Randall Cunningham cannot retire from football despite his best efforts. As a former quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, he made two attempts to get away from the game and tried a variety of activities to fill the void.
“Play golf and go to the movies, concerts or boxing matches,” said Cunningham. “It got boring.”
After his second retirement from the NFL in 2002, Cunningham settled permanently in Las Vegas and was appointed an ordained pastor two years later. With his wife, Felicity, the couple started their own church, Remnant Ministries, where Cunningham offers three services each Sunday for a small live audience and an estimated 4,000 online viewers. In the meantime, he has also trained their two children: Vashti and Randall II are both hopes for the Olympic team in athletics.
But last summer, when the Raiders from Oakland, California also settled in town, football knocked again. The team’s head coach, Jon Gruden, had an idea to lure Cunningham back – as the Raiders’ chaplain. “This guy warms my heart,” said Gruden. “He’s something special. He has a great opportunity to spread the word of the Lord. He’s a great resource and a great friend to all of us. “
Gruden, who was Philadelphia offensive coordinator there last season at Cunningham, said: “Being with him again at this point in life is really cool.”
No other NFL team has a former Superstar player as a spiritual advisor, but both men insist that Cunningham, who is known as the forerunner to the quarterback role of the modern double-threat game, retain a unique focus in his new role. “I coach them in the spiritual aspects of life and that’s it,” said Cunningham.
The reality of Cunningham’s first season as the Raiders’ chaplain was very different from the practical pastoring and locker room camaraderie made impossible this season due to the NFL’s Covid-19 protocol.
“I haven’t had the chance to high-five Zay Jones, hug Alec Ingold, or punch Darren Waller,” said Cunningham. Instead, Cunningham stays in touch through phone calls and text messages. He’s hosting a Bible study at 7 p.m. the night before the games to a video call that sometimes involves football invading the embassy.
The night before the second game of the season when the New Orleans Saints were visiting, Cunningham focused on the original underdog story – David’s fight against Goliath. “I said, ‘Man, here comes Goliath, the great champion of Gath, all the awards and all the wins,'” Cunningham recalled. “Drew Brees is the man, as is the trainer, but you have to bring Goliath down.”
Speaking to the Raiders players on the video call that night, Cunningham was so focused on the story of young David knocking out the giant with a slingshot that he kept accidentally accidentally getting Derek Carr, the team’s starting quarterback, David (den Names of) called his older brother who is a retired NFL quarterback).
The next day, Derek Carr played like the biblical David, throwing three touchdown passes and leading the Raiders to a 34:24 win in their first home game in Las Vegas. “It felt like I influenced them in a way that gave them a little confidence,” said Cunningham. “Not false trust, but to give them real confidence to go out there and be who they are.”
Carr called Cunningham on his drive home from the stadium after sustaining a serious groin injury in a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers this month. The Raiders’ starter left the game he had to win on Thursday night in the first quarter and watched his team lose from the sidelines in extra time. Her playoff hopes were almost completely disappointed. Together they prayed for healing.
The Raiders didn’t provide players for comment, but Carr’s agent Timothy Younger said in an email to the New York Times that Carr and Cunningham “have an extremely close relationship, and Derek realizes his own growth is about to be great this year Part of it is due to Randall’s help. “
In a text message through his agent, Raiders recipient Nelson Agholor said, “Randall is amazing. He preaches with the same passion that he has played with. ”
In his playing days, Cunningham loved being a star and redefining what it means to play quarterback with every insane shot. In the 1990 season, Cunningham went for 3,466 yards and 30 touchdowns and also rushed for 942 yards and five touchdowns.
He drove a Porsche, was friends with celebrities, and wore bold outfits that his Eagles teammate Keith Byars compared to Michael Jackson’s style.
Cunningham regularly made headlines in Philadelphia over quotes that appeared selfish and could question his leadership skills. After dodging a Bruce Smith sack in 1990 and throwing an unlikely 95-yard touchdown pass in a loss to the Buffalo Bills, Cunningham said, “Sometimes I wonder myself.”
Byars said he often had to act as an intermediary between his quarterback and members of the defense who questioned Cunningham’s comments. “When Randall first came into the league he was in a cocoon waiting to expand on who he was,” said Byars. “You cannot help others until you help yourself and get to know yourself. This is exactly what Randall went through early in his football career and still knew who he was. “
Cunningham grew up in Santa Barbara, California and attended church on Sundays, but it wasn’t until he first came out of retirement in 1997 after spending a year outside of the game after eleven seasons in Philadelphia that he got serious about it his faith.
He’d spent free time running a hardware store company and serving as an analyst for television shows. But while vacationing in Hawaii with his family, Cunningham realized he was not suited for a leisure life.
“It was beautiful, but there came a time when it looked like, ‘Wow, is this life?'” He said. “Just drink iced tea, eat well and exercise every day?”
Cunningham returned to the league with Minnesota in 1997 and was involved in the Vikings team ministry. He said he started praying between games and during commercials, “Lord, I’m about to bring this ball to Randy Moss. Please let him catch it for a touchdown. “
After the 2001 season, his last as a player, Cunningham returned to Las Vegas and continued to lead a Bible study he had begun there a few years earlier.
“He’s one of the favorite sons here in Las Vegas,” said Gruden of Cunningham, who set records 40 years ago at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas during his college career. It wasn’t long before his service began.
“Next thing you know, we had 90 people studying the Bible,” Cunningham recalled, “and my pastor said,” This is not a Bible study, it’s a church. “
Cunningham says he doesn’t want to get into coaching or front office roles, but he admits greater ambitions for his work as a team chaplain.
A missed field goal attempt prevented Cunningham from reaching a