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Cunningham's Play Has Been Solid as a Rock

NFL: Vikings haven't missed a beat since he replaced injured Johnson at quarterback.

October 10, 1998|From Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Somewhere between Philadelphia and obscurity, Randall Cunningham found himself in a piece of granite.

In the religious and introspective way Cunningham has come to see life since he retired from the Eagles after the 1995 season, he was the thick slab of stone: roughly hewn at the start, shiny after hours of hard work and patience.

That's how Cunningham ditched the me-first attitude that defined his 11 years in Philadelphia. It was during his labor-intensive year of retirement in 1996, when he owned his own marble and granite business in Las Vegas, that Cunningham found the humility and inner peace that have helped him lead the Minnesota Vikings to the top of the NFC.

"You shine that stuff up, and it looks real good," Cunningham said. "So when you go through tough times in life -- and I've gone through tough times -- when you come out of it, it looks good. I'm just glad I'm able to understand that now."

The results are obvious.

After an inconsistent five-game injury-relief stint at the end of last season, Cunningham has been awesome since Brad Johnson broke his leg against St. Louis in Week 2.

The 35-year-old Cunningham threw the winning TD pass in the final minutes against the Rams and is 3-0 as a starter. He has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week two weeks in a row, the first time anyone has accomplished that since the award began in 1984.

And his latest game probably was his best ever.

On Monday night at soggy, sold-out Lambeau Field, Cunningham threw for 442 yards and four touchdowns against Green Bay, two of them to wunderkind Randy Moss.

The Packers hadn't lost at home in a regular-season game or in the playoffs since the 1995 opener, and no one had ever thrown for more yards against them.

"It was an overwhelming experience," Cunningham said. "I'm just very happy playing now and grateful I have a great offensive line and guys who will come down with the ball when I throw it up there."

Cunningham not only is the NFL's leading passer with a 127.8 rating to go with 10 TDs and no interceptions, he also is perhaps the biggest reason the Vikings (5-0) entered their bye week as the only unbeaten team in the NFC.

He has become a more complete quarterback than he ever was in Philadelphia and he no longer has the selfish attitude that tarnished his reputation there.

"In fairness to a lot of the other coaches and situations he's been in, I think I have the good fortune of dealing with a different Randall Cunningham than they dealt with," said Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick.

"So, I'm kind of reaping the benefit of that, I think, because he's just been incredible."

Johnson could be ready to return late this month or in early November. There will be no question who the starter is, and Cunningham will step back to the sideline.

He says he is fine with that, and the Vikings believe him.

"There'll be no bigger test of an individual than what's going to be asked of Randall when Brad comes back," Billick said. "But the hallmark of this team is it's an unselfish team. I think they truly see what's at the end."


Endangered Species

Nine quarterbacks who started in Week 1 are already on the bench, either because of injury or inadequacy, after only six weeks:


Team Week 1 QB QB This Sunday Carolina Kerry Collins Steve Beuerlein Dallas Troy Aikman Jason Garrett Detroit Scott Mitchell Charlie Batch Minnesota Brad Johnson Randall Cunningham New Orleans Billy Joe Hobert Danny Wuerffel Oakland Jeff George Don Hollas Philadelphia Bobby Hoying Rodney Peete Seattle Warren Moon John Friesz Washington Gus Frerotte Trent Green


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