Cunningham ready for return to Philly

Thursday, November 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ The last time Randall Cunningham played at Veterans Stadium, he received a standing ovation. Really.

Philadelphia fans weren't always so kind to Cunningham during his 11 seasons with the Eagles, but their fond farewell is what he remembers as returns for the first time since 1995.

``I'm kind of enthusiastic about it,'' Cunningham said Wednesday. ``I've spent most of my life as an adult there, and I've got a lot of great memories.

``I'd like to be cheered, but if I'm not, I'm not going to be upset about it. There's not a lot of guys on the Philadelphia Eagles that I played with, which is going to make it a lot different for me.''

The biggest difference is that Cunningham will be playing for the Dallas Cowboys, which automatically makes him the enemy. Remember, the last time Dallas played at the Vet, Philly fans cheered what ended up being a career-ending injury to Michael Irvin. Cunningham delicately described those fans as having ``just a lot of enthusiasm.''

Cunningham could feel that enthusiasm targeted against him from the start. On Wednesday, he took a step closer to being the starting quarterback as continued back pain kept Troy Aikman out of practice.

Cunningham took the majority of snaps will get at least half Thursday, even if Aikman returns.

``Troy is a tough guy, so don't count him out,'' coach Dave Campo said. ``I feel he's capable of going out Friday and taking care of business Sunday.''

Cunningham played against the Eagles for the first time in the opener after Aikman suffered a concussion. He started the next two games, went 1-1, then returned to the bench until playing three quarters in a 23-17 overtime loss to Jacksonville on Sunday.

Dallas fans already have gone hot-and-cold with him. They wanted him to keep starting when Aikman was ready to play again, then started longing for Aikman when Cunningham committed two turnovers in the second quarter Sunday.

Cunningham arrived in Philadelphia in 1985 as a second-round pick. With a strong arm and fast feet, he became a fan favorite, but he also frustrated fans and coaches with his willingness to run and many of his passing decisions.

Things were great from '88-90 when the Eagles made the playoffs and Cunningham made the Pro Bowl each season. In '91, he blew out his left knee in the opener and was done for the year.

He returned in '92 and again led Philadelphia to the playoffs, only to have another injury cut short his '93 season. The one-time love affair between him and the city never recovered.

``For nine years, everything was really very, very good. My last two years got a little tougher,'' Cunningham said. ``Whenever you're somewhere eight, nine, 10 years, you get kind of old there. People get used to your face, what you've got to say and a change of pace is sometimes good.''

In his final season, Cunningham played just seven games as Rodney Peete won the starting job. Cunningham's contract was up, so fans knew he wouldn't be back in '96.

Coach Ray Rhodes let Cunningham bid adieu by sending him in to mop up a 58-37 playoff win over Detroit.

``I came off the bench and the fans gave me a standing ovation,'' Cunningham said. ``I called a keeper and went for a first down. There was a scuffle and our guys stood up for me. The fans were pretty excited and I was thankful for it.''

A few weeks ago, Cunningham remembered the end of his Eagles career with more anger.

``When I retired, I hated football,'' said Cunningham, who sat out the '96 season to start a marble, tile and granite business in Las Vegas.

``Getting benched, coming back in the lineup, getting booed, still doing well but still getting booed _ there was no answer to justify my situation. That was the hardest part.

``It wasn't that I was a weak person, it was just that I had put up with it for about a year and a half and I figured I was at the point of retirement.''

Cunningham remains No. 2 on Philadelphia's career passing yardage list he's the team's third-leading rusher. He hold club records for passing yards in a game and a season and most completions in a game and a season.

He even holds the team record with a 91-yard punt.

Will any of it matter when his name is announced Sunday?

``I really don't know,'' Cunningham said. ``Of course, everybody wants to be welcomed. But it's not always how you want it.''