Peete calls tune for Eagles Man in charge: He's not flashy and his arm's mediocre, but QB Rodney Peete is the team's leader.

January 07, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Barely a month ago, quarterback Rodney Peete was yanked out of a game against the Washington Redskins for six plays in the second half.

Just a week ago, coach Ray Rhodes was talking about pulling him if he didn't start out well in the Philadelphia Eagles' first playoff game against the Detroit Lions.

Complicating the situation was that his backup, Randall Cunningham, said he would skip the game if his wife, who was nine months pregnant, went into labor.

As it turned out, Cunningham stayed and played and was saluted by the crowd in what was probably his last home game for the Eagles.

But Cunningham served in only a mop-up role after Peete found his touch and passed for 270 yards in the Eagles' stunning, 58-37 victory over the Lions.

The result is that there's no talk about pulling Peete today against the Dallas Cowboys.

Cunningham, whose wife gave birth to a son Wednesday night, is expected back for the game, but nobody is talking about him playing this time.

Peete, who was handed the job after the Eagles started out 1-3 under Cunningham, is the player who will decide the Eagles' fate in Dallas.

Even a battle with the flu this past week hasn't slowed him down. He's not only relishing the Dallas game, but he's been busy giving the Cowboys some bulletin board material.

"We know Dallas well, having played them twice," he said. "We know we can exploit them. We have some confidence going into Dallas, unlike the last time we went in there. They're obviously a very confident team and have always been. They're borderline cocky, but they're definitely beatable."

He even managed to needle Deion Sanders about not being eager for physical contact.

"I don't think Deion is a guy that really, really wants to play inside and mess around with all that traffic in there. He wants to stay out on the island and take care of his guy, and that's it," he said.

Now all Peete has to do is back up the talk.

The last time the Eagles went to Dallas was on Nov. 6 for a Monday night game when they had a four-game winning streak. They were bashed, 34-12.

Rhodes later suggested the Eagles were in awe of the Cowboys, but Peete disagreed.

"We were not so much in awe of them, but we were too high," Peete said. "We were coming off a four-game win streak."

The Eagles came back to upset the Cowboys, 20-17, on Dec. 10 when Dallas coach Barry Switzer set up Philadelphia's game-winning field goal by twice going for it on fourth-and-one from the Cowboys' 29 with two minutes left. He got a second chance because the two-minute warning came just before the snap.

Peete didn't play well down the stretch this season. The Eagles lost in Seattle and Chicago, and he was yanked for those half-dozen plays in Washington, although he came back to pull ** out a victory.

Peete said he found some answers by going back and looking at videotapes of the way he played early in the season.

"I looked at some old tapes of when we were playing earlier in the season and what I was doing. I focused in on that, taking care of the football, making smart decisions and doing the things I had been doing early in the year that made our offense efficient," he said.

Efficient is the word that best describes the Eagles when Peete is at quarterback. He can't match Cunningham's flair or arm, but he has emerged as a team leader.

"He's sort of typical of our team," guard Guy McIntyre said. "He's not flashy. He's a blue-collar type."

Peete is quick to assert himself on the field and chew out his teammates when they fall short.

"I think that's the requirement of a quarterback," Peete said. "I think you have to speak up and I think you've got to be vocal at times. You've got to let people know that you're in charge."

This is the second straight game in which Peete has faced his former teammates.

He spent the first five years of his career in Detroit, mainly sharing time with Erik Kramer and Andre Ware. They were not happy years.

"Wayne Fontes would tell me, 'Don't worry, you're my guy,' " he said of the Lions' coach. "Then he would tell the other quarterbacks the same thing. We didn't know what was going on."

Peete had a better time in Dallas last season, backing up Troy Aikman. He knew where he stood, and when Aikman was injured, he led the team to victories over the Cardinals and Eagles.

Peete left Dallas because he wanted a chance to be a starter. He guessed correctly that he'd have a chance to replace Cunningham since Rhodes was starting over.

Now he'll get his shot at the Cowboys. If he can help the Eagles upset Dallas, he'll be in the NFC title game for the second straight year. Last year, he stood on the sidelines and watched Aikman lose in San Francisco. This year, he has a shot to start that game.

"This is what you shoot for all season long," he said. "You want to get to this point and still be playing."

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