Former Bengals and Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason and Giants Super Bowl XXI MVP Phil Simms, both of whom are analysts for CBS’ Super Bowl LIII pregame show, huddled with Steve Serby for some Q&A.
Q: Who will be the X factor?
Boomer: Do I have to be consistent with what I’ve been saying on all my CBS Sports minutes and everything?
Simms: Will you? C’mon, you don’t write those …
Boomer: I do too! Why do you always bust my chops?
Simms: ’Cause you’re just sitting there (laugh).
Boomer: Gronk [Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski][ is the X factor for me, because if he’s healthy and he’s impactful like he has been, then he’s a difference-maker. And for the Rams, it’s gotta be Todd Gurley — who are we gonna see? The guy that we saw the first 10 weeks of the season, or are we gonna see the guy we saw [in the NFC Championship, when he had just four carries for 10 yards]?
Simms: Well, we’re not gonna see the guy we saw the first 10 weeks …
Boomer: Don’t argue with what I’m saying. What do you think your X factors are? He’s asking you a question.
Simms: You and I are being interviewed together.
Boomer: Yeah, but we’re not debating it.
Simms: But we can. It’s OK.
Boomer: I just gave you my X factors, who are your X factors?
Simms: If we’re talking about one person, I think Aaron Donald has to play very good-to-great to help them win. He’s a disrupter, he can make plays that changes games. He can create opportunities for the other guys. And then on New England’s side? I am looking at just their defensive backfield. … Can the Rams receivers get away from the New England defensive backs? I think that’s huge.
Q: What advice would you have for Jared Goff?
Simms: He’s with a great coach. They’ve been working on this now for two years, so that coach is gonna give him all the advice there is. I think the only thing that he has to overcome — which doesn’t seem to be a problem with quarterbacks — but I think quarterbacks years ago, the enormity of the game, that no matter what we say, the Super Bowl is different than regular seasons, different than the championship game, it’s a whole ’nother level, and can
you focus and settle down right away? I’ll never forget this, I read two quarterbacks — I’m not gonna name ’em — that said they couldn’t focus until the second quarter. And I said, ‘Man, if I ever get there,’ which I never thought I would, I said if I ever get there, I’m not wasting a damn quarter.
Simms: And, it’s really all I talked about, the whole week, with [then-Giants coach] Bill Parcells.
Q: How were you able to settle down early Super Bowl XXI?
Simms: We had a very detailed game plan, we knew what they were gonna do. … I was not nervous, and I was truly willing to go down in flames.
Q: You had a sore shoulder in your Super Bowl, a 20-16 Bengals loss to the 49ers XXII.
Boomer: Yeah, but we were in a really tight game. It was nip and tuck the whole game. … My advice to Jared Goff would be simply this: You proved on the biggest stage in the worst environment in football in New Orleans in the NFC Championship game that you have the ability to lead your team to victory in that situation. And you made a couple of really big throws when the game was on the line that got your team here to the Super Bowl. So just remember that you are capable of that in that environment. … Phil’s right, the enormity of the game sometimes overwhelms you, but the fact of the matter is, the fans are different. It’s not as loud.
Boomer: You’re gonna be able to communicate. So just be yourself. I interviewed him last Sunday, and he had a real quiet confidence, the same demeanor as [Tom] Brady and [Joe] Montana.
Simms: Go into the game cocky. Boomer knows this: When you think you’re “the man,” you can be “the man.” And I think that’s really part of it. Sometimes you go in there, ‘Oh I don’t want to mess things up.’ I think just being just self-confident is really a big deal.
Boomer: And he’s got it. He’s got that.
Q: Describe Rams coach Sean McVay.
Simms: From an early age, he grew up in football. And, of course, he found the love of his life probably by the time he was 5 or 6. It was pre-destined that he was gonna coach at some level and be the head coach. And so he was way ahead of his time as far as the learning curve. He was under great people, but he did it all. He truly was almost like the locker-room attendant and he just worked his up through the system, and he just sees it in a great way. And, he was the Georgia state [high school] Player of the Year over Calvin Johnson [in 2003]. I mean, come on.
