A big blond kid walked into a Camp Springs restaurant two summers ago to apply for the position of doorman.
"Hi, I hear you're Boomer, the Maryland quarterback," said the proprietor, Joe Theismann.
"Yeah, I hear you're Joe Theismann of the Redskins," Boomer Esiason said.
Esiason's confidence was a little low that day. He told Theismann he wasn't the Maryland quarterback, just a third-stringer who had never thrown a pass. Theismann said not to worry, that a few years earlier he, too, was a third-stringer, behind Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer. He told Esiason to believe he was good and he could be.
Esiason made that advice "words to live by" and two months later he became the starting quarterback at Maryland. Going into his senior year, he has started 22 consecutive games, including a 21-20 loss to Washington in the Aloha Bowl last season, and holds almost every important school passing record.
He's 6 feet 4, platinum blond, eloquent and brash, with a full-out, reckless nature. Add the fact that he's a good quarterback and you've got a natural star. Something like Theismann, maybe; they both wear No. 7.
Theismann says of Esiason, "I think if he stays healthy and reaches his potential, he could probably become the best left-handed quarterback since Ken Stabler."
Dick Dull, Maryland's director of athletics, says, "Boomer's star qualities exceed those of any player in the football program since I came here (as a student) in 1963. He's an ambassador for the university."
Esiason didn't seek the role, but he loves it.
"I may be appealing to some people because everything that I do seems to stick out," Esiason said the other day. "The blond hair, the (prenatal) nickname, the vehicle I drive (a jacked-up pickup truck with 212 lights). I'm so afraid of sounding conceited, it's unbelievable. But I realize the people in Washington have been starved for a college kid who sticks out. And I'm glad they chose me. I'm from New York, I love it."
Stardom also has brought caution. Esiason knows his teammates might not love it, which is one reason he spent $1,000 this summer to send offensive linemen Len Lynch and Harry Venezia to the Hamptons on Long Island. Esiason even supplied limousine service.
"I want the team to know that I know this isn't The Boomer Esiason Show. It's The Terrapin Show," Esiason said. "I know some of my teammates might resent me getting all this attention. They pick up a football magazine and see me on the cover and go, 'Not you again. What can we possibly not know about you?' We have a lot of outstanding players on this team who, because of me, have been overlooked. It's unfair. It makes me look like I want all the attention. I'm not going to sit here and lie; I'm from New York, I love it. But I want them to have it, too."
For the most part, however, those teammates and the Maryland football program benefit from the attention Esiason is getting. Ads in local newspapers tell potential season-ticket holders not to miss the "the passionate football of Heisman Trophy candidate Boomer Esiason . . . " Certainly, he has something to do with Maryland having sold 35 percent more season tickets this year than last (15,000 were sold by mid-August).
There has already been a trip to North Carolina, for a nationally televised passing clinic with former pro/broadcaster Pat Haden and Duke all-America Ben Bennett. In Carolina, Esiason was presented with a copy of the University of North Carolina's football press guide, which pictures him being sacked last year by Tar Heel lineman William Fuller. That cover shot is really a form of flattery, but Esiason is having it framed for his wall as a reminder. "That cover, and my teammates, will keep me humble," he said.
"Every time my dad (Norman Sr.) sees me in one of those magazines," Esiason said, "he calls me and says, 'Remember where you came from. You've had a lot of disadvantages. You grew up without a mother. You were third string two years ago.' Then he tells me, 'You're the greatest.' But he's biased."
Coach Bobby Ross told a banquet audience recently that Esiason is as good as any qurterback in the nation, including Bennett, Wake Forest's Gary Schofield, Brigham Young's Steve Young, Arizona's Tom Tunnicliffe, Boston College's Doug Flutie, West Virginia's Jeff Hostetler and Long Beach State's Todd Dillon. "But it's time to stop talking, and start doing," Ross said.
Last year, Esiason threw 18 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions and completed 56 percent to lead the Terrapin offensive resurgence; the team finished 8-4 after a 4-6-1 season in 1981. Ross says Esiason has improved his mechanics and quickened his release, and should be a better quarterback than last year.
More NFL scouts will be attending Maryland games this year than at any time since 1974, when Randy White was a senior. People will be watching, including Esiason's former boss, Theismann, who admires "Boomer's brashness and ability to get the job done."
And the better he does the job, the more people will want to see the biggest star Maryland has had aside from Renaldo Nehemiah.
"There are a lot of distractions," Esiason said. "But I know how to put them aside. The day it all stops, that's when I'll have problems."