Randall Cunningham

Posted: September 04, 2008

OPPOSING PLAYERS used to come into Veterans Stadium, hear how the crowd would boo the home team and ask quarterback Randall Cunningham: "How do you guys do it?"

And Cunningham would reply with a chuckle: "Those are our fans. We love them."

No one is better equipped to appreciate what quarterback Donovan McNabb has endured during his 10-year career with the Eagles. Cunningham played in the same spotlight for 11 years, during which he experienced the same sweet-and-sour relationship. Today, he is looked upon from afar with deep fondness, the same way McNabb undoubtedly will be in years to come. But when he played the position here, Cunningham found himself in the cross hairs of public opinion, which swung each week between ecstasy and wrath.

"When you win in Philadelphia, there is no place better to play," says Cunningham, 45, who in 2004 founded a church called Remnant Ministries in Las Vegas. "And when you lose, you are going to hear about it. Philadelphia fans are like very stern parents."

Cunningham still follows the Eagles from Las Vegas. While he says he does not know McNabb well, Cunningham adds that he has always liked him. The former quarterback who once was called "The Ultimate Weapon" says: "Donovan has handled the situation in Philadelphia very, very well. He has been such a consistent player. I still think he has a lot of game left in him. And I think if the pieces stay in place, the team will do very well with Donovan this year."

Cunningham says that playing in Philadelphia gave him a "thicker skin." High school football in California and college ball at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas did not prepare him for the "hard-core fans" he would encounter in Philadelphia, where a few poor showings would leave the crowd clamoring for the second-string quarterback. Cunningham came to understand that, saying: "People like to see the new man on the block. And if he does well, they cheer him even more." But he says the fans' scrutiny strengthened his character.

"Playing in Philadelphia helped me become a better person," says Cunningham, who was eased out by coach Ray Rhodes in 1995 and sat out a year before signing with Minnesota. "I actually developed skin that was too thick. I got to the point where I could care less what anybody said."

Cunningham says he "kind of relaxed" with the Vikings, where he led the 1998 team to a 15-1 regular-season record and won All-Pro honors. He says Minnesota fans reminded him of Dodgers fans, observing that they were just as loud as Philadelphia fans on Sundays, but generally "more forgiving and patient." Cunningham says Viking fans had "half the energy" of Eagles fans.

He later played in Dallas, "where the expectations are always high," and then Baltimore, where he backed up Elvis Grbac and heard the fans chant: "We want Randall!"

"Baltimore reminded me of Philadelphia," says Cunningham. "It was the same, 'What have you done for me lately' attitude."

Do Philadelphia fans scare off potential free agents?

Cunningham says they can.

"There was some of that going on when I was leaving," he says. "Players would ask me, 'How do you play in Philadelphia?' And I would say, 'Well, man, it is always a love-hate relationship.' Some don't want to go through that. They would if you were paying them $20 million. But if not and you had a choice, would you want to play where you are under intense scrutiny or somewhere more laid-back?"

Given the choice to do it over again, Cunningham said: "I would not have changed a thing. I loved playing in Philadelphia."

Even when they booed?

"Oh, yeah," he said with a laugh. "They would boo one play and cheer the next." *

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