Say the name Randall Cunningham and watch the facial expressions of an entire generation of Eagles fans.
First, the eyes light up, recalling his supreme athleticism. Next, the race begins to rank his Houdini-like highlights. Finally, there is a bit of sadness — for as great as he was, a track star with a cannon for an arm, he probably never lived up to all the hype. You can blame a defensive-minded head coach for that.
Fast forward to the current state of the Eagles and the comparisons to Mike Vick were bound to pour in. While the two have very little in common — Vick is short and compact; Cunningham was tall and graceful — they will forever be linked due to their freakish athleticism and the fact that they wore Eagles green. Naturally, Vick looked up to Cunningham when he first started breaking opponents’ ankles as a youngster in Virginia.
“I just remember Randall being very elusive and being able to make plays that a lot of quarterbacks at the time couldn’t make, with his legs,” Vick said. “It kind of changed the dynamics of the game and what he could do for his football team. So, you know, I tried to emulate that and just tried to keep plays alive with my legs.”
Today, the NFL is littered with wannabe Cunninghams, from Robert Griffin III in Washington to Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. However, when Cunningham himself describes the new era, he talks in hushed and guarded tones.
“I hear a lot about how I started this ‘new era’ for quarterbacks, ‘the Randall era,’” Cunningham said. “I won’t take credit for it, but I will say it’s an honor to have an influence on these young players.”
Cunningham gets excited when he starts talking about Griffin and Kaepernick, but the tone becomes even more muted when Vick’s name pops up. There appears to be some unspoken rift between two of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks to strap on cleats. Yes, the two have spoken, most notably when Vick surpassed Cunningham as the NFL’s career rushing leader for signal-callers. However, they don’t appear to be friends. There’s just nothing there.
“There’s nothing there [no relationship],” said Cunningham, a devout Christian and preacher. “We talked a few years ago, but nothing since.”
Let that rattle around your brain for a few moments. Cunningham said he often texts Griffin, but not Vick. Instead of a symbolic passing of the torch, like Mike Schmidt did with Jim Thome when Veterans Stadium closed its steel trap in 2003, there are only crickets. It’s a bizarre and sad story, especially for the thousands of Eagles fans that grew up sporting No. 12 jerseys — watching and admiring Cunningham’s every single bound, every last leap into the end zone.
Why can’t we get these two together? They should be best friends. Jamie Foxx went out of his way to praise Sidney Poitier at Sunday night’s BET Awards, recounting the first time they met after Foxx won an Oscar for his depiction of Ray Charles.
“I saw you one time, at a party … I give you responsibility,’” Poitier told Foxx at the time. “What he was saying is, we have to be responsible for our work.”
Vick, without Cunningham’s guidance, will get one more chance to be responsible for his work here in Philadelphia. On paper, he looks like the perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s zone-read offense. He’ll head into training camp as the favorite to win the job — make no mistake about it, the 33-year-old Vick still has the elusiveness to be a difference-maker — but it won’t be easy and nothing was ever won on paper. Vick will have to work for every inch, promising not to relapse into some old habits. He has to put in the work. It sure would be nice to have a mentor like Cunningham on speed dial.
Mike Greger is co-editor of Philly Sports Jabronis.