Ex-Eagle Cunningham a big fan of Jameis Winston, too
TAMPA — On Wednesday, as the Bucs prepare for Sunday's game at Philadelphia, rookie quarterback Jameis Winston shared that he grew up a huge fan of former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.
"I just fell in love with him," said Winston, born in 1994, nine years into Cunningham's 16-year career. "I liked Randall Cunningham (because) what he brought to the game (was) excitement."
Winston said when he was a high school recruit, his Rivals.com bio page compared him to Cunningham ("I was skinny back in those days") and "that made me even more of a fan."
As it turns out, Cunningham is a big fan of Winston's as well. Now 52, he's finishing his first season as head coach at Silverado High School in Las Vegas, taking over a 3-7 team and going 7-3 in his first year and coming off a win in the playoffs. He didn't realize that Winston was a fan of his growing up, but the feeling now is mutual.
"I tell you what -- I've watched him a lot and been a fan of his. That kid is relentless," Cunningham said by phone Thursday. "When people count him out, he steps up to the plate. I think he has the same thing I had: You tell him what he can't do and he'll prove you wrong."
Winston knows enough about Cunningham to joke that he liked him for his punting skills -- he doubled as an All-American punter at UNLV and once had a 91-yard punt in an NFL game. Cunningham said he's especially impressed by how quickly Winston has adjusted to the NFL -- in 1985, Cunningham had just one touchdown and eight interceptions as a rookie with Philadelphia.
"I was terrible," said Cunningham, a highlight-reel scrambler who held the NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback until Michael Vick passed him in 2011. "But my career turned around. When you see kids doing even average in their first year, kids like (Marcus) Mariota and Jameis, those kids are going to be great quarterbacks, the Marinos, the Elways, the Moons, those guys who end up taking football to a whole new level. I'm excited about watching him."
Cunningham said winning as a young quarterback isn't easy -- he went 2-6-1 as a starter in his first two seasons -- but said he's already seen moments like Sunday, when Winston scored the go-ahead touchdown late in a 10-6 win over the Cowboys.
"His leadership qualities don't just come through a lot of talking. It comes through how he plays, those big plays that he makes, those moments when it's needed," Cunningham said. "In college, they'd be down, and he'd always figure out a way to win the game. That's what it takes to be a great quarterback in the NFL."
Cunningham is enjoying his retirement, coaching not only football but track, where his daughter Vashti set a national high school record with a high jump of 6 feet, 4.5 inches this spring. She's a high school senior, considering Oregon, USC, Georgia and even her dad's college at UNLV with scholarship offers in volleyball as well.
As for Winston, Cunningham said he'll be eagerly watching, though it will be hard for him to pull for him this week in Philadelphia.
"He's going into hostile territory now," he said. "This will be a great opportunity to go play against a tough football team."