A Time To Heal
A fresh look at Randall Cuningham may make you reconsider what you thought you knew about him
By Roxanne Robbins
After a grueling 11 seasons in the National Football League, quarterback Randall Cunningham did not
anticipate retiring from retirement. The 34-year-old was residing in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his wife Felicity and their newborn son, Randall Cunningham II.

During the 1996 season, Cunningham worked as a studio analyst for TNT football broadcasts. He was also investing in a new profession, his own marble, tile, and granite company. He was caught by surprise when he felt prompted to return to a career from which he thought he permanently walked away.

The consideration to play again stemmed from unlikely responses he received from the public. After leaving the Philadelphia Eagles franchise at the end of the 1995 season, Cunningham was asked almost daily by friends and strangers when he would play again. At first he shrugged off their question, reiterating that he had retired. But when the inquiries failed to cease, he began to wonder himself.

“I had made my announcement to retire, although I hadn’t filed my papers yet,” Cunningham says.
“When I left the game, I was expecting people to say, ‘Congratulations on 11 years in the NFL,’ but it was more often, ‘When are you coming back?’ I heard it so much I began to think, ‘If God is talking to me through people, I’m going to pray about it.’

“So I got down [on my knees] and I said, ‘Lord, if it’s Your will that I should go back and play football, I’m willing to follow that.’ I said, ‘You know my heart better than I know myself. If it’s Your will, have teams call me up, and I’ll take that as a sign that You want me to get back into football.’

Within 2 or 3 days, teams started calling me. For someone who’s retired, that can only be a sign from

Molding his body back into NFL condition was no easy task. A year had elapsed since Cunningham had worked out, and his muscles had easily adapted to his more relaxed lifestyle. He paid the price, but after returning to form, on April 11, 1997, Cunningham agreed to contract terms with the Minnesota Vikings.

Cunningham brought a wealth of experience and accolades to the Vikings quarterback stable. The
6’4", 205-pound athlete had rushed for more yards (4,384) than any other quarterback in NFL history. In
fact, going into the 1997 season, he was 91st on the all-time list of NFL rushing leaders—ahead of running backs such as Jim Otis, Lorenzo White, Mercury Morris, and Matt Snell. As a starter in the NFL he compiled a regular-season record of 63-43-1 (.593). He is second in Eagles history in career completions (1,874), passing yards (22,877), and touchdown passes (30).

The University of Nevada-Las Vegas graduate and two-time All American came to the Vikings dressed in a new attitude different from the one he wore when he first signed with the Eagles as their second-round-draft pick in 1985. A transformation had taken place in Cunningham’s life, leading to a new motivation.

“My focus is different now,” Randall explains. “My last year of playing in Philadelphia, I had so much anger inside for sitting the bench or for just not being treated the way I thought I should be treated.

Being the backup in Philadelphia was difficult, but God allowed me to be patient and to persevere
through it. I guess no one wants to be a benchwarmer, but there’s a time and a place. The Bible says there’s a time to mourn, a time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to cry— there’s times for everything basically. There’s a time to tear down and there’s a time to build up. That was my tearing-down time.

“Each time I went to Bible study that year, it was like the Bible study was directed toward me, especially when it talked about submitting to the governing authorities. I learned there’s no authority except that which God has instituted. So I had to follow the people God had put in charge. By doing that, God blessed me to end my career on a note where I could walk out and be thankful and satisfied for what He had done in my life.”

Cunningham remembers swallowing his pride when he lost his starting position in Philadelphia. He reflects on that period as a time when he was torn down so God could “rebuild him as a person, not just a football player.” He claims that through being humbled he was able to see God at work in his life.

Through personal time studying the Bible and through the encouragement of Christian teammates, friends, and pastors—people such as Cedric Brown, Reggie White, and Keith Byars—Cunningham recognized a need to lay his frustrations down and let God carry them. Now his desire is to stand strong in his faith and be a witness that God can change lives.

“The thing that’s caused me to stand up for Christ is reading in the Bible that we’re to be bold for
Christ,” Cunningham says. “I guess I’m just so thankful that God is real, as I’ve seen through my life
experiences, through prayer, through other peoples’ lives, and through miracles that have happened. God
has humbled me and allowed me to see even more of him each day. I’m going back as a Christian playing
football for God.”

In Minnesota, Cunningham joins an average of 21 teammates for weekly Bible studies and prayer. He
is active in a church and is being mentored by Pastor Keith Johnson. Cunningham also spends time with
Athletes in Action staff member and Vikings chaplain Tom Lamphere. In addition to having men pour
into his life, Cunningham poured into the lives of his teammates by joining wide receiver Cris Carter in
leading Bible studies during the Vikings training camp.

“If I’m going to have faith, I better have faith in God and in the Bible,” Cunningham concludes. “If I’m going to be an athlete or do anything in my life, regardless of the situation, I need to have faith in Christ because He’s the one who’s going to pull me through the tough times. And when I’m going
through the good times I’m going to give Him the glory, because that’s what I’ve learned from reading
the Word. It’s vital that I have Jesus Christ in my life, because there are not going to be great times all
the time. You’re going to go through ups and downs, and if you have nowhere to reach then you can’t get help.

“I definitely see growth in what God’s doing with my life.” Cunningham says. “My goal is to let my
light for Jesus Christ shine on the football field. I’m content with what my job is. I’m a backup to one of
the best quarterbacks in the league. I don’t have a problem with that. But I think if I hadn’t gone through
this, I probably wouldn’t be able to handle it the way that I do.” 

Roxanne Robbins lives in Cincinnati, where she works for Athletes in Action.Reprinted by
permission, Sports Spectrum