He drives a big-wheeled Bronco, license plate TERP QB, and he has been called Boomer since before he was born because of his ferocious kicks while in the womb. Norman Julius Esiason (pronounced e-SIGH-ah-sun), a 6'4" southpaw, is riding high with a Maryland team that figures to come on even stronger than it did in 1982, when it finished 8-4. But he has survived down days with the Terps. When Esiason arrived in College Park four years ago, he says, "I thought I was the man. I was the cocky guy who thought he was going to be the dude when he got here. I found out I was just a number."
During his first semester Esiason watched the games from the stands and came through with a .9 grade-point average. Having avoided flunking out by going to summer school, he was redshirted the next fall, but nobody bothered to tell him. "I read about it in The Washington Post," says Esiason, who had a 1.1 GPA that term. "I wanted to get the hell out of here. I hated it."
His girl friend, Angelique, gave him the pep talk he needed and "kicked my rear end" through a few courses. In the first game of 1981 the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks went down, and Esiason stepped in and passed for 1,635 yards for the season. Then along came a new coach, Bobby Ross, succeeding Jerry Claiborne, and he talked from the start about throwing the ball more. Ross got rid of the jock dorm, redesigned the uniforms and installed a keep-'em-guessing attack he'd developed as the offensive backfield coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Terps also launched an ad campaign that featured Susan Anton cooing, "My passion is Maryland football."
Esiason & Co. opened 1982 with 31 points in a losing cause against the mighty Penn State defense. They averaged 31 points through the season and raised home attendance from 31,100 to 39,325 fans per game. After having gone 4-6-1 in '81, the Terps fell only 16 points shy of 12-0: nine at Penn State, two at West Virginia, three against Clemson and two against Washington in the Aloha Bowl. Esiason wound up hitting 56.4% of his passes for 2,553 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Anton won't be plugging the Terps in '83. Look instead for a slogan along the lines of ESIASON FOR THE HIASMON or I'D SOONER VOTE BOOMER. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about the Heisman," says Esiason. Adds Running Back Willie Joyner, who gained 1,039 yards in 10 games last year, "He's very confident. He's the quarterback you read about in the how-to-be-a-quarter-back book." Confident indeed. Esiason introduced himself to Angelique, then a senior, during his freshman year, when she was slow-dancing with a team veteran. "He broke in," says Angelique, now an account administrator for a Baltimore leasing company. "You know, like people do in the movies and like nobody does anymore? After that he gave me all the lines."
"He was the kind of a kid who really got involved," says his father. "When he was six or seven we used to go watch the [New York] Rangers play hockey, and he always wanted to jump over the glass and get into the fights."
Esiason's primary targets will be Split End Russell Davis, who had 27 catches last year; Flanker Greg Hill and Fullback Dave D'Addio, both of whom caught 19 passes in '82; and Tight End Ron Fazio, who replaces John Tice, a draftee of the New Orleans Saints. The Terps will have to overcome inexperience in two areas—at turtle, where Duncan Nutter will fill the shell of erstwhile mascot Paul Erskine, and on defense. Last year Maryland allowed just 87 yards rushing a game, the third-lowest figure in the nation, but among the linemen and linebackers only Outside Linebacker J.D. Gross returns. Cornerback Lendell Jones, who had seven interceptions in '82, is the star in the secondary, but he may be upstaged by backup Bob Gunderman, the adventurer who because of an injury missed the team plane to Hawaii for the Aloha Bowl, boarded the wrong flight in New York in an attempt to get to Honolulu alone and ended up in Caracas. "I knew not to drink the water," says Gunderman. "Or is that Mexico?"
Standing between Maryland and another appearance in a postseason game is a schedule that includes five of last season's bowl teams—Vanderbilt, West Virginia, Pitt, North Carolina and Auburn—as well as bowl-barred Clemson. But if the Terps fulfill their potential, they should find their way to a postseason game once again—even if Gunderman doesn't.
Esiason has the Terps driving in high gear.
OFFENSE: MULTIPLE PRO
[Yellow Circle] [Yellow Square] RETURNING STARTER
[Dark Red Circle] [Dark Red Square] RETURNING ALL-AMERICA
DEFENSE: WIDE-TACKLE SIX
[See caption above.]