Scrambling: Cunningham pressured to complete playoff pass

Ken Rosenthal

August 02, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

WEST CHESTER, Pa. -- Randy the Dandy dates Whitney Houston. Appears on Arsenio Hall. Shows off his $1.4 million mansion to Robin Leach on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

Randall the Sensational throws 95-yard touchdown passesLeaps tall buildings at the goal line. Scrambles from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and back in one play.

Randall the Quarterback? Now that's another story. He's a spectacular one, no doubt. But after six NFL seasons, it's about time he tried something completely different.

Like winning a playoff game.

The NFL season is still a month away, but three times a week Randall Cunningham meets the press at Eagles training camp, trying to explain how maybe now things will change.

Cunningham, 28, is not only 0-3 in the postseason, he has nevethrown for a touchdown or rushed for one in a playoff game. Too bad he doesn't play baseball. He's Mr. October.

You could blame his failures on former coach Buddy Ryan. Bunow Ryan has been replaced by Rich Kotite, a favorite of Cunningham's while offensive coordinator.

Simply put, Cunningham is out of excuses.

And, for once, out of time.

He's coming off a remarkable year, but his teammates rippehim for being selfish the entire offseason, first in the newspapers, then in a players-only meeting April Fools' Day.

That eased the tension -- "Now, no one even talks about it,running back Keith Byars said -- but all the questions will &L resurface if Cunningham doesn't raise his level of play one more notch.

It's a lot to ask, but to an extent Cunningham has only himself tblame. He's the guy who said "Sometimes I do amaze myself" after a loss to Buffalo last season. He's the guy who sought the high profile that results in so much envy.

Now he's under even more scrutiny as the Eagles try to clean utheir bad-boy image, replacing their black game shoes with white. Problem is, the team easily could lose momentum without Ryan and defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher, who left for the Rams.

Since 1980, six other NFL coaches have been fired after reaching the playoffs, and each time the team has declined. The Eagles face an even greater challenge: A league-high 12 players are holding out in contract disputes, and five are defensive starters.

It's almost as if Cunningham can't win: The odds are stackeagainst him, and besides, how much better can he play? Last year he completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,466 yards, 30 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. He also led the Eagles in rushing with 942 yards.

begins this year trailing Fran Tarkenton by only 237 yards on the all-time rushing list among NFL quarterbacks. Here's his most amazing stat: Of the 37 running backs in his 1985 draft class, only Herschel Walker has run for more yards.

One would think such a player would be immensely popular with his teammates, but last year it was just the opposite. Not all the criticisms of Cunningham were justified: He didn't get Ryan fired for benching him in the playoff game, and he isn't required to throw team parties at his lavish New Jersey home. Still . . .

Many Eagles grew fed up with Cunningham putting his owaccomplishments ahead of the team's. They told him so at the April Fools' Day meeting. Cunningham clearly was stung by the attacks, and the hope now is that he'll undergo a transformation similar to Buffalo's Jim Kelly.

"He's changed," said defensive end Reggie White, who helCunningham partly responsible for the firing of Ryan. "He's realizing what it's going to take for him to be a leader. He's getting more of a 'we' attitude, and less of a 'me' attitude."

But even now, no one knows if Cunningham grasps the extent othe rift he created. He told an Eagles beat writer last week that "It was just two or three guys that didn't like what they were seeing." In reality, it probably was more like 20 or 30.

The good news is, he's indeed becoming more assertive, morconscious of his importance to the team. "Some guys have gotten on my back for not being a vocal leader," Cunningham said. "I think it's time now. I need to get on people more."

He's earning $17.9 million over seven years, a natural source ojealousy on a team known for its hard-line approach to other players' contracts. That makes it even more critical for him to act humble and be the consummate team man.

In many ways, Cunningham already fits the latter description. Hiwork habits are impeccable, and he and Dan Marino are the only NFL quarterbacks who have started every game since the end of the 1987 players' strike (58 straight).

He's tough, and he's talented. In the past, Cunningham hacompared himself to transcendent superstars in other sports. But like Michael Jordan, to certify his greatness he must win a championship.

We've seen Randy the Dandy.

We've seen Randall the Sensational.

We haven't seen Randall Cunningham, Super Bowl MVP.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.