Cunningham, Wistert inducted into Eagles Honor Roll

Al Wistert and Randall Cunningham, holding son Christian, were honored at halftime.
Al Wistert and Randall Cunningham, holding son Christian, were honored at halftime.
Posted: September 28, 2009

Always, it seems, the past collides with the present.

It did so yesterday when, perhaps, the greatest Wildcatter of all time shared a stadium with his legacy.

Randall Cunningham and Al Wistert were inducted into the Eagles Honor Roll.

Without question, Wistert, 88, an all-time Hall of Fame snub-ee, was the more deserving, what with eight All-Pro honors as a two-way tackle on the 1948 and 1949 NFL championship teams.

Without question, Cunningham, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was more relevant yesterday. Perhaps the most dynamic quarterback in NFL history, Cunningham, 46, paved the way for the likes of current Eagles quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick.

McNabb missed his second straight game with a broken rib. He broke the rib scoring a touchdown in the season opener on the sort of play Cunningham made routine.

Vick yesterday played in his first game since a 2-year absence from the league as he served prison time for his role in a dogfighting ring.

Cunningham visited Eagles practice Saturday. He approached both McNabb and Vick. Now an ordained pastor for a growing church in his native Las Vegas, Cunningham told each of them he was praying for them.

Certainly, the thrust of those prayers is different. Time is sure to correct McNabb's problems. Vick's are less predictable, but Cunningham is glad he's aboard.

"I'm excited Mr. [Jeffrie] Lurie brought him here," said Cunningham, who added that he had sincerely hoped Vick wouldn't land with Jerry Jones in Dallas. "This shows he cares, not just about winning, but about players."

Cunningham predicted "amazing" success for the Eagles when both McNabb and Vick finally hit the field together.

A derivative of "amazing" once was the apt adjective Cunningham used in reference to plays that defined his own career.

He insisted that it wasn't eluding pursuers like Carl Banks and Bruce Smith that he remembered best; rather, it was hard hits and the lone playoff win against New Orleans after thein 1992 season.

Now, it seems, being Randall Cunningham in retirement suits him. He beamed when owner Jeffrey Lurie recounted the adulation Cunningham enjoyed in the locker room after Saturday's practice, as Eagles players shook his hand and asked him for autographs.

Yesterday, in that moment's afterglow, Cunningham said, "This is my Hall of Fame. I'm satisfied now."

There is the argument, as Lurie stressed, that Hall of Fame voters should measure Cunningham's significance as much as his statistics.

Cunningham willingly addressed his role in helping to make the quarterback careers of McNabb and Vick possible, noting that his career wouldn't have been possible if his owners and coaches hadn't, as he famously pleaded, "Let me be me."

"I applaud them," said Cunningham, who played for the Eagles from 1985-95. "I think that that myth is gone now."

Black quarterbacks were unheard of in Wistert's era. But then, college football was probably a bigger deal then than was the NFL.

"I've been dreaming about this since I was 6 years old," Wister said. "When you get to be almost 90 years old, any fuss they make over you is easy to handle and is very, very pleasant. This trip coming back to Philadelphia, this time is so thrilling to me, I hardly have words to describe it."

Cunningham said he, too, was overjoyed to join teammates Reggie White and Jerome Brown on the Honor Roll. Clearly, though, he has moved on from football. When a comeback was hinted at, he quickly said, "I've got gray hairs in my eyebrows."

Raising kids and saving souls will do that to you.

The father of four, Cunningham's church's initiative is, he said, to "Make sure we don't have more prostitutes; more drug dealers; more gang members on the street."

He coaches the team of his most famous offspring, Randall II, whose birth Cunningham attended on the eve of a playoff game – "You guys remember the Dallas game? I didn't get to go to practice?"

Yes. We remember.

No playbook.

That, too, is part of his legacy.

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