Scrambling for cover

Randall Cunningham wants to be a backup. Really. But the one thing he's never outrun is quarterback controversy.

"I've learned to adjust to all situations," Cunningham says in a voice so gentle that the tape recorder barely picks up his words. "I'm not someone who's a proud person. I'm honored to be a person of God, but I'm not a prideful person. God got rid of that in 1986. I've learned to be a person who desires much knowing that much is desired of you.

"I mean, I wasn't happy with [how things worked out], but I mean I can't turn around and be a jealous person, because I wasn't the one with the authority. Coach Green had the authority; those are the decisions he made."

Incapable of evading the spotlight once more, Randall Cunningham made a decision, albeit with the help of the Almighty, of course.

Aikman has come under fire in recent years as fans forget his three Super Bowl victories. If he struggles during the season, some fans will surely call for Cunningham--who was a Pro Bowler after the 1998 season.
Aikman has come under fire in recent years as fans forget his three Super Bowl victories. If he struggles during the season, some fans will surely call for Cunningham--who was a Pro Bowler after the 1998 season.
Aikman has come under fire in recent years as fans forget his three Super Bowl victories.
Gary Lawson
Aikman has come under fire in recent years as fans forget his three Super Bowl victories.

He bolted. Again.


This time around, he knows his role, so things are going to be different. The words resonate in your ears while you watch practice at Midwestern State University. Just then, he takes a short drop, pats the ball once for rhythm, and feathers a beautiful, arching pass down the right sideline, where the Rocket hauls in a perfect spiral 40 yards away. Cunningham flashes that enchanting grin. Looks pretty happy. Looks like he belongs. In the background, everyone oohs and aahs and, for a moment, you feel silly for doubting his chances to acclimate without drumming up some type of publicly noticed conflict.

Then you look behind him, at two strapping men who play the same position, and you don't feel so silly anymore. All you feel is sympathy, because you have a hunch it's going to get all kinds of difficult around here for Cunningham. Probably for everyone, for that matter. Certainly for Paul Justin.

Justin is 6-foot-4, 211 pounds of sandy blond hair and muscles. In his sixth season in the league out of Arizona State, he is the prototypical drop-back quarterback, a read-and-react type who would have immediately endeared himself to a guy like Kotite. Which is to say, he's the kind of backup the Cowboys have used for years, a breathing contingency plan against Troy Aikman's going down. Number 1 is hurt? No problem, we'll make due with 1A for the time being.

So it made sense for America's Team to woo the former St. Louis Rams second fiddle when Jason Garrett departed for the New York Giants. Justin came willingly, because who can resist a pitch from one of the most famous franchises in all of sports? Who wouldn't want $500,000 to back up Aikman and stare at a few scantily clad, internationally known cheerleaders?

For Justin, things were working out fine. He'd made it. Until Jerry Jones decided he didn't want his backup to be option 1A--he wanted it to be option 7Z, something altogether different.

Hello, Randall Cunningham.

While Justin was merrily preparing for mini-camp and points beyond, Jones heard Cunningham was looking for a new team and wasted no time. And why would he? The man needed a second-string quarterback, silly.

What's that? He already had one, you say? Pish, posh, mere details.

"At the time we signed Paul, Randall Cunningham was not available," Jones said through his PR people. (Come on, the man is too busy to be bothered by the Observer.) "When he become available, we looked at it as another way to upgrade our team."

So began the brief courtship between Cunningham and the Cowboys. Jones contacted him while both were in Las Vegas. (Cunningham was there to receive an award.) The very next day Cunningham visited with the Dallas higher-ups and, three months after inking Justin, the 'Boys had a second backup QB. (How 'bout them deceitful bastards, eh Paul?)

"Everybody is excited to have Randall Cunningham with this ball club," says first-year head coach Dave Campo during his daily training camp press conference. "And that includes our football team, because our team has had direct results of Randall Cunningham over the years with what he's been able to do to us."

According to Campo, the staff analyzed his five starts from a year ago and weighed the risks. "We felt very comfortable that he had not lost the skills we had seen in him before," the coach continues. "We've got a starter. And we know that Randall knows his role, and Randall is going to approach that backup role in a professional way."

Music to Cunningham's ears. He could have gotten more money in Tampa Bay or Detroit, but that would have meant possible quarterback controversies, what with inexperienced Shaun King and Charlie Batch running those teams, respectively. And, hey, that's not what he wanted. He'd been there and done that. He wanted to know his role. He wanted serenity, which is pretty comical, because there isn't a bigger annual media circus than Jerry's Kids.

A few weeks from now, Campo and Jones will have to make a decision about Justin, one that could leave a man who was once slated for the No. 2 slot on the depth chart without a job. Even though it wasn't his fault, Randall Cunningham will be the reason. So much for not rocking the boat.

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