Boomer: You know what I think Sean McVay, is that he’s got nothing to lose, and everything to gain. It’s kind of like [Eagles coach] Doug Pederson last year — he had nothing to lose, nobody expects you to win. You’re going against the greatest coach of all time. Tom Coughlin beat [Belichick] twice. Doug Pederson beat him last year. Why can’t Sean McVay do it this year? And I think he’s a fearless coach. Now he certainly changed his offensive philosophy with about 6-7 weeks to go in the year, where they really wanted to take a little off of Jared Goff’s plate. But at the end of the day, he still takes chances. He’ll go for it on fourth-and-1, he’ll fake a punt, he’ll do something crazy on special teams. And maybe that’s the new aggressive approach for NFL coaches. So I think he’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Q: Does it help Goff being “the other quarterback”?
Simms: It didn’t mean anything to me [facing John Elway]. I never thought about it, didn’t feel slighted, I didn’t care.
Boomer: I think we were 9 or 7 ¹/₂-point underdogs, so Sam [Wyche, Bengals coach] kept playing that all week long as a motivational tool: “Nobody believes in you guys.” For some reason, Brady has convinced himself that everybody thinks that he stinks now and he’s too old (chuckle). But if that’s what you’re gonna use as motivation, God bless you. But I think for Jared Goff and Sean McVay, everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Q: What is the difference in Brady now from Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI?
Simms: I think I counted one day six different offenses that they’ve gone through in all those years with him where they morph into another style of play. Somebody said to me today, “They make great adjustments.” I said, “I don’t know if they make adjustments, they just said: If one doesn’t work, they go to the next offense, because they have such a big selection to go through.” But Tom Brady, physically from that day … it’s hard to say this, but the decline in his physical ability is so small over those years. I would say he’s been a more consistent, accurate thrower of the football the last three years than he probably has been in his whole career.
Boomer: I think some of the numbers that are important though is 58 out of his 64 completions this postseason have been 10 yards or less, meaning that he’s getting the ball out in under 2 ¹/₂ seconds and it’s really frustrating pass rushers now. … He is so in sync with his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. They’ll come out with a whole package, and if it doesn’t work, they can change in a heartbeat.
Simms: You know what the word is? They don’t make adjustments, they make the other team adjust.
Q: Phil, what did you think of Boomer as a quarterback?
Simms: One year, probably the year [the 1988 Bengals] went to the Super Bowl, we followed you and your schedule a lot. So man, I saw a lot of Boomer — more than I do now, which is way too much.
Simms: And we stole some of their plays, their whole hurry-up [offense]. But they had a lot of plays that nobody else had run, and we took ’em, and they always worked, I will say that.
Q: What did you think of him specifically as a quarterback?
Simms: I thought he was a very good quarterback, yeah I mean, what do you want me to say? He could throw the ball well, he could move well.
Q: Boomer, what did you think of Phil as a quarterback?
Simms: Oh, he hated me.
Boomer: No, I didn’t hate him. I loved our group of quarterbacks, our generation of quarterbacks. When we played the Giants, which was very rare when I was with the Bengals, my dad was a Giant fan, and I just wanted to beat the Giants.
Q: Describe the pressure on the officials Sunday.
Simms: Act like you’re a player, and don’t think about the pressure and the enormity of what you’re doing, and just trust what you see, and do it. Don’t overreact, don’t underreact, just call the game normal. That’s easy said, might be hard for ’em to do.
Boomer: I think there is some pressure simply because of the missed call in New Orleans. But at the end of the day, the officials do a really good job. We tend to overreact and second-guess everything that they do.
Q: How would you improve the officiating?
