He may have changed his position forever. Randall Cunningham is not the first pro quarterback blessed with the ability to scramble, but he may be the first encouraged to do it. In doing so, in running for 942 yards and throwing 30 touchdown passes this season, he has re-defined what a pro quarterback can be.
Or perhaps not.
"I think it would be a mistake to go into the draft looking for a 'Randall Cunningham,' " Washington Redskins scouting director Joe Mack said. "He may be unique, and there may not be another one like him."
The Redskins knew this when Saturday's NFC wild-card playoff game began. They'd heard it all week, had been reminded again and again to be disciplined and stay in their pass-rushing lanes, and to keep Cunningham boxed toward the middle of the field.
If they needed one more reminder, they got it just before game time when Redskins defensive architect Richie Petitbon wrote on a locker room blackboard: "No. 12 is the best scrambler in history."
There were several keys to the Redskins' 20-6 elimination of the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium, but none stood out more than the way they stopped Cunningham dead in his tracks.
He was sacked five times and completed one pass to a wide receiver. He rushed for 80 yards, but 45 of those were in the fourth quarter after the Redskins were well in control of the game. Twice the Eagles got to the Washington 10 and were forced to settle for field goals.
It was a thorough ransacking and so frustrated Eagles Coach Buddy Ryan that he benched Cunningham for a series in the third quarter.
But it also was nothing new. The Eagles led the NFC in scoring with 396 points, but in their last four games against the Redskins, their offense produced three touchdowns. The Eagles had to drive only 33 and nine yards for two of those touchdowns since both came after turnovers in a 28-14 Philadelphia victory Nov. 12.
So in four games, the NFC's best offense this side of Candlestick Park has had one real scoring drive. Nothing else.
Yesterday, in the afterglow of their first playoff victory in almost three years, the Redskins were hard-pressed to explain why they've stopped a quarterback few other people have even slowed.
"It's nothing magic," Petitbon said. "It was really just a good, solid football game. We go after him with five men a lot and we know the number one thing is to keep him in the pocket. Our guys showed good discipline."
Petitbon and his defensive staff last week emphasized a couple of things and the most important one may have been the simplest: Rush him hard, keep pressure on him, but don't leave the rushing lanes. They spread the defensive ends a little wider to keep Cunningham from getting outside, then they stay in their lanes to keep him from getting the big runs up the middle.
The Redskins did their jobs well and cornerbacks Darrell Green and Martin Mayhew had big days.
Press the Redskins and they might admit they didn't think the Eagles offensive line was very good, that their running backs were only ordinary and their rookie wide receivers still learning. One thing the Redskins noticed early in their preparation was that when Cunningham began to scramble, his receivers kept running deep instead of coming back to make an inviting target.
"He may have been surprised by all the pressure on him," said defensive tackle Tim Johnson, who had two of the five sacks. "We knew we had to get some heat on him because he can sit back there and pick you apart. The coaches told us he might be the greatest scrambler ever and that stayed in our mind. Everyone had to stay disciplined and not overdo it or try to compensate for anyone else."
Cunningham hurt the Redskins only once, on the Eagles' third offensive play. On third and two at the Philadelphia 23, Cunningham stood in the pocket despite great pressure -- defensive end Charles Mann was all over him -- and tossed a 66-yard pass to tight end Keith Jackson.
That kind of play was what the Redskins feared since it turned the noise level up on the crowd and got the Eagles into position for a quick score. But from the Washington 11, the Eagles stalled. Running back Heath Sherman gained one yard and Cunningham, with linebacker Wilber Marshall rocketing toward him, threw the ball away.
On third and eight, an untouched Monte Coleman sacked Cunningham for a 10-yard loss, and the Eagles settled for a Roger Ruzek field goal.
The Eagles got 318 yards of offense -- 65 of them on that opening drive. They used a no-huddle offense to keep the Redskins from substituting their defensive personnel according to the situation. Still, nothing worked.
The Redskins defense seldom let Cunningham outside. Their tackles and linebackers didn't allow room in the middle. And Green, Mayhew and the other defensive backs covered the receivers.
"We still had a tough time with him," Marshall said. "The thing is to contain him, keep him in the middle. You don't want to see him running in the open field because that's when he'll hit a big one on you. You have to be careful."
Middle linebacker Kurt Gouveia said: "One thing about Joe Montana is that he may sit in the pocket and beat you. He's great. But Cunningham might beat you from the pocket one time, then run out of there and beat you the next time."
No one beat the Redskins on Saturday, and in the spotlight of national television and the pressure of the playoffs, a lot of people saw a defense that has been better than almost anyone expected at its best.
"I couldn't be prouder," Petitbon said. "I thought they played great. Played hard. Cunningham is the kind of guy that keeps you nervous even when you get a feeling things are going your way."