Randall Cunningham’s 1990 season is the greatest single season an NFL quarterback has ever had; and no one remembers or acknowledges it. 3,466 passing yards. 942 rushing yards. 35 total TDs. His stats read like a season straight out of Tecmo Super Bowl, a season too ridiculous to have ever actually occurred in the NFL.
Why does this season not get any recognition?
Sure, it happened 21 years ago but what he was doing at the time was unprecedented in the history of the NFL. The only season close to that type of production in the 21 years since was Michael Vick’s 2010 totals. Vick bested Cunningham’s rushing total (which was an NFL record for a QB) in '06, but he also threw for 1,000 less yards and scored only 22 total tuds compared to Randall's 35.
Cunningham was second in passing tuds with 30 and 6th in passing yards in 1990, but the leader in both, Warren Moon, had another 119 attempts. If you give Randall another 119 throws at his average yards per pass (7.45) he accumulates another 922 yards which elevates him to 2nd with 4,388 behind Moon's 4,689, but Moon only rushed for a paltry 215 yards that year. Any QB in any era of the NFL would be happy with those passing numbers alone in a single season (and a career if your name is Chad Hutchinson or almost any other Bears QB)and any NFL running back would be pleased with himself after a 942 yard, five TD season with an NFL leading eight yards per carry.
One argument I hear in regards to Cunningham’s career in general, not just the ’90 season, is that because he wasn’t a “Pure Passer” (whatever that means) his numbers are seen as more cartoonish, less legitimate than if Chris Chandler or some other stiff QB put them up. But his 1998 season with the Vikings proves he was in fact a great quarterback who could sling the rock without relying on his feet.
The 1998 Vikings were the highest scoring team in NFL history until the 2007 Patriots usurped the title from them. What’s awesome about this from the Cunningham perspective is that everyone thought his career was done- he was only signed to backup incumbent “stud” Brad Johnson until he got hurt after two games.
Instead, Cunningham became the starter and completely blew up. His 3,704 passing yards was the second highest of his career (3,808 in 1988) and fifth most in the league. His 34 passing TDs was a career high and second most in the NFL. His 106.0 QB Rating led the league. But more importantly for his legacy, he led the Vikings to a 15-1 regular season record and the NFC Championship game where they lost to the Atlanta Falcons.
But this isn’t an article about 1998- the coordinates I set on the Delorean were for 1990 and Doc Brown is getting antsy- so let’s go back.
Who was Cunningham even throwing to in 1990? Calvin Williams and Fred Barnett were both rookies and neither of them had 40 catches. Cunningham didn’t have a single 1,000 yard receiver that year which shows you how he spread the ball around because he had to, which speaks to how good he was and how truly amazing the production was. Keith Byars, a running back, was actually his leading receiver.
Still not convinced that Cunningham’s 1990 season was epic and the greatest for a quarterback ever?
Lucky for you, Al Gore “created” the internet because you can go back in time, sans Delorean, and be Randall Cunningham in his prime right now. “How can this be possible, Paul? The laws of time as a linear concept moving forever forward strictly prohibit this.”
You can play Tecmo Super Bowl on your computer right now at work and re-live a season through the eyes of “QB Eagles” in his prime. Click on the "Downloads" tab above and get it poppin'. High top fade like Randall's not included.