Cunningham Is an Eagle With a Nightmare


Randall Cunningham felt a little like many of his fans did when they woke up Monday morning.

“The worst part about it is knowing it’s not a dream,” the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback said at a press conference he prayed he would never have to hold.

“It” is one of the most expensive knees that has ever needed surgery. “It” may mean he is never quite the quarterback he once was, although no one is giving in to the possibility, least of all Cunningham.


Dr. Vincent DiStefano, the Eagles team physician, said tests confirmed that Cunningham had complete tears of both the medial collateral and the posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee that will require surgery if Cunningham hopes ever to regain his former abilities.

Cunningham will head to Los Angeles Tuesday to consult further with Dr. Clarence Shields, who performed surgery on Cunningham’s right knee just before he entered college. Cunningham said he might also consult with some of the other top knee surgeons in the country, including Richard Stedman and Frank Jobe, while he is on the West Coast.

But he is pretty much resigned to the fact that surgery will be necessary and he will not be playing football again until next season.

“I knew that I needed surgery because of the way it felt,” Cunningham said. “I’m going to take my time getting it right. But with surgery you never know what happens.”

Cunningham said it was odd that he had been asked about being injured more often this season than he ever had during his career. He had been remarkably durable. He and Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins are the only quarterbacks in the National Football league who have started every game for their teams since the players’ strike in 1988.

“I’ve been blessed,” Cunningham said of his injury-free career. “Maybe this is a test of my courage.”

He said the injury will not affect his style when he returns. As he pointed out, “I was in the pocket when I got hurt. I’m just going to go back and play my own style.”

Eagles Coach Rich Kotite, who should have been celebrating his first victory as a head coach at his day-after press conference, said, “Obviously, we’ re very upset about Randall’s injury. But I’m extremely pleased with the way the team reacted.”

Kotite said he was particularly happy with his defense. “It was about as complete a defensive effort as I’ve ever seen,” he commented. “We took just about everything away from the Green Bay Packers.”

He presented game balls to the entire defense and the defensive coaching staff as well as Cunningham and backup quarterback Jim McMahon.

Kotite said the search for a new backup quarterback for McMahon began almost immediately after the game, but would not disclose any of the names involved, although he did say two or three players may be brought in for tryouts this week.

Kotite said he contacted several quarterbacks, but declined to identify them. It is believed that Tony Eason and Pat Ryan, who were with the New York Jets when Kotite was the team’s offensive coordinator, are high on the list.

Other possible backups available include Scott Campbell, waived by the Atlanta Falcons; Anthony Dilweg, released by Green Bay; Steve Pelluer, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs; former Los Angeles Ram Chuck Long; Turk Schonert, of the Cincinnati Bengals and Jets, and Rusty Hilger, a former Indianapolis Colt.

McMahon, who once led the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl championship, apparently has the full confidence of his teammates,

But he has a history of injuries and has never played in more than 10 games in any one National Football League season.

While Cunningham spent some time almost daily with the press, McMahon was approached for an interview Monday and waived the interviewer away saying, “Sunday after the game. I’ve got nothing to say during the week.”

Probably the player most affected by the injury was center Dave Alexander, who himself is just recovering from serious knee surgery. Alexander blamed himself for missing a block he should have made.

But players who saw the film several times said Alexander had actually blocked Green Bay linebacker Bryce Paup to the ground and that Paup was making a desperate lunge for Cunningham when the injury occurred.

“For me it was like someone stuck a knife in my chest,” Alexander said of his reaction to seeing Cunningham hurt. “I told him I’d change places with him if I could. I feel like somehow I let him down. When it’s your guy that hit him it’s not a very good feeling.

“Randall’s not going to blame anyone, but I feel responsible when my guy hits the quarterback.”