Randall Cunningham wrote a remarkable comeback story with Minnesota Vikings in 1998. Out of football in 1996, re-signed by the Vikings in ’97, Cunningham came off the bench this season to lead Minnesota to the NFL’s best regular season record at 15-1.
Cunningham was the top rated passer in the league, completing 61 percent of his attempts with 34 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. He teamed with receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter to give the Vikings the highest scoring offense in NFL history, 556 points.
The 35-year-old Cunningham was a landslide winner for the Maxwell Football Club’s Professional Player of the Year. He previously won the honor, the Bert Bell Award, in 1988 and 1990 as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Cunningham joins John Unitas, the Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame quarterback, as the only three-time winners of the award.
“With his quarterback rating (106), the success of our team and the success of our offense, you can make the case that Randall had the best season in league history,” Brian Billick, the Vikings offensive coordinator, said.
The cool and efficient Randall Cunningham whom played this season in Minnesota bore little resemblance to the frenetic scrambler who played 11 seasons with the Eagles. He was asked to carry the entire offense in Philadelphia – – he led the team in passing and rushing yards four consecutive seasons – – but in Minnesota, he has much better personnel around him and that is reflected in his success.
“In the past, I pressured myself into making things happen because that’s what I was told to do,” Cunningham said. “But to have guys like Robert Smith (running back) and Cris and Randy making plays, it makes a huge difference. I can just stick with the game plan, hand it off when I need to, dump it off when I need to. I just let everybody do their job.”
Randall CunninghamWatching Cunningham perform this season, it was hard to believe this was the same player who was let go by the Eagles following the 1995 season and spent the next year working in the marble and granite business in Las Vegas. He though his football career was over and he was actually relieved.
“I was really burned out and tired of it,” Cunningham said.
But in 1997, Minnesota head coach Dennis Green asked Cunningham if he would consider coming back to serve as a backup to Brad Johnson. Cunningham agreed and when Johnson was injured late in the season, he took over the offense and led the Vikings to a 23-22 upset of the New York Giants in the NFC playoffs.
This season, when Johnson went down again, Cunningham stepped in and played brilliantly, teaming with the sensational rookie Moss for 10 touchdowns passes of 40 yards or longer. He played six days after arthroscopic knee surgery and continued to play even after breaking a bone in his left hand.
“I’m maturing as far as my life is concerned,” Cunningham said. “The year I was away from the game really helped me to appreciate everything. Now I’ve seen what God has done in my life. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel instead of wondering what can be. I just put my hope and my faith in God.”
The Maxwell Football Club thanks Ray Didinger of NFL Films for contributing this article on Randall Cunningham.