Elusive NFL QB Cunningham enters College Football Hall of Fame as punter

Pictured (left to right): College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock, 2016 Hall of Famer Randall Cunningham, ESPN’s Joe Tessitore, 2016 Hall of Famer Pat McInally and National Football Foundation President and CEO Stave Hatchell pose for media after the 2016 College Football Hall of Class was announced at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale. (Photo by Bill Slane/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE – Randall Cunningham created a lasting legacy for himself as a quarterback in the NFL using his arm and running ability. But he needed his punting leg to get him into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Cunningham ranks third on the Philadelphia Eagles’ all-time career passing yards list with 22,877 yards as well as third on the single-season passing yards list with 3,808 yards. Cunningham also left his mark on the Eagles’ all-time rushing record book with 4,482 rushing yards as an Eagle, good for sixth all-time in Philadelphia.

He made his mark on the record books of UNLV, and on Friday was announced as part of a 14-player class of the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame. However, Cunningham was never an All-American at quarterback at UNLV, a requirement for induction, so instead he will be inducted in another position: punter.

As a punter in college, he averaged 45.2 yards per punt in three years, amassing 6,554 punting yards. Cunningham was a two-time All-American as a punter in 1983 and 1984.

Cunningham ended his time at UNLV as the team’s leader in passing with 8,290 yards, most passing touchdowns with 61 and most completions with 614. Of course, those stats are meaningless to his inclusion in the hall. Cunningham had 20 punts in his NFL career, including a record 91-yarder as an Eagle in 1989.

At the announcement of the class at the JW Marriott Camelback Scottsdale Inn, Cunningham said he was inspired to play quarterback by former New York Jet and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath and African-American athletes like Doug Williams and James Harris.

“But I think, most of all, my brother Sam, he inspired me to play football,” Cunningham said. “These people really influenced me, made me work hard. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to wear the same jersey numbers. Wanted to have the same character, mentality, integrity and morals.”

His brother, Sam “Bam” Cunningham, was a fullback for the USC Trojans and New England Patriots. He was inducted into both the College Football Hall of Fame and Patriots Hall of Fame in 2010.

Despite attending two different colleges, both Cunninghams are graduates of Santa Barbara High School in California. Randall is 13 years the junior of his brother and says he took inspiration from him even during his time at Santa Barbara.

“I thank God to be able to follow in his footsteps because he was a great example for me as a person in high school and college and then when he played with New England in the pros,” Cunningham said.

The Cunninghams are not the first set of brothers to be inducted into the hall. That trend can be traced back as far as 1968 when Albert “Ox” Wistert, a tackle from Michigan joined his brother Francis “Whitey” Wistert who was inducted a year earlier. A third Wistert brother, Alvin “Moose” Wister, was inducted in 1981. The Cunninghams are now the fifth set of brothers in the hall.

Also announced as a member of the 2016 class was Harvard’s Pat McInally, who was on-hand for the announcement. McInally earned All-American honors his senior year as a tight end for the Crimson.

“This is a tremendous honor, of course. I think the Football Hall of Fame and the (National Football Foundation) just does so many great things.” McInally said.

McInally played both punter and wide receiver for the Bengals in the NFL, and while speaking with Cunningham, another two-way player, expressed the importance of being versatile.

“Like I’ve been saying for a long time, the best athletes in football are punters, and they play other positions also,” McInally said. “So don’t specialize too young.”

Nine-time NFL All-Pro Derrick Brooks and six-time All-Pro Rod Woodson were also announced as member of the 2016 class and were on hand via phone after the announcement was made.

Brooks has already had his number 10 retired by the Florida State Seminoles after finishing his career there with more than 270 tackles. Woodson was inducted into the Purdue Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003 after leaving the school with 13 individual records.

Woodson reflected on his journey in football after the announcement was made.

“Just thinking about all the players who have played collegiate football throughout the years and to think a young kid from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who went to Snider High School and Purdue University, to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame is just an accomplishment and an honor that I’ll cherish forever,” Woodson said.

Other members of the 2016 class include Nebraska quarterback Marlin Briscoe, Louisiana State quarterback Bert Jone, Colorado defensive end Herb Orvis and Georgia defensive back Scott Woerner.

Two head coaches, New Hampshire’s Bill Bowes and Lycoming’s (Pa.), Frank Girardi will also be inducted.

The players and coaches announced as the 2016 class Friday will be officially inducted into the hall during a ceremony in New York in December.