Passing (for 207 touchdowns) and running (for 4,928 yards) are what Randall Cunningham will be most remembered for in his NFL career. But what happened Dec. 3, 1989 — 25 years ago today — shouldn’t be overlooked, either. That’s when he got off a 91-yard punt, the fourth longest in league history, to help the Eagles beat the Giants, 24-17.
We’re not talking about a quick kick, either, though Cunningham was helped by a 25 mph wind that gusted to 35. As you can see in this photo, it was a conventional punt, with him receiving the snap just inside the field of play.
Here’s how The New York Times described it:
Early in the fourth quarter, the Giants almost broke the 17-17 tie when Erik Howard sacked Cunningham and drove him into the Eagles’ end zone. The officials spotted the ball on the 2-yard line, making it fourth down and 33 yards to go for a first down.
Usually, Max Runager would have punted for the Eagles. But Cunningham, an outstanding punter in college, told Coach Buddy Ryan of the Eagles he wanted to punt, and Ryan let him.
It was a good decision. The ball sailed to the Giants 39 and bounced to the 7 before an apparently baffled [Dave] Meggett picked it up and returned it 9 yards.
Two plays later, the Giants gave up the ball again. Golic sacked Simms and stripped the ball, and Mike Pitts recovered for the Eagles on the Giants’ 7-yard line. Three plays later, from the 2, Byars squirmed into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
Cunningham was, as the Times said, a very good punter at UNLV, an All-American who averaged 45.2 yards for his career. But by the late ’80s the NFL had become so specialized — and rosters so large — that position players weren’t needed to punt. A pity.
There were, after all, quite a few passer-punters in pro football’s early days, including Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin. They grew up, remember, in the era of the single wing, and the best tailbacks were triple threats who could run, pass and kick. When Cunningham boomed his 91-yarder, though, the league hadn’t had a starting QB pull double duty since the Cowboys’ Danny White in 1984. We may never see another.
Oh, well. At least Randall reminded everybody of The Way It Used To Be. And if anyone needed a refresher course, he blasted an 80-yarder five years later. That one was a quick kick — out of the shotgun, on third and 12 from the Philadelphia 4.
Something just dawned on me: Cunningham’s 91-yard punt was exactly 90 yards longer than the one Redskins QB Joe Theismann shanked against the Bears in 1985. Washington’s regular punter, Jeff Hayes, had just gotten hurt, and Theismann — who hadn’t punted in college — volunteered for the job.
Wisely, coach Joe Gibbs never gave him another opportunity. The boot, from right around the goal line, veered out of bounds at the Washington 14. The Bears scored on the next play and went on to win, 45-10.
“They told me to kick it right,” Theismann said, “and I did. Dead right.”