Randall Cunningham at 50: A fantasy innovator

Anyone who knows anything about football video games will tell you that there was no greater digital athlete than Bo Jackson in Tecmo Super Bowl.

I’m not silly enough to argue that premise. But I would like to introduce you to a man known simply as QB Eagles. Why his name never appeared in the game is beyond me. He could throw the ball 70 yards and run like the wind. QB Eagles was a dual-threat like none other in the game, capable of throwing for 3,000 and rushing for another 1,000 — no small feat with just five minute quarters.

In real life, QB Eagles did have a name. It was Randall Cunningham. And his real life feats were just as magical as anything in those 16-bit technicolor dreams. He ran as well as any back in the game. He perfected the duck-and-chuck. And just in case that wasn’t enough, he could punt. Boy, could he punt.

So you’re all in for Robert Griffin III, eh? Maybe you got caught up in Russellmania with Mr. Wilson up there in Seattle. Or perhaps you spent a lot of time Kaepernicking this past fantasy season. You might have even staked your claim with Michael Vick once upon a time. But were it not for Cunningham, they likely would have all been converted to another position.

Unlike those other QBs, Cunningham didn’t take the reins immediately — it was an era when most rookies sat and watched before taking over — but when he finally got the call, he made his presence felt. In 1987, he took over for the departed Ron Jaworski, making 12 starts and throwing for 2,786 yards and 23 touchdowns. While that might not sound so impressive, it was ninth-most in the league that season.

The next year, Randall spread his wings and was the highest-scoring quarterback in all of fantasy football. He was third in the NFL in passing yards (3,808) and fourth in TD passes (24). Not to mention he far outpaced his QB counterparts with 624 rushing yards and six TDs on the ground.

Still, there may be nothing that tops his 1990 campaign. That season, Cunningham tossed for 3,466 yards and 30 touchdowns to go along with 941 rushing yards and five more scores. There’s really no such thing as a sure thing in fantasy football, but at that point, Randall Cunningham was as close as most fantasy enthusiasts could come … that is, until an ACL injury in Week 1 of the 1991 season sidelined him for a year and sapped him of much of his athleticism.

However, Cunningham gave us one last flash of his fantasy greatness in 1998 while with the Minnesota Vikings. He took over for an injured Brad Johnson and teamed with a rookie named Randy Moss and a veteran named Cris Carter to throw for 3,704 yards and a career-high 34 touchdowns to help lead the Vikings to 15-1 regular season and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Cunningham played just three more seasons and never had more than six starts, but he helped change the quarterback position on the field and redefined what fantasy owners could expect from the position in the stat sheets. Not to mention always making sure video gamers never forgot his name.

— Marcas Grant
Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG

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