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Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday…Randall Cunningham

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Randall CunninghamRC12RC12 2 Before Michael Vick, Before Robert  Griffin III, there was Randall Cunningham.

Cunningham was the Eagles’ second-round pick in the 1985 NFL Draft. Cunningham was also sought by the United States Football League‘s Tampa Bay Bandits that same year. Eagles owner Norman Braman refused to negotiate with Cunningham if he accepted offers from the Bandits. Ultimately, the USFL folded, thus ending that issue. In his rookie season he played sparingly as a backup to veteran Ron Jaworski but made a big splash with his uncanny scrambling ability, though he completed just 34 percent of his passes and threw just one touchdown against eight interceptions. In 1986, new head coach Buddy Ryan arrived in Philadelphia and made wholesale changes, many of them unorthodox, mostly due to his defensive-minded philosophy and lack of understanding in the offensive side of the ball.[4] At the quarterback position, Ryan designated 35-year-old Ron Jaworski the starter but would replace the aging veteran with the fleet-footed Cunningham in third-and-long situations where the youngster’s scrambling would presumably put the defense on its heels. After a hand injury to Jaworski in week 10, Cunningham would replace him as the Eagles’ starter. Cunningham was permanently handed the Eagles’ starting job for the 1987 season. Cunningham was said to have reached “elite” status during the 1988 season, as he was elected by league players as the NFC starting quarterback for the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl (the first black quarterback to ever be elected a starter). That same year, he combined with fellow Eagle Pro Bowler Reggie White to lead the Eagles to the NFC Eastern Division Championship. In the 1988 Divisional Playoffs, Cunningham threw for 407 yards during the “Fog Bowl” 20-12 loss against the Chicago Bears. In the subsequent Pro Bowl a few weeks later, Cunningham was named game MVP as the NFC defeated the AFC, 28-3.

In 1989, Cunningham, who had been an all-conference quarterback and punter while at UNLV, unleashed a 91-yard punt against the Giants on December 3, the longest in Eagles history (and the fourth-longest ever).[5] He had 20 punts during his career, with an average of 44.7 yards per punt.[6]

In a 1990 game against the Buffalo Bills, Cunningham, throwing from his end zone, was about to be sacked by Bruce Smith from his blind side. Cunningham ducked and threw a pass 60 yards to wide receiver Fred Barnett, resulting in a 95-yard touchdown. That same year, Cunningham finished with 942 rushing yards, 3rd most ever for a quarterback, 10th best in the league.

In 1991, Cunningham’s season came to an abrupt end when he was tackled by Bryce Paup of the Green Bay Packers and tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the 1st game of the season. He would return to the Eagles completely healed the following season, and led the team to its first playoff victory in 12 years. However, it was evident that the injury he suffered took away much of his speed and athleticism. The 1993 and 1994 seasons would be riddled by a series of nagging injuries and a transition to the West Coast Offense that eventually led to his benching in favor of veteran Rodney Peete. Feeling as if the fans and organization did not fully appreciate his contributions to the team’s success, as well as being unhappy with his role as a back-up, Cunningham retired from football after the 1995 season.

Cunningham joined the Vikings in 1997 after being out of football in 1996. Vikings’ coach Dennis Green called him when he was on a job site for his granite business. There he reunited with former Eagles wide receiver Cris Carter. In his first year with the Vikings, he orchestrated two late touchdown drives to defeat the New York Giants in an NFC Wild Card game at Giants Stadium, 23-22. However, the Vikings lost in the Divisional Round to Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers.

Cunningham enjoyed the greatest season of his career in Minnesota during the 1998 campaign when he guided the Vikings to a 15–1 regular season record with 34 touchdown passes, only 10 interceptions, and 3,407 passing yards. Cunningham had a good supporting cast that year with Cris Carter, Rookie Randy Moss, and Jake Reed at Wide Receiver and Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard at Running Back. Cunningham led the league with a 106.0 passer rating while the Vikings posted a then-NFL record 556 points during the 1998 season, making him the first black quarterback to lead the league in that category. Cunningham claimed the Vikings Monday night 37–24 victory over the Green Bay Packers was “the greatest night of my football career”. Cunningham threw for 442 yards and 4 touchdowns in a game where Brett Favre, in the prime of his career, was benched at the end of the first half. However, the Vikings ended up being the first 15-1 team to fall short of the Super Bowl, losing to the underdog Atlanta Falcons in the conference championship game by a field goal.

During the early stages of the 1999 season, after throwing 9 interceptions in just 6 games, Cunningham was benched once again—this time in favor of Jeff George. After the team announced that 2nd-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper would be the starter prior to the 2000 season, Cunningham was released.

Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes …Randall Cunningham.

Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
TDINT 207–134
Yards 29,979
QB Rating 81.5
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2 Comments

  1. Cunningham could flat out run! Wreaked havoc on my Giants..

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