State Your Case: Why aren't we talking about Randall Cunningham and the Hall?
So now it’s Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson who’s the Quarterback Du Jour, and you don’t have to look far for an explanation: He’s doing things that we’ve never seen a quarterback do before.
Except we have.
I saw Colin Kaepernick do it. I saw Robert Griffin III do it. I saw Michael Vick do it. And before all of them … I saw Randall Cunningham and Steve Young do it.
Young you know about. He’s in the Hall of Fame and for good reason: He became one of the game’s most complete quarterbacks on one of its greatest dynasties, achieving legendary status when he threw a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes in the 49ers’ Super Bowl XXIX demolition of San Diego.
But Randall Cunningham? No such luck. Not in the Hall. No dynasty. No Super Bowl.
In fact, you barely hear his name mentioned today, which is more than a shame. It’s a disservice to one of the game’s most talented and underrated quarterbacks.
Unlike Jackson, Cunningham did not burst on to the scene when he broke in with the Philadelphia Eagles. He had to wait his turn. But, like the Ravens’ star, he made an immediate impression once given a chance. Within a year of stepping as the starter in 1987, Cunningham became such an enormous impact player that his peers elected him the first African-American quarterback to start a Pro Bowl.
And it wasn’t because he was so accomplished. It was something more. It was because he was a revelation.
Rewind the video to a 1988 Monday Night telecast vs. the New York Giants, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s third-and-goal at the New York 4, with two Eagles’ backs lined up in an I-formation behind Cunningham, ready to hammer the inside of the Giants’ line.
But they don’t. Instead, Cunningham fakes an inside handoff, pulls the ball back and rolls to his right to find … Giants’ linebacker Carl Banks waiting for him. Banks hits Cunningham low, a blow so hard that it drives him backward, with Cunningham losing his balance and starting to fall before bracing himself with with his left hand.
But then something remarkable happens. Cunningham does not go down. Instead, he bounces back up to throw a dart into the back of the end zone to tight end Jimmie Giles.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” says an astonished Dan Dierdorf, part of the Monday Night Football broadcast team, “Randall Cunningham is a ready-for-prime-time player.
“This guy has not been seen by many national audiences before, but I think you’re starting to get the drift as to what kind of football player plays here in Philadelphia. Randall Cunningham … that is a big-time play.”
It was a scene that was repeated over and over throughout a career that had Cunningham chosen to four Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams, become the first black quarterback to lead the league in single-season passer rating, named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and awarded three Bert Bell trophies, presented annually by the Maxwell Club to the NFL’s player of the year.
But that’s just the beginning.
In 1988, he led the league in passing yards. In 1990, he ran for 942 yards, the 10th most in the NFL. That same year he averaged 6.0 yards per carry, the most by an Eagles player with 100 or more attempts. In 1998 he led the league in touchdown passes, passer rating and yards per attempt.
He holds the Eagles’ record for longest punt (91 yards). He hold the Eagles record for most yards passing in a playoff game (407). He holds the Eagles’ record for most yards rushing per attempt (6.62 yards). Five times he led his teams to 10 or more wins. Four consecutive years he led his team in rushing. And when he left the Eagles following the 1995 season he was third all-time in career rushing, behind Hall-of-Famer Steve Buren and Wilbert Montgomery.
Cunningham threw for 30,000 yards in his career and ran for 5,000. He had 207 passing touchdowns and another 34 via the run. He averaged 44.7 yards on 20 punts.
In short, Randall Cunningham did it all.
He was 82-52-1 as a starter and 3-6 in the playoffs. OK, so that postseason record won’t endear him to Hall-of-Fame voters, but tell me what Warren Moon’s record was. Try 102-101 in the regular season and 3-7 in the playoffs.
Now let’s move on to Dan Fouts. He was 86-84-1 during the regular season and 3-4 in the playoffs.
Neither Moon nor Fouts reached the Super Bowl, but both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Randall Cunningham is not. In fact, he’s never been a finalist or semifinalist, and, I’m sorry, but that’s not right. If nothing else, the guy deserves to be heard by voters because he was not only exceptional but because he was revolutionary.
He was the ultimate dual weapon – someone who could beat you with his arm AND his legs.
Of course, Steve Young could, too, but he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. So what happened to Randall Cunningham? I’ll tell you what: He’s been forgotten, and, for the life of me, I don’t know why.
“When they would say he was ‘The Ultimate Weapon,’ “Banks told Jason Reid of The Athletic, “he was truly the ultimate weapon … I’ve played against Doug (Williams). I’ve played against Warren (Moon). I’ve played against Joe (Montana). I don’t think any one of those game brought to a game the fear that Randall Cunningham put in a defense.”
Remember that next time people tell you they’ve never seen anything like Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. Because we have. Randall Cunningham was extraordinary, and extraordinary players are supposed to be Hall-of-Fame candidates.
So let’s make him one.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF