Booed at home, Cunningham finds comfort at RFK ROAD WARRIOR

October 21, 1990|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- For Randall Cunningham, RFK Stadium is a home away from home.

Most visiting players consider it a hostile place to play, but it brings back fond memories for Cunningham.

This is the place where he quarterbacked the Philadelphia Eagles to his first professional victory as a rookie in 1985, when they beat the Washington Redskins, 19-6.

This is the place where he played the "most bizarre and exhausting game" of his life -- the 42-37 victory last September, when he threw five touchdown passes just hours after he completed the terms of a rich new contract. He calls it "the best game of my career."

This is also the place where he feels he gets respect and even affection.

He said that when the Eagles go to Giants Stadium, "they hate us up there," but it's different in Washington.

"The people from Virginia, Maryland and the Washington area call me and write me and say, 'We watch you. We have to stick with the Redskins, but we follow you, too, because you're an outstanding player.' When I get comments like that, it always makes me feel warm to come down and play in Washington."

It's not surprising he likes Washington fans.

"Washington just has loyal fans," he said. "One hundred percent fans. You don't hear too many boos. You've basically got people who follow the team. They're just warm people in D.C.."

In truth, the Washington fans are quick to boo the Redskins when they're not doing well.

But compared with the Philadelphia fans, they probably do seem warm. Philadelphia is the place where fans booed Santa Claus, and Cunningham has become their latest target.

That probably helps explain why he's looking forward to returning to RFK Stadium to play the Redskins. He won't get booed today.

By contrast, when the Eagles were losing to the Minnesota Vikings, 25-14, in the fourth quarter Monday night before rallying to win, 36-24, the fans were not only booing him, they were chanting, "We want Jim. We want Jim."

They were referring to Jim McMahon, the one-time quarterback of the Chicago Bears who was brought in by coach Buddy Ryan as Cunningham's backup this year.

It was just a matter of time before the fans started chanting for McMahon, even though Cunningham has completed 61 percent of his passes, thrown for eight touchdowns, ran for two more and rushed 251 yards to lead the team in that department.

The team is 2-3, though, and the quarterback always get the heat.

Ryan, of course, pays no attention to the crowd.

"I don't hear the fans," the coach said. "There could be nobody there as far as I'm concerned. Randall was the only guy who was being productive, so I wasn't about to take him out."

The heat that Cunningham is getting is strange, because he's virtually the whole offense -- maybe too much of the offense. He'd be better off if the Eagles had more of a running game to complement him.

His teammates are sympathetic to his plight. "Life isn't fair," running back Keith Byars said of the chanting. "It was unjustified."

Defensive lineman Jerome Brown, who made a gesture to the crowd, said, "I think it's unfair."

At the start of the year, new offensive coordinator Rich Kotite tried to get Cunningham to play in a system, but finally decided he's better playing his own free-lance game.

"They said, 'Look, if you don't see anything, just go ahead and take off,' so I got back to my regular self," he said.

The result was 90 yards rushing against the Vikings in addition to 262 yards passing.

But the Philadelphia fans weren't impressed, becaused the Eagles sputtered so long on offense against the Vikings.

The Philadelphia fans can only boo in front of their television sets today, but it's another critical game for the Eagles and Cunningham.

If they upset the Redskins, they'll get to .500 and have a chance to start a surge against the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots before they meet the Redskins in a Monday night rematch at home Nov. 12.

And playing in Washington makes it that much more special for Cunningham.

"Each time I go down there, I want to have a good performance," he said. "If I get cut here, I'd love to play down there."

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