Simms: The officials now have become the quarterbacks — everybody second-guesses the quarterback and coaching in football, now the officials get second-guesses no matter what the call is, ’cause we’re talking about judgment. I hope they’re very careful about what they do in replay and all this. The game is great, and let’s don’t tweak it too much. … I don’t know, maybe it’s Patrick Mahomes, maybe it’s Baker Mayfield, it’s Tom Brady, but I felt more passion from fans this year than I have maybe ever.
Boomer: Yeah, we’ve come through the Colin Kaepernick thing and the Ray Rice stuff and all that other ugliness that everybody’s been dealing with. … It’s just endless how many great young players and personalities there are in the league. There would be three things that I would add to the replay list: One would be to confirm a helmet-to-helmet hit or an illegal block. The other thing I think we should replay is roughing the passer. The third thing would be roughing the punter or kicker or running into the punter or kicker.
Q: Describe Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Simms: Well, he’s generational. Everybody’s gonna look for a Patrick Mahomes our there. Just quit looking, you’re not gonna find him. They come around about once every 10 years.
Q: Sam Darnold?
Boomer: I do believe that he will be a great young quarterback, especially with Adam Gase as his coach.
Simms: Great promise. But as we know as ex-quarterbacks, you can be great, and if the coaches don’t give you the chances to show off your skills, they’ll blame you or whatever, so he needs help from the organization and the coaches first.
Q: Adam Gase?
Simms: Tough. Honest. And he will absolutely call an offense and design an offense for the quarterback to play well.
Boomer: Intense. Competitive. And is a football guy.
Q: Gregg Williams?
Simms: Great hire by the Jets. Brings personality to the team. Players love him. He’s great for the building, A’s all the way across the board.
Q: Not a combustible relationship with Gase?
Simms: A’s across the board.
Boomer: I hope they win. Because if they win, they’ll all get along. It’s when they lose is when those personalities start rubbing each other the wrong way. But I do think that he’s immediately made them more competitive, and the practices for the Jets now between these two coaches are gonna be epic, and I think that’s exactly what the Jets needed.
Simms: Let’s just get past the persona of Gregg Williams — he can really coach. And he’s definitely gonna change their organization.
Q: Baker Mayfield?
Simms: What’s the word for him?
Simms: Yeah, joyous. Just plays like uninhibited. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Boomer: He’s like Patrick Mahomes Lite. He’s fun, he’s energetic, and he’s everything that the Browns needed.
Simms: Yeah, they lucked out. He’s got every quality, he can throw it, he can pass it, but he’s got personality.
Boomer: They needed a personality.
Simms: They got it.
Q: Oklahoma Sooners QB Kyler Murray is planning to enter the NFL draft instead of opting for baseball.
Simms: I think if he plays football, he can definitely make it. He is [like] Baker Mayfield, maybe not quite as strong an arm, very natural thrower, quick of course, and I hope he plays football.
Boomer: Slight. Ridiculous athlete. And I believe he can make it on the right team.
Q: Saquon Barkley?
Simms: He lived up to everything they said. In fact, he’s better than I thought he would be.
Q: Does he remind you of anyone?
Simms: Barry Sanders would be the closest I could come to.
Boomer: He’s got a little Sweetness [Walter Payton] in him, and he’s got a lot of Barry Sanders in him, and [Gants general manager] Dave Gettleman was, I think, validated by his performance.
Q: Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel is the son of former Giants coach Jim Fassel.
Simms: Well, I went to his high school football games. To see him go from that kid to a ballboy at Giant training camp to being arguably the best special teams coach in the NFL, that’s pretty cool.
Boomer: I love it. His legacy is following your dad’s footsteps and knowing your lane and staying in your lane.
Q: Pat Shurmur?
Simms: Right coach. Right offense. I’m a big believer in second-time-around coaches.
Boomer: Has respect in the league. Just needs a new quarterback.
Q: Eli Manning?
