Any Cabinetmaker will tell you that a little glue, applied with pressure, produces a stronger bond than a nail driven by the biggest hammer. That's why the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that has often resembled a rickety piece of furniture, had to be heartened by the final 1:56 of Sunday's thriller with the Washington Redskins. Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia's scrambling quarterback, was the gluemeister, fashioning the most flawless two-minute drill of his nine-year career. What may have felt to the Redskins like a big nail being driven home—Cunningham's 10-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Williams with :04 left to seal a 34-31 Philadelphia victory—was, in fact, sweet stickum to the fractious Eagles.
Ask linebacker Seth Joyner. Rumored to be playing his last season as an Eagle, Joyner had vowed in training camp that he wouldn't hold his tongue over his unhappiness with team owner Norman Braman and coach Rich Kotite, even though Kotite had threatened to fine any player critical of the team's management. But on Sunday, in the winners' locker room at Veterans Stadium, Joyner was savoring his team's 3-0 start. "Every team has a little unrest," he said with a shrug. "When you win, all that stuff goes out the window. When you lose, it's magnified."
Nowhere has disunity been magnified more than in Philly. Trash-talking, backbiting and underachieving were almost mandatory among the Eagles from 1986 to 1990, when the mean and mouthy Buddy Ryan was the coach. Kotite, his successor, prefers quiet players, men who can go to the movies without drawing the attention of the ushers. But there was an uproar in training camp this year after the Eagles lost All-Pro defensive end Reggie White and tight end Keith Byars to free agency in the off-season, especially since the team had lost All-Pro tight end Keith Jackson to free agency last year. Some players complained loudly that Braman wasn't serious about winning. That's when Kotite threatened the fines.
Despite calamitous injuries to Cunningham last year and to a gaggle of backups the year before, Kotite entered this season with a 22-12 record, having coached the '92 Eagles to the team's first playoff win in 12 years. Narrow victories over the Phoenix Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers in Weeks 1 and 2 didn't exactly make the Eagles Super Bowl favorites this season, but a fair observer had to concede that any team with a healthy Cunningham and a rejuvenated Herschel Walker at running back and a dozen or so blue-collar toilers in the trenches was dangerous. "We don't have a lot of spokesmen," Kotite said last week, "but everyone is busting his butt."
The most tangible improvement is in the offensive line, which has been bolstered by the addition of former San Diego Charger tackle Broderick Thompson. The difference was noticeable on Sunday. Cunningham, who completed 25 of 39 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 49 yards on five carries, left the pocket because he wanted to, not because he had to. "We were on the sidelines saying, 'Look how much time Randall has!' " said 11-year safety Wes Hopkins. "In my time with the Eagles we've never been able to say that."
O.K., before getting carried away, one shouldn't overlook how close the Eagles came to losing to a Washington team that played without injured quarterback Mark Rypien. Little-used backup Cary Conklin literally stumbled in the early going—sacking himself for a four-yard loss and tripping on another drop-back—until his teammates wondered if someone had slipped Dick Van Dyke's ottoman under center. Conklin, however, steadied himself in the second quarter, throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Tim McGee and a 34-yarder to Ricky Sanders to put the Skins ahead 14-3.
Cunningham answered by hitting Williams on a quick crossing pattern, and the rest of the Redskins must have tripped over the ottoman too, because the not-terribly-swift Williams darted out of the pack for an 80-yard touchdown. "It was hold-on-to-your-rear-end football out there," Kotite said afterward.
Big plays characterized the second half as well. The Eagles' Jeff Sydner fumbled the opening kickoff return, and Conklin threw his third TD pass of the game on fourth-and-goal from a foot out. Two series later Eagle cornerback Eric Allen intercepted a pass and strutted 29 yards to cut the Skins' lead to 21-17. After a Washington field goal and a score-tying, nine-yard Cunningham-to-Williams TD pass, Redskin running back Reggie Brooks executed the game's fourth one-play drive—an 85-yard dash off left tackle.
Enter Cunningham, with his miter box and carpenter's glue. Striking again on the first play of a series, he hit a lunging Walker with a 55-yard bomb at the Washington 25 to set up a 42-yard Matt Bahr field goal. Redskins 31, Eagles 27. Minutes later Cunningham took over on the Philadelphia 17 with 1:54 remaining. "Don't you love situations like this?" Cunningham asked in the huddle.
Judging from the results, the answer was yes. Cunningham quickly marched the Eagles back up the field—"I've never seen him more poised," said Williams—until, with only 10 seconds left, Philly faced second-and-goal from the 10. Cunningham then dropped back, waited, waited, pumped—and finally flung one high toward the back of the end zone. Williams, who finished with eight catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns, leaped and caught the ball for the win.
The Eagles should stay upbeat and united—for now, anyway. They have this week off. After that, who knows? "Last year we were 4-0 going into Kansas City," said offensive guard Mike Schad, "and we laid a goose egg. For now, I'd like to walk quietly and carry a big stick."
Make that a glue stick.