Cunningham can't win big one


IRVING, Texas -- And so The Big One continues to haunt and elude Randall Cunningham and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Confronted with the chance to find out exactly how they measure up to the Super Bowl champions, the Birds came up significantly short Sunday, 24-13.

And in what has become the defining scenario of his star-crossed career, Cunningham was again breathtakingly athletic but again failed to lead his team to victory.

It is a cruel and despicable thing to say of any athlete, that in large moments he comes up small. But the irrefutable fact is, for all that he has done, for all that he has overcome, Cunningham has done nothing to challenge that notion.

The Eagles lost to the Cowboys and in the middle two quarters, when the game was being decided, the quarterback threw two completions, three interceptions and nine incompletions. He produced no points for his own team but generously contributed to the Dallas cause. Not that the Boys need any help.

In all, he committed five ghastly turnovers. Against an average team, that is lethal. Against Dallas, it is guaranteed gruesome.

The charge is a familiar one by now, that the Eagles will never reach the Super Bowl with Cunningham doing the driving. In all good conscience, you can no longer argue against that.

It is not for lack of individual skills. Certainly it is not for lack of courage. But even after almost a decade in the NFL, Cunningham still cannot decipher zone coverages and still does not, or cannot, find a secondary receiver when it is critical.

And his history in large games is abysmal.

Perhaps he over-tries. Perhaps he attempts to do too much. But for whatever the reason, he changes.

This is not, most emphatically, to suggest that he chokes. There is no hint of that. No, it is not that he looks panicked; he just cannot execute.

Sunday, he threw ground balls.

He threw behind receivers.

He threw late.

He threw several passes he shouldn't have thrown at all.

He threw floaters that blinked in screaming neon: "Pick me, pick me!"

And the Cowboys did, four in all, each one more damaging.

Perhaps the most telling part of all was that in the beginning, Troy Aikman was dreadfully inept. He was bumped about and soon found himself behind. But the point is, he recovered; he adjusted.

In contrast, Cunningham, who started quickly, became flummoxed and then, when unable to adjust, began to force the ball.

"Coming from behind makes you force things," he said.

Once again, Cunningham could not produce a victory over Dallas. The Cowboys being world champions, this is hardly a disgrace. But it reinforces the point The Big One remains beyond his grasp.

He preferred to credit the Dallas defense rather than his own mistakes, and that is fine; that is his entitlement.

"I was trying to make things happen," Cunningham said.

And so he was. And often he succeeds, spectacularly so, with some pass play longer than the interstate, or some improvisational running genius that leaves you slack-jawed.

The problem is, he doesn't do those things when the chips make a mound in the middle of the table that you can't see over.

The Eagles are better this season. But at this point, they haven't caught up to Dallas.

You suspect Cunningham never will.

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