By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Aw, man, it's cool," he counters. "I just had lunch with [Justin]. Paul has been around, he's an experienced person. You know, he's just like me; he wants to get his shot. I don't do [bad blood] with any of the players. If there's a situation with someone who doesn't get along with me, I still treat them the way I want to be treated."
Justin agrees, saying there are no hard feelings, that it's all part of the business, whatever happens. But when it comes to matters of employment and financial security--to stay on, Justin might have to take a pay cut, because there aren't too many third stringers pulling down 500 Gs a year--aren't there always hard feelings? If not toward each other, toward someone?
Thing is, potentially, the Justin situation could be the least of Cunningham's worries. What if Aikman, who has long been underappreciated around these parts, struggles initially? What if the boneheads on talk radio begin bashing him? What if their legions of minions follow suit, begging for Cunningham to shed his ball cap and snap on his helmet? Or, what if No. 8 falls prey to injury, which has happened once or twice, hasn't it? What if No. 7 fills in and performs well? What then?
Unfortunately for Cunningham, he'd be back in a position with which he's well acquainted--a position he'd rather not be in anymore. He has no desire to be the star, the hero. Luckily for now, as far as he's concerned, it's all hypothetical.
"I'm just part of the team," Cunningham says happily, politely. "I just want to fit in."
You believe him because his eyes beg you to, because he knows how hard it will be if he doesn't fit in. And you want it to work out because, when it comes down to it, Cunningham is one of the few professional athletes you don't want to choke to unconsciousness for his hubris.
But you wanted it to work in Minnesota and Philadelphia before that. You wanted Cunningham to handle the rigors of celebrity with the polish of, say, John Elway or Emmitt Smith. For one reason or another, that's never happened. There have always been forces out there steering him toward some type of strife, as if the Fates were watching from a distance, laughing their fool heads off.
In the end, you're a lot like Cunningham, helpless to do anything but hope against hope that his fortunes will change. But you watch Paul Justin fight for his job and Troy Aikman get disparaged by ignorant critics and Jerry Jones stir a smoldering, volatile pot, and you wonder about Randall Cunningham's chances for peace.
You wonder, again and again, how this time could possibly be any different.