Eagles Looking for a Touchdown : A Silent Jaworski Will Only Watch as Cunningham Starts Against Redskins

Washington Post

The cold, hard facts now imprison the Philadelphia Eagles.

They haven’t scored a touchdown in two games and at their current pace they will score one less point this season than Seattle scored last Sunday.

In a 17-6 loss to the Rams last Sunday at Veterans Stadium, the Eagles once reached the Rams’ four-yard line and it represented their deepest penetration of the season.

Wide receiver Kenny Jackson figured this was cause for celebration, so after he caught the pass to reach the four he spiked the ball. This brought a penalty, which moved the ball back to the nine. The Eagles lost a fumble on the next play.

Quarterback Ron Jaworski was benched Sunday in favor of rookie Randall Cunningham. This was the first time in eight years that Jaworski was healthy and did not start and now he talks no more.

He says someone has taken away his “freedom of speech,” which is a cool, historical irony, this being Ben Franklin’s town and all. Nobody can figure out who, if anyone, has put the squeeze on the man known as Jaws. And Jaws won’t say.


Furthermore, three vital Eagles on defense--linebackers Jerry Robinson (1984 team leader in tackles), Joel Williams and defensive end Dennis Harrison (12 sacks last season)--remain contract holdouts. This sounds bad only until you consider that 11 Eagles held out at the start of training camp.

General Manager Harry Gamble says the Eagles are doing their best to trade all three, “but we’re not just going to give them away.”

New owner Norman Braman has offered each player on the team a $10,000 bonus if the Eagles make the playoffs this year. Judging from the 0-2 start, you can assume Braman’s money-market account won’t face any major withdrawals come late December.

Braman is the same person who at his first formal press conference as team owner in March wore a T-shirt that proclaimed “Eagles, 1986 Super Bowl.”

“Our hang-up is very simple,” Braman said of the holdouts. “It’s not over dollars and cents. It’s over the issue of a contract. What is the sanctity and honor of an agreement? If you lose that, what’s the purpose of an agreement?”

Braman said the genesis of these holdouts was the substantial pay increases awarded to three players by former owner Leonard Tose and Susan Fletcher, Tose’s daughter and former team president. Guard Ron Baker, safety Ray Ellis and defensive end Greg Brown signed the new deals prior to last season, after their contracts had expired.

Braman calls them “contracts that made no sense.” Robinson and Harrison are still under contract, and Williams is a free agent.

Braman said of Robinson and Harrison, “These are guys who are making about $300,000 per year. They aren’t basket cases.”

Braman, the car dealer, added, “I’m not a guy who travels in limousines. I take taxis and I’ve even taken the Broad Street subway. People come up to me and tell me I’m right on my stance of not renegotiating, but I’m not naive. I know we have to win games.”

The offensive line has given up 13 quarterback sacks. Five of them came Sunday against Cunningham, who is built like a 6-4 pencil. He is presently a greater danger as a runner than passer.

Philadelphia quarterbacks haven’t been helped by tackle Kevin Allen, the No. 1 draft pick who missed four weeks of training camp in a contract dispute.

In two starts thus far, Allen has allowed three sacks and has been caught holding four times (one of the penalties was declined).

Such is the dazed and confused state of the bunch that will come to RFK Stadium to play the Redskins this afternoon.

You want to point fingers of accusation? Don’t look at the Eagles’ defense. Despite the holdouts, the defense has been accountable for just 31 points in two games, a showing that on most teams would have sufficed for at least one victory.

Any time your safeties are named Ray Ellis and Wes Hopkins (a combined 25 tackles Sunday) opposing receivers best mind their midsections when crossing the middle.

Furthermore, any time you have a 155-pound bull’s-eye kicker named Paul McFadden (who has accounted for the team’s six points with two field goals) you’ve got a chance to score threes, if not sevens.

Beyond this, though, Philadelphia has reason for concern. Big concern. At this point, W.C. Fields would rather be in Pittsburgh.

Cunningham completed just 14 of 34 passes for 211 yards against the Rams. He threw four interceptions. He also ran for 90 yards on 10 carries, which he said is the most he’s ever accumulated in one game.

The trouble was, Coach Marion Campbell said only two or three of Cunningham’s runs were by design.

But Cunningham, from Nevada Las Vegas, said he learned plenty. Like throw faster when you see an open receiver. Or make reads on the defensive coverages faster.

And when you see a receiver running deep, throw deeper than you might in practice because receivers usually run faster in games than in practice.

“I’m sitting back there holding the ball because I had confidence in my line,” Cunningham said. “That’s something that will change, too.”

To some observers, the benching of Jaworski after just one regular-season game seemed to be a move made in panic. Why not go with the kid, Cunningham, from the start of training camp if you had planned to play him this season? Why change now?

Braman said, “You don’t want to make a move in the fourth, fifth or sixth week of the year when it’s too late.”

Lynn Stiles, the team’s personnel director, said of Cunningham: “To say he’s ready now would be a stretch of the imagination. To be a quarterback you have to play quarterback. It takes time.”

In a Monday news conference with Campbell, a local reporter asked about the promotion of Cunningham and wondered if it was done to appease the owner. Of course, Campbell’s jaw stiffened.

He insisted the decision to bench Jaworski was his, and was not made by Braman, who reportedly cut veteran quarterback Joe Pisarcik prior to training camp this summer without even telling Campbell.

“No. 1, I’m trying to develop a quarterback who will be a leader on our football team,” Campbell said. “The way we’ve been before--in ’81, ’82, ’83 and ’84--we’ve averaged 18 points per game. The league average is higher than that. It’s about 24 now.

“My desire, goal and wish is to get (the Eagles’ point total) higher. The way we are now, we’re not getting many points. Before, we weren’t getting any. Randall will be a producer.

“But there may come a time when I say, ‘All right, Ron, let’s do it.’ ”

Today will mark the first time since 1976 that Jaworski has not started against the Redskins. He’s 6-10 against the Redskins over the past eight seasons. The last time the Redskins and Eagles played and Jaworski didn’t start, Roman Gabriel and Billy Kilmer faced off.

Stiles still wears a Super Bowl ring from the 1980 season. Since that time, the Eagles have had two coaches and two owners. In 1982 came the league-wide players strike from which the Eagles never seemed to return.

“These fans like to boo. That’s Philly fans,” Cunningham said, proving he really does learn quickly. “But after the game, I walked out into the parking lot and they said, ‘Don’t worry,’ and they said I couldn’t leave without giving my autograph. I was astonished.”

The Philadelphia newspapers, at times venomous, have been easy on the Eagles so far, too. It’s not because the Inquirer and Daily News hold a soft spot for the team that seemed headed for Phoenix this year. The reason is just another cold, hard fact from Philly.

Both papers are shut down by a strike.