Cunningham won't stay in pocket--if he makes it back there

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Randall Cunningham has found another reason not to stay in the pocket.

The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback was planted there last Sunday when he was hit by Bryce Paup of the Green Bay Packers and lost for the season with two torn ligaments in his left knee.

That gave Cunningham another argument to answer all the coaches who have told him over the years he shouldn't be so quick to run out of the pocket.

"When I come back, I'll be myself," Cunningham said. "I'm not going to be somebody everybody wants me to be."

There's no evidence that will keep him healthy. Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins is the only quarterback to start every game since 1987, and he never leaves the pocket.

It's also likely Cunningham will be more of a pocket passer when he comes back.

That's because he'll never have the running ability that he had before the injury. Even modern medicine can't restore two torn ligaments to their natural state.

Cunningham had some brave words last week. "If I don't come back with 4.4 speed, I'll be close. Maybe I'll be able to lower that," he said.

Kellen Winslow, the former tight end with the San Diego Chargers, knows better. He suffered the same injury in 1984 and said he was never more than 90 percent of his former self.

"I spent a whole year chasing a ghost, and that ghost was me. I found myself thinking, 'Why can't I run away from these defenders? I used to blow right past these guys,' " he said.

He said he finally realized that he'd never be the same, although he said he was "good enough to get the job done."

NB He added, "I can see Randall going through a similar process."

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Cunningham's injury was big news in London. Many of the national papers ran stories on him, an indication of how interest in American football is growing in Europe. Cunningham was popular because he often made the weekly highlight films that are shown in Europe.

As that interest continues to grow, it's curious that the World League of American Football, which should spread that popularity, will be fighting for its life at an owners' meeting in Dallas this week.

It's likely the league will survive because the TV networks don't want to pull the plug and commissioner Paul Tagliabue is pushing to keep it.

But the real question is how many teams are going to withdraw their financial support. Chicago and Phoenix haven't supported it from the start, and several other owners are unhappy that it lost up to $22 million in the first year.

They forget that the losses are less than Marino's contract, and are an investment in the future. But then, NFL owners have never been known for being farsighted. The AFL started in 1960 because the NFL refused to recognize its own s potential.

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On the expansion front, Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, plans to file the city's application by next weekend to meet the Sept. 16 deadline.

Potential owners have until Oct. 1 to file their applications, but Belgrad said it's his impression that Nathan Landow, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, Tom Clancy and an unidentified group will file.

It's still uncertain whether the other four -- Bart Starr, Ed Hale, Alfred Lerner and a second unidentified group -- will file.

Belgrad said that the next item on his agenda will be to make a final decision on bringing an exhibition game here next year. He's checking on what games are available the third or fourth weekend of the exhibition season.

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How many points does a coach need to feel comfortable about a game? For Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins, it takes about 45. That's why he didn't take out quarterback Mark Rypien until he had a 45-0 lead in the fourth quarter Sunday night against Detroit.

Explaining his philosophy on pulling his starting quarterback, he said: "The worst thing that can ever happen to a team is to have to win a game again or lose a game that you had won. I've seen it happen to coaches. What is the point where you can't lose? I hear people say, 'You're up 20 points.' I've seen teams up 21 points in the fourth quarter and lose. I saw [Tommy] Prothro lose at UCLA that way to Oregon. I've seen some miraculous things. At what point does a game get won? Normally, for me, it's awful late. I don't want to lose a game I've got won. I don't want to have to re-win a game. That takes a lot out of a team."

Gibbs said another reason he stays with his starter is that it doesn't do the second-string quarterback much good to go in and hand off late in the game.

"I don't think he gets a lot out of that. And I've also had experiences where quarterbacks go in late like that and you start getting fumbled exchanges and balls flying all over the place. That does nothing but kill a quarterback's confidence. For all those reasons, I'm kind of slow to substitute," he said.

For the record, no NFL team has ever blown a lead of more than 28 points and lost. San Francisco came back from a 35-7 halftime deficit to beat New Orleans in overtime, 38-35, in 1980 for the biggest comeback. St. Louis came back from a 28-3 fourth period deficit to beat Tampa Bay, 31-28, in 1987 in the second-biggest comeback.

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The Indianapolis fans are starting to figure out the Colts. Only -- the second-smallest crowd in the league (the Rams drew only 47,069) -- showed up for the 16-7 loss to the New England Patriots in the opener.

There's also more turmoil ahead. Owner Bob Irsay wanted to fire coach Ron Meyer after the surprising loss, but his son, general manager Jim Irsay, talked him out of it.

But with the Colts facing road games against Miami today and the Los Angeles Raiders next week and an 0-3 start, Meyer could

be the first coach fired this year.

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Kicker Gary Anderson, who was cut by the Buffalo Bills in 1982 after an 0-for-5 exhibition season, will return to Buffalo with the Pittsburgh Steelers today.

He's gone on to become the second all-time leading kicker in percentage, and if the Bills had kept him, he would have lined up for that 47-yard field goal in the Super Bowl instead of Scott Norwood.

"I've thought about it [kicking in the Super Bowl], but I'm more than content. I have no regrets," Anderson said.

He would have been a good bet to make it. He beat Houston in the playoffs two years ago with a 50-yarder in overtime.

If Anderson had been kept and made the kick, would Bill Parcells have quit? Would Jeff Hostetler be the New York Giants' starter?

It's strange how a little-noticed move nine years ago (Chuck Knox was then the Bills coach) may have changed football history.

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The Pittsburgh fans cheered Sunday when Bubby Brister was knocked out with a mild concussion. Brister said he could understand why Terry Bradshaw "hates everybody in Pittsburgh."

Bradshaw, who had his problems with coach Chuck Noll, replied: "I've got no problems with Pittsburgh fans. I got frustrated with events just like most other football players in high-pressure situations, but Bubby has never heard me say I hated the fans, and I certainly don't need Bubby to do my talking for me."

The fans' favorite is now former former Maryland quarterback Neil O'Donnell, who threw an 89-yard touchdown pass in relief last week. But Brister is expected to start today.

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