Of the top teams in the NFL, the Eagles could least afford to lose their premier player. Without quarterback Randall Cunningham, probably lost for the season with what on Sunday night appeared to be torn ligaments in his left knee, underachieving Philly is in deep muck. "The Eagles without Cunningham," said Cowboy linebacker Jack Del Rio, "is like Gotham City without Batman."
Never mind that Philadelphia, under the direction of backup quarterback Jim McMahon, beat the Packers 20-3 in a game that was scoreless when Green Bay linebacker Bryce Paup sent Cunningham to the sidelines with a lunging tackle at the knees on the first play of the second quarter. Philly is not likely to win the NFC East with the 32-year-old McMahon, because he's not exactly an Iron Horse.
McMahon, who's best known for taking the Bears on a wild run to Super Bowl XX, has been on injured reserve three times in the past five years, with shoulder and knee injuries. Chicago traded him to San Diego in 1989, and the Chargers waived him after one season. He signed with the Eagles before last season, but Philly never really expected to play him.
Cunningham was making his 62nd straight regular-season start on Sunday, and McMahon was spending the twilight of his pro career in anonymity. Now, to see McMahon back in prominence is like seeing the Nehru jacket back in fashion. Does this brittle quarterback have enough left in him to survive behind the Eagles' leaky offensive line?
"If they can find enough tape and aspirin and Darvon for Jim, he's got a chance," says former Bears defensive tackle Dan Hampton, now an NBC analyst. "He never showed he could fight through injuries before. Look, he's not Marino or Montana, and you don't build your team around him. But if he's focused, he'll find a way to win for a quality team. And that's a quality team. Who knows? Maybe what he needed was to get his body right. You see what happened to O.J. Anderson after a couple of years in New York. He's a great player again."
McMahon was steely-eyed when the subject of his being washed up was broached on Sunday. "After I won the Super Bowl, people said any quarterback could have won it with that team," he said. "Check it out. They [the Bears] haven't been to the Super Bowl since."
And the Eagles haven't been there in 10 years. What a remarkable career reversal it would be for McMahon, if he took Philly deep into the playoffs. To do that he'll have to last the season, and he has never played an entire 16-game campaign. Just in case he can't do it this year, the Eagles spent part of Sunday night putting together a short list of veteran signal-callers who might be available to back up McMahon. Whoever is signed better have some tread left on his tires.
To the Moon, Warren
When Oiler quarterback Warren Moon signed a guaranteed five-year, $10 million contract in 1989, the money, by market standards at the time, was excellent. The best part of the deal, though, was yet to come. He had an escalator clause written into the contract that said if Moon wasn't one of the three highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL in any season, the Oilers would have to pay him the difference between his salary that season and the average of the combined salaries of the top three guys.
Last Friday, Moon's agent, Leigh Steinberg, began talking to Houston about enforcing the clause. Steinberg knows that Dan Marino's contract, with its new five-year extension, comes to $4.43 million per season and that Joe Montana has a contract that will pay him $3.25 million annually. Steinberg also thinks John Elway has a new deal—which the Broncos have yet to disclose—that averages at least $3.25 million a year. Even if he can't prove Elway has a new contract, Steinberg still has Jim Kelly, at $2.86 million, to make his argument.
The Marino-Montana-Elway average annual intake is $3.64 million. Moon's pay for 1991 is $1.5 million. Bottom line, according to Steinberg: Houston owes Moon about $2.1 million. "It might be in the Oilers' best interest just to do a new contract with Warren," Steinberg says.
In their last two games, the Raiders have been outscored 98-20. They gave up a combined 56 first downs and 961 yards in a 51-3 loss to the Bills in the AFC Championship Game last January and in a 47-17 loss to the Oilers on Sunday.... Cleveland running back Joe Morris played his first NFL game in 987 days, but he gained only two yards on three carries in the Browns' 26-14 loss to the Cowboys. However, Dallas's second-year back Emmitt Smith rushed 32 times for 112 yards and caught six passes for 36 yards. "Thirty-two carries?" said Smith. "I'm only 22. I want to live to see 23."...
Eagle defensive end Reggie White, who toyed with Packer tackle Tony Mandarich when they last met on Dec. 16, beat Mandarich for three sacks on Sunday. But Mandarich fended off White for a good chunk of the game, and two of White's sacks came when Green Bay quarterback Don Majkowski held the ball too long. "He's improved 100 percent," said White of Mandarich.... One of the game's most underrated players is Steeler kicker Gary Anderson, who opened his 10th NFL season with a bad back and still made four field goals in four tries. He has converted 52 in a row from 35 yards or less....
How bad was it on Sunday night in Washington for the Lions? The Redskins were up 28-0 before Rodney Peete completed a pass.... Since Dec. 3, 1989, the Patriots are 3-1 against the Colts and 0-17 against the rest of the league.
Game of the Week
Washington at Dallas, Monday night. Redskins cornerback Darrell Green runs a consistent 4.2-second 40, and in June he won the NFL's Fastest Man contest for the fourth time. But wideout Alexander Wright of the Cowboys ran an electronically timed 4.09 40 in July, and these two should be breathing each other's fumes on about 20 plays in this matchup. "It's very exciting," Wright says. "He's one of the best, and I'm trying to be one of the best. The key is, don't try to outrun him. I've got to run my patterns and make my cuts like normal."
The End Zone
The World League of American Football is in big trouble Stateside. The NFL-backed spring league lost more than $5 million in its rookie season, has already replaced two commissioners, and had TV ratings in the U.S. that were half what the league had hoped they would be.
Now, faced with having to ante up $600,000 to $700,000 to keep the league around for a second year, several NFL owners will gather in Dallas for a fate-of-the-WLAF meeting on Sept. 12, intent on withdrawing their support. "It's a financial sinkhole, and we're throwing good money after bad," said one NFL team executive last week.
Any good news? If there is, it's all abroad: Paris wants a franchise, as do Amsterdam and Bogota and Tel Aviv...and even Lithuania and Moscow. Imagine that Lithuania-Sacramento rivalry. WLAF fever. Catch it.