Randall Cunningham is “Quarterback Zero” for the bridge between yesteryear and yesterday. There are a number of things that underscore him, specifically, as being that bridge QB.
First, and most obviously, is his skin color. Today we realize that yes, a black QB can succeed – Rush Limbaugh’s comments a decade ago (click HERE for that story) about another Eagles’ QB, Donovan McNabb, were just off. I recall hearing his comments live and thinking “Don’t you remember Doug Williams?”
Limbaugh had made the assertion that the media wanted to see “a black quarterback do well.” I’m simply pointing out some of the thoughts of the TIME; not what the reality of today – or even the reality then – is or was. One good thing came from the exchange as Limbaugh voiced what some people were thinking and got it out there in the open.
There were those out there who thought blacks were best-suited for pretty much every other position besides quarterback. When the Washington Redskins destroyed John Elway’s Broncos in the Super Bowl, Doug Williams had the honor of smashing that glass ceiling that “the black quarterback” had. Limbaugh would have “done well” to recall that in his rant that got him fired from his ESPN gig that turned out to be the shortest in history. He was voicing the argument of the old status quo and not taking the careers of Cunningham or Williams into consideration.
Cunningham was partly old-schooled. He sat for most of his first season, attempting only 81 passes, completing only 42% for 548 yards, a single TD, and 8 INTs. Horrible numbers, obviously. That same season he ran 29 times for 205 yards for a 7.1 yards/carry pace. This was higher than his 6.8 yards/pass attempt, and many saw him more as an athlete who played QB. A Kordell Stewart (who came along a decade later) “slash” type, but who would never be an elite passer.
Ironically, it was Buddy Ryan, a defensive innovator, that had started him.
As the young Cunningham gained experience and exposure to the NFL’s complex defenses and speed of the game, his TD/INT ratio jumped to 8/7 the following season. Still not that great, but more TDs than INTs. How he did that and survived an unbelievable 72 sacks that season is beyond me, but a testament to his perseverance. Ron Jaworski was being ushered out that year by Philly, and was the only season he and Cunningham played on that team together. At 6’4″ and a lean 215 pounds, Cunningham looked a bit fragile to be taking so many hits, and did spend some time on the sidelines because of it. However, he did have the height (an important piece of being a QB then and now) and arm to be a good passer.
Cunningham and Jaworski had very similar passing numbers in split time on the field and Cunningham’s youth and athleticism made the Eagles decide to go with the guy whose career was on the upswing; Jaworski was then 35 years old and his career was beginning to wind down. This is as good a comparison between the old and new as any – Cunningham averaged 8.2 yards per rushing attempt that season and 6.4 over his career. Jaworski averaged 1.4 yards per carry in his career and was strictly a pocket passer in the old mold.
Cunningham took the reigns and played a total of 11 seasons in Philadelphia before “retiring” (paging Mr. Favre!) in 1996. After sitting out a season, he was signed by Minnesota where played 3 seasons. He then had a season with Dallas and another with the Ravens before retiring after the 2001 campaign.
But one thing really put him on the map – his MVP season with Philadelphia in 1990. He completed 58.3% of his passes which back then was a very respectable number. He had a whopping 34 TDs vs. only 13 INTs…very nearly Brady-like numbers…for 3,466 passing yards. The nimble Cunningham also had 942 rushing yards and 5 TDs for an 8.0 average per attempt – again, higher than the 7.5 yds/attempt passing. Odd, is it not?
Cunningham’s MVP season showed what a true dual-threat QB can accomplish….and opened the door for Kordell Stewart.