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Eagles’ Newest Gun Can’t Fire Like the Rifle

Randall (Ram-Bammed) Cunningham ran the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense for the first time Sunday. He put zero touchdowns on the board. He was intercepted by the Rams four times. But be looking for him again next week, same time, same team, because the Eagles still believe there is not a better young quarterback in the business.

They believe he is better at this point than Ron (The Polish Rifle) Jaworski, the 12th-year pro who got sacked eight times in the season opener. They believe this so sincerely that on the very next day after the opener, they told the world the rookie would start the next game. This was really nice of them, seeing as how it gave the Rams all week to prepare for Cunningham.

After Sunday’s 17-6 loss to the Rams, Jaworski had nothing to say. Why? Because the Eagles told him to say nothing. “I’ve been denied my freedom of speech,” Jaworski did say.

As for Cunningham, he had plenty to say, including something about Jaworski. “I made a real good friend this week,” Cunningham said. “Ron Jaworski helped me all week long. Some people would have turned their backs on me. Jaworski came up and said, ‘Anything you need.’ I respect him a lot for that.”

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But the Eagles like what they see in the new kid in town, and you can’t hide their lyin’ eyes. They don’t care what he did--or didn’t do--in his pro debut. They don’t care that he threw the ball to the ground at the Ram nine-yard line instead of eating it, early in the fourth quarter, when the Rams’ lead was only 10-6.

“Hey, without question,” Coach Marion Campbell said, asked if Cunningham would start again next week. “I wouldn’t even hesitate. He won’t learn if he’s over there on the bench. He’s a hell of a talent and gonna be a fine future quarterback.”

No other collegiate quarterback was chosen ahead of Cunningham in the 1985 NFL draft. He went in the second round--one of only two quarterbacks to go in the first five rounds--after having hummed 60 touchdown passes in his career at Nevada Las Vegas.

For three straight years, Cunningham passed for 2,500 yards or more. In the NCAA record books, only John Elway and Doug Flutie have done the same. Yet his specialty is running with the ball, as he showed Sunday by bootlegging for 90 yards, or exactly three times as many yards as the rest of Philly’s rushers got.

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As a runner, Randall is not expected to gain as many yards in his career as his brother did. In his years with USC and the New England Patriots, Sam (Bam) Cunningham covered more real estate than Century 21. “I’m sure Sam was watching my debut on TV, so I’ll have to call him,” Randall said.

“What’s he doing these days?” Randall was asked.

“Mostly relaxing, I guess,” he said.

“Where at--in California?” he was asked.

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“Most likely,” Randall said.

The younger Cunningham was not too certain about a lot of things Sunday. His hesitancy to pull the trigger caused several sacks and interceptions. “He was really hesitant to throw the ball when the receivers weren’t looking,” tight end John Spagnola said. “That’s something that will come with experience, I hope.”

Running back Michael Haddix was even more hopeful. “If he was perfect we wouldn’t have anything to worry about,” Haddix said of Cunningham. “Would we?”

Cunningham’s raw talent has excited the Philly folks from the start. New owner Norman Braman, the former Eagle water boy who bought the team in April from rambling, gambling Leonard Tose, ordered Campbell to cut experienced backup quarterback Jersey Joe Pisarcik to make room for the rookie. The coach swears Braman did not order him to start Cunningham, however.

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The owner had a lot invested in Cunningham, especially after discovering that the player already had signed a personal-services contract with the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits. Apparently, nobody had bothered to slip this fact to the Eagles before they drafted Cunningham. So, it cost more than they expected to get him out of the deal.

Of his own effort Sunday, Cunningham said: “It’s hard to say what I expected, but everybody was prepared to play well but myself. I put it all on myself, what happened.” Things like interceptions and fumbles, which Cunningham called “the little knick-knacks of the game.”

One thing, he wasn’t was nervous. “I was more nervous in high school games,” said Cunningham, who was reared in Santa Barbara. “In fact, I tried to use some reverse psychology on myself. I tried to tell myself all week that bad things were going to happen, that I couldn’t expect everything to go great the first time out.

“Now that I’ve played the game, though, maybe I should have gone into it thinking: ‘Hey, you ain’t going to make a single mistake Sunday. Not one.’ Maybe that’s what I’ll do next week.”

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Unless, of course, the Eagles deny him freedom of thought.


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