Boomer: Great guy. Awesome player. Played one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers [following the 2011 season]. But I can’t pay him $24 million. Take a significant paycut, mentor whoever the Giants draft.
Simms: Same thing. I think he will be the starter for the Giants. I think he will be a great mentor. I kind of agree with Boomer, they have to adjust his salary maybe a little. You know you gotta help the team out.
Q: Odell Beckham Jr.?
Simms: Everybody always asks me this question: Could you put up with him on your team? Yes I could, because I know what he can do for the team. And you need the right people around him to make him blend into the team. It’s been some rough times these last two years. I think he will change as a person.
Boomer: Explosive talent, explosive personality. Takes too much of the coach’s attention to pacify him. I’m a big fan of his ability on the field, but just question really where his heart and his head is when it comes to his team.
Q: What would you think of Le’Veon Bell with the Jets?
Boomer: How much [would he cost]?
Simms: Well, there’s a lot of questions. I want him in great shape. I worry about that, but I know this: The Jets need more players who can score touchdowns, OK? Period. He’s a touchdown scorer.
Q: Boomer, describe your 27-year-old son Gunnar Esiason.
Boomer: Awesome. He’s everything that I could have ever imagined that a son should grow up to be. He’s a flag bearer for an entire community of cystic fibrosis patients. He’s graduated from college, wants to go back and get his master’s, and he has taken on a thing in life that I never expected him to but he’s done so willingly, done so professionally and I couldn’t be any prouder.
Q: Phil, what were those first moments like for you when you found out you son Chris had to have his spleen removed after a Buccaneers game in 2006?
Simms: To say I was worried was an understatement, and then I realized how close he came to death and all that. Really within minutes, he would have been dead. But it also showed me a lot about him to, that he fainted on the field, had to take a knee behind the center, then got up and took the snap.
Q: Lawrence Taylor turns 60 on Monday.
Simms: Lawrence probably didn’t think he was gonna make it go 60 (smile). He is a good friend of mine, and when we get together, we have lots of laughs.
Q: Late Giants co-owner Wellington Mara.
Simms: One of my all-time favorite people I’ve ever met. It took me a few years to open up to get to know him, because he’s the owner, I was scared of him. He was the first person to shake my hand after the game, every game, win or lose. And the fact that I was part of a team that won, and he was there, I’ll never forget that.
Q: Paul Brown?
Boomer: Understated, intense, awkwardly funny, and one of the greatest, most under appreciated men in NFL history.
Q: If you could do one thing over.
Boomer: I would probably have forced a trade from the Jets after my second year, because going into  with Rich Kotite was just maybe the worst single season that I could have ever imagined going into.
Simms: I wish I could have been the guy, which I was sometimes, that just played all out, that didn’t worry about anything.
Q: Did you ever think you’d enjoy television as much as you do?
Boomer: I’ve always enjoyed it. But I knew I was gonna enjoy it with him.
Simms: Well yeah, come on, look at us, we’re made for TV, because we look at each other and we almost start to laugh, because I know he wants to say something to me to shoot me down, and he knows I’m ready for it (laugh).
Boomer: Fortunate for me, when they wanted to go with Tony Romo, my initial reaction was: “Put Phil in the studio with me, let’s go!” When Tony Gonzalez left, like come on, let’s go, put him in there!
Q: How would you guys sum up your relationship?
Simms: (Laugh) Boomer thinks he’s still 25 and hip and young.
Boomer: He recognizes that he’s a grandpa.
Simms: I love getting old. I love it. I’m not trying to hold on to youth or anything. I accept who I am. I’m just trying to teach Boomer to accept that he’s old, broken-down and let’s move on.
Boomer: Well the thing about it is I am youthful, there’s no question about that, and I’m not ready to accept old age like he is, so I don’t know when he’s moving into the over-65 assisted living. .
Simms: Well I’ll never do that, that’s a whole different thing. I’m gonna work forever.