The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
Back in 1996, the Cards – again – were searching for a quarterback.
Vince Tobin had taken over for Buddy Ryan as coach, and the Cards cleaned house at the most important position. They signed Kent Graham, who had limited experience in his first three seasons with the New York Giants. And for their other option, they also plucked a New York QB – Jets castoff Boomer Esiason, who seemed to be on his last legs after a stellar career with the Bengals and Jets.
Indeed, Esiason didn’t show enough to stay on the field, losing the first three starts and his job to Graham. Graham played decently as a starter but then hurt his knee. Esiason was back in the lineup, and for a brief time, he recaptured some of his previous magic. None more than an early November game in Washington, when the Cards pulled off a 37-34 overtime win and Esiason threw for a stunning 522 yards – one of the most prolific efforts in NFL history. (It was and still is the third-most in NFL annals, behind the 554 the Rams’ Norm Van Brocklin piled up in a 1951 game and the 527 Warren Moon had for the Oilers in a 1990 game.)
Esiason talked about how his time on the bench was important to the Cards and how brutally his Cards’ career had started. Given that Graham was still going to be out for the time being with his injury, Esiason could ride the wave of good feelings. Beating the Giants and then the Eagles the next two weeks didn’t hurt, especially since those performances (in which Boomer passed for another 627 yards, 5 TDs, one interception and a passer rating of 107) got the Cards to a 6-6 record and into the playoff hunt.
Then, the Boomer era collapsed as quickly as it had re-started.
The Cards were blown out in Minnesota by a mediocre Vikings team and lost a close home game to Dallas and Esiason not playing great, but not horrible either. With the playoffs out of the picture and two games left, Tobin decided to let Graham get some more experience going into 1997, not altogether shocking on the surface – except Esiason took it personally, walking out on the team and saying he thought it was because he would have made extra money in incentives had he continued to play. That didn’t sit well with Tobin, who insisted he was making choices based on football only.
Esiason returned and played in the season finale against Philadelphia in relief of Graham, but his time in Arizona was over (his biggest incentive was $100,000 for 2,300 passing yards; Esiason fell seven yards short although he had a chance, completing just 12 of 26 passes versus the Eagles). By the next season, the Cards drafted Jake Plummer, and Esiason was gone.
Still, the 522-yard game remains atop the Cards’ record book, a number Kurt Warner couldn’t even really threaten.
Tags: Boomer Esiason, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Jake Plummer, Kent Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, Redskins, Revisionist history, Vikings, Vince Tobin, Warren Moon
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