He was one of the most entertaining players to ever grace this franchise, and from the moment Randall Cunningham became an Eagle -- second-round draft pick, 1985 -- our opinions of the quarterback position changed. Nobody had ever seen a player with the athletic skills that Cunningham had and, as "A Football Life" documents, nobody was quite sure what to do with those skills initially and throughout Cunningham's NFL career.
The documentary is told beautifully, intertwining the Rise Of Randall as the glib entertainer who wore the gold-tipped shoelaces and performed feats of athleticism that had Eagles fans leaping out of their seats every Sunday to his resurrection in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings to his life in his post-playing days, years during which Cunningham has overcome tragedy with newfound maturity and perspective.
The Randall Cunningham of the late 1980s through much of the 1990s who made so many of you never-die Eagles fans is now a pastor in Las Vegas and the father of Randall Cunningham, Jr., one of the top high school football recruits in the country as well as the nation's top high jumper. "A Football Life" opens, in fact, with a highlight of Randall Jr., wearing No. 12, weaving through the defense on the field as his daddy did, raising his index finger high in the air as he approaches the end zone.
From 1985 through 1995, Cunningham passed for 22,877 and 150 touchdowns. He possessed one of the greatest arms in NFL history, and watching the footage of some of his big plays -- the run-around in the end zone to elude a rush against Buffalo before uncorking a bomb down the field to wide receiver Fred Barnett, who made the catch and completed the miraculous touchdown always raises goose bumps when I see the replay -- brings back the memories of the Buddy Ryan Eagles. Those were teams that lifted a moribund franchise and provided hope to Eagles fans. They were teams that made this franchise relevant after some terrible seasons. Those were teams that had internal strife and external warts, all of which are chronicled accurately in "A Football Life."
It is when Cunningham runs, though, that the viewer rises again and closes in on the television screen. Cunningham remains the NFL's all-time leading rusher, and even in this day and age of quarterbacks with remarkable mobility, there has never been one who approaches what Cunningham could do, what he did, and what it meant for Eagles fans.
The documentary pulls no punches here. Cunningham was not received with a hero's welcome by some Eagles. Former quarterback Ron Jaworski bristled at Ryan's idea of using Cunningham as a third-down quarterback, and while some in the media who are interviewed loved Cunningham from the start and knew he changed the dynamic of the way we watched the Eagles, the players weren't all on board.
As Cunningham's fame increased and his popularity skyrocketed -- catapulted into superstardom when he somehow stayed on his feet in a Monday Night Football game against the Giants when linebacker Carl Banks delivered a midsection blow to Cunningham, yet No. 12 braced himself on the turf at Veterans Stadium, regained his balance and fired a touchdown pass to tight end Jimmie Giles -- his off-the-field interests concerned his teammates, and linebacker Seth Joyner speaks very clearly about the concerns in the locker room.
"It became all about Randall," says Joyner.
For those of you old enough to follow the Eagles and Cunningham at that time, "A Football Life" tells a beautiful story. There isn't any new ground, particularly, but his journey is chronicled with great game footage, rare behind-the-scenes practice shots and some from his television show back in the day, and Cunningham's venture into the world of self promotion -- "I'm Back Scrambling" -- is wonderful stuff.
The end of Cunningham's career in Philadelphia wasn't pretty, and "A Football Life" does a good job telling the story of how Cunningham left the team after the 58-37 playoff win over Detroit in 1995 to be with his wife, Felicity, for the birth of Randall, Jr., and then was unprepared the following week when quarterback Rodney Peete was injured and Cunningham was needed in a blowout playoff loss at Dallas. Great stuff. Painful, but great.
Cunningham then leaves the NFL and finds his way back to Minnesota and teams up with Randy Moss and Cris Carter for a couple of years before finishing his career in Dallas and Baltimore.
The years since have brought closure to Cunningham's career as an Eagle. He's a member of the franchise's Hall of Fame and he is warmly received by Eagles fans. Cunningham returns to Philadelphia is an always going to be part of the franchise's family.
Find a way to watch tonight. One of ours, one of our very best, is featured. Randall Cunningham was a one-of-a-kind quarterback in this league. His celebrated playing career is brought to life with flair, dramatics and, yes, controversy, in compelling fashion in "A Football Life: Randall Cunningham."
A Football Life: Randall Cunnignham, airs tonight on NFL Network at 9 p.m.