The New England Patriots weren't always a dynasty. They weren't always the well-oiled machine they are now with Bill Belichick as coach and Tom Brady at quarterback piling up the victories on their way to the Hall of Fame.
There actually was a time when the Patriots were the worst team in football, not the best. The year was 1990 – yes, it was a long time ago – and the Pats were more like patsies. They were 1-15 that year and were outscored 446 to 181, the worst point differential in the NFL in a decade.
The Patriots limped into Veterans Stadium on November 4 of that season and the Eagles crushed them, 48-20. Buddy Ryan's team had 514 yards of total offense that day, including 307 yards on the ground. The Eagles had not rushed for that many yards in a single game since December 1951.
"They beat us in every phase of the game," Patriots coach Rod Rust said. "We all know they have a great defense, but with (quarterback Randall) Cunningham, they are so explosive on offense. Once he gets going, he's hard to stop."
Cunningham had one of his best games that day. It was a highlight-reel kind of performance as Cunningham became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for more than 100 yards and pass for four touchdowns in the same game. He also had the longest run of his career, a 52-yard touchdown sprint off a broken play.
"People laughed when I said I'd take Randall over (John) Elway," Ryan said. "I hope they were watching today. Randall was like a one-man gang."
The Eagles were an up-and-down team that season. They started slowly, losing three of their first four games. They rallied to beat Minnesota in Week 5, lost to Washington the next week, then just squeezed past Dallas, 21-20. So they were a puzzling 3-4 going into the game against New England.
"It was a game we had to have," defensive tackle Mike Golic said. "The Patriots caught us at a bad time. We put it all together today."
The Eagles scored on eight of their 10 possessions. They had two 80-yard scoring drives and two 70-yard scoring drives. Cunningham rushed for 124 yards and Heath Sherman added another 113 yards on 24 carries. It was the first time the Eagles had two rushers over 100 yards in the same game since 1978.
Cunningham threw two touchdown passes to tight end Keith Jackson and one each to wide receivers Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams. The most spectacular play of the day was Cunningham's long run where he scrambled to the sideline, but instead of ducking out of bounds, he turned upfield and shifted gears pulling away from the startled Patriot defenders.
Linebacker Andre Tippett said: "Randall can make guys look stupid more than anyone I've seen."
Rust, who was the linebacker coach on Dick Vermeil's original staff in Philadelphia, agreed.
"He is the quickest (quarterback) I've seen," Rust said. "When he gets going, it's like a track meet. He just runs by you."
Cunningham would have a 51-yard run four weeks later in Buffalo, but the 52-yarder against the Patriots was the longest of his career. It was all part of a big season for Cunningham, who passed for 3,466 yards and ran for 942 more. He threw 30 touchdown passes and became the first quarterback in Eagles history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.
Cunningham would earn the Bert Bell Award from the Maxwell Football Club as the NFL Player of the Year. He led the Eagles to the playoffs for the third year in a row, but when they lost at home to Washington in the first round, Ryan was fired by owner Norman Braman and replaced by Rich Kotite.
While the Eagles' season ended in disappointment, the Patriots' season ended in utter embarrassment. Not only were the Patriots the worst team in the league, but three of their players were accused of sexually harassing a female reporter in the locker room. The story made national headlines and led to the demise of owner Victor Kiam.
Then a wealthy season ticket holder named Robert Kraft bought the team and things changed. The Patriots come to town Sunday with an 8-1 record and it is a foregone conclusion they will finish the regular season with double-digit wins for the 17th year in a row.
But 1990? Well, that was a different story.
An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of hisEagles History columns here.He is also the author ofThe Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which is in bookstores now.