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Boomer Esiason’s Empire Challenge much more than just football

It was a beautiful Friday evening when the ball was kicked off to start off the Empire Challenge between New York City and Long Island.  The game took place at Shuart Stadium in the Hofstra University campus, and was a battle between NYC’s best football players and Long Island’s.

Long Island ultimately won the game 28-27, but the game was about much more than football.

Every year for 23 years, Boomer Esiason and his foundation put together the Empire Challenge.  The Empire Challenge is essentially an All-Star game between the best of the boroughs versus the best of the suburbs.  It’s always a close game and always a great crowd, as this year’s attendance was a new record of 8,452 fans.

To hone in on the game action, it was a back and forth event between the two teams.  Tyler Winston of NYC caught the first touchdown of the game to put the City All-Stars up 7-0.  Dylan Laube, the MVP of the game, was able to tie the score up at the beginning of the second quarter with some nice jukes on the goal line.  Laube then scored again on the goal line after NYC coughed up the ball going the other way.  The fumble was so close to going out of bounds, but the pylon prevented the ball from rolling.

Shamar Logan was able to push through the stout Long Island defense to tie the game at 14, but Laube continued to dominate the game with this third touchdown.  NYC ran in another to tie it at 21, but Long Island wasn’t done just yet.

This game is an exhibition, but it’s still very competitive, so Long Island pulled a rabbit out of their hat and ran a jet sweep flea-flicker to take the lead with just 41 seconds to go.   However, Michael Nicosia, who already had a touchdown pass and over 100 yards rushing, was able to lead NYC to a comeback score with no time left.  NYC wasn’t playing not to lose so they went for it all with a two point conversion, but it failed in the corner of the endzone.  Long Island won 28-27, Laube was named MVP, and Boomer was able to spread even more awareness about cystic fibrosis, which is the most important part.

For those who don’t know, Boomer’s son Gunnar has cystic fibrosis, and Boomer created this game to raise awareness for the disease and to help families fight it.  The whole reason for his foundation is to help by any means necessary to those who are affected by CF and the loved ones around them.  They’ve raised millions of dollars for research, resources, medicine, etc.  It’s a fantastic foundation that works on a cause that isn’t highlighted as much as cancer and other well-known diseases.

I was able to chat quickly with Gavin Casey, a Wantagh native and a participant in the game, about what it means to play in the game.

“It’s awesome man,” explained Casey. “I hurt my ankle last season and didn’t even get to play this football season.  I hurt myself two years ago too so it’s just good to be back.  I’m very honored to be a part of all this.”

“What a perfect night for football,” said Esiason. “You can’t ask for a better night than this.  This is what it’s all about, man.”

It really is what it’s all about.  The Boomer Esiason Foundation and the Empire Challenge help those in need while also providing some very exciting football.  It’s a blessing that us Long Islanders can witness the great game every year while also being able to pitch in any way we can to help out the foundation.  It was a great event to cover, and hopefully with all the money and research put into CF we’ll soon find a cure for it.

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