some laughs from the crowd, saying, “I want to see guys protected, but it’s ridiculous today. Let them hit ‘em! You see guys flopping and they throw the flag. They should fine those guys.”
Regarding today’s NFL salaries, Esiason, admitting that he was privileged to do what he did for a living, still said, “I made 22 million in 14 years… with taxes, and travel and everything else, it gets blown out the window… which is why I still need to work. Coaches get paid more now than [Phil and I] did… but that’s okay, it’s the evolution of the game.”
Speaking about Ryan’s hard-nosed father, former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, Simms said, “I used to psych myself up in the locker room just to yell at him later. I remember cursing at him like you wouldn’t believe, and he just laughed at me, and I thought maybe that wasn’t the best thing to do.”
“That 46 defense [employed by Ryan] was a pain in the neck for us quarterbacks… that was when you had to be tough to play the position,” Esiason said. That remark prompted a collective mix of groans and surprised laughter from the audience.
Buddy Ryan’s son meanwhile, is happy to be in the position he’s in with the Jets, even though he’s well aware that he’s a good head coach in the NFL. “I’m blessed, the younger Ryan said. “There are 32 guys who have this position, maybe a ton more qualified than me.”
A final discussion on Simms’ November criticism of next year’s expected top NFL draft pick, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, on Sirius NFL Radio, gave Simms one last chance to get riled up.
“This is why I hate radio.” Simms said, saying that unlike on television, comments can be taken out of context. “I said 20 great things about [Luck]. I only said I didn’t see the dynamic of him making big-time throws.”
What Simms was questioning was the zip that Luck put on the ball. But, according to Simms, ESPN was going to jump on the negative statements that Simms made about Luck, and decided not to go with the story once the station realized that despite some criticism, Simms was largely complimentary of Luck.
Defending himself to Law had Simms a bit vexed until Esiason stepped in and asked him, “Why don’t you calm down? What is wrong with you?”
At which point, laughter filled the large banquet room, including chuckles from Simms, Esiason, Ryan, and Law.
Finally, Law wrapped the day up by thanking his three panelists and telling them, “You guys have been smart, funny, terrific. You should take this show on the road.”