Exclusive: Randall Cunningham chats about new book

Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles
Randall with son, Christian, in 2010.

 

They say football is a religion.

Well, if that is really true, then there is a certain church in Las Vegas taking it to a whole another level. Pastor Randall can be heard at Remnant Ministries most Sundays, spreading the gospel and sharing life lessons to his wide-eyed congregation. The church is open to believers of all ages, races, denominations – and yes, even to Philadelphia Eagles fans.

In fact, some in Pastor Randall’s flock show up wearing midnight green, as they hinge on every word of Randall Cunningham’s sermon.

“People come from New Jersey, Delaware, and they say, ‘You’re really a pastor.’ They see the tears coming down my face and understand my faith,” Cunningham told Metro. “They tell me, ‘If I lived out here, I would definitely come to your church, and I say, ‘Come on out, we got tons of housing [in Nevada].’”

The former Eagles quarterback was told he would be a pastor as a child, something Cunningham calls a “prophetic message.” The road wasn’t always easy for him as he struggled with temptation early in his career. After some soul searching – and prodding from former teammate Reggie White – Cunningham accepted the Prayer of Salvation in 1987.

“Reggie [White] held me accountable for my sins and told me to be strong about my faith,” Cunningham said. “He would get in my face and challenged me when I was doing something that wasn’t right to get it right.”

Cunningham’s new book, “Lay It Down,” recently hit bookshelves. In it, he details how his faith carried him through some very tough times, including the accidental drowning death of his son, Christian, in 2010. Instead of turning his back on God at that moment, Cunningham jumped in his car and screamed, “Hallelujah,” at the top of his lungs.

“I chose to say, ‘God, thank you!’ How could I be mad at God?,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t call it a funeral, we called it a Going Home Celebration.”

Cunningham never doubted God, even when he was benched by the Vikings after just five games in 1998. He called it a “test.” He was tested often during his 11 seasons here, but he credits Philadelphia for turning him into the man he is today.

“I’m so thankful to God for sending me to Philadelphia,” he said. “I wanted to stay on the West Coast, stay in the sun and play golf but I matured so much as a person there because people are expecting greatness out of you. There is such a drive for success in that town, it pushes you to higher levels. It’s a great place to play because once you do reach the highest level, you earn the respect [of the fans]. They protect you, like, ‘Be quiet about him because this is one of ours.’”

Proud papa
Cunnigham’s pride beams through the phone when he discusses his son, Randall II.

The national media has already dubbed him, RC2. Standing at 6-foot-6, 180 lbs, the comparisons to dad were bound to happen. The high school junior is a dual-sport star at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), where he plays quarterback and runs track. He’s been timed at 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, and has cleared 7-feet, 2 inches in the high jump. He’s already received scholarship offers from Baylor, Syracuse and LSU.

“It’s very exciting,” Randall Sr. said. “I look back to 1995 when I had Randall. I had to miss a few days of practice and Rodney Peete stepped in. That was 17 years ago. Now I see my son … the No. 2 recruit in the country.”

Cunningham’s daughters are also decorated athletes. His daughter, Vashti, 13, is being recruited for volleyball and track and field. Gracie, 9, is ranked No. 6 in the country for high jump. Dad coaches Vashti and Randall II on their club track team, the Nevada Gazelles. Gracie is still too young, but he will coach her one day soon.

“I’m so proud of all my children,” Cunningham said.

 
The Ultimate Weapon
On Sept. 11, 1990, Sports Illustrated unveiled what would become — at least to Eagles fans — one of the magazine’s most iconic covers. It featured a digitally enhanced portrait of Randall Cunningham — on the run, in white Nike sneakers, with his cannon for an arm locked and loaded — with the headline, “The Ultimate Weapon.”

Cunningham played 11 seasons in Philadelphia and was named NFL MVP in 1990. His highlight reel can play on loop at the nearby NFL Films studio. His records are considered hallowed at the NovaCare Complex. However, he never delivered the ultimate prize, that elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Still, some 18 years after throwing his last pass in Eagles green, Cunningham has no regrets (in his football life, at least) and remains proud of his legacy.

“Looking back at my whole NFL career, I’m OK with it now,” Cunningham said. “When I was playing, I wanted to be the greatest ever, but I also wanted to learn and grow as a man, and I did that, especially during my time in Philadelphia. My life in Philadelphia is what helped me impact people today.”

Cunningham laughs when asked what the current batch of young, athletic quarterbacks think of him. Remember, he was the first one to really integrate the speed and agility of a running back with the pocket savvy of a passer. Now, there are Cunningham clones everywhere you look. Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, Russell Wilson in Seattle, Robert Griffin III (RG3) in Washington, etc. But ask Cunningham and he doesn’t see that way. He doesn’t consider himself an innovator.

“I started to play football with love in my heart. I went out there and had fun,” he said. “I hear a lot about how I started this new era for quarterbacks, the Randall era … I won’t take credit for it, but I will say it’s an honor to have an influence on these young players.”

Cunningham said he’s a huge fan of Kaepernick, and he recently sent RG3 a text message. When the topic of current Eagles quarterback Mike Vick came up, though, Cunningham’s tone changed and his voice trailed off.

“There’s nothing there [no relationship],” he said.

When asked to clarify, Cunningham politely said, “We talked a few years ago, but nothing since.”

Not playing the race card
Say the phrase, “mobile quarterback,” and the issue of race instantly takes center stage. Black quarterbacks have traditionally been viewed as more athletic, more fun to watch, more prone to make SportsCenter.

But the fact remains that only one black starting quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl, the Redskins’ Doug Williams in 1988.

Cunningham, playing in a blue collar town like Philadelphia, with a mostly white fan base filling up the stadium every Sunday he played here, surely was the victim of some form of racism in his career here. Well, if he was, he certainly isn’t saying. Cunningham always takes the high road.

“You know, I wouldn’t know because I’m Italian,” Cunningham joked. “I was in South Philadelphia, I remember going to the cheesesteak places, there were Italian guys everywhere … so I said I was Italian, too. I didn’t have to put up with that [racism] too much.”

Maybe someday, after Cunningham is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of those cheesesteak places will name a sandwich after him. He certainly earned it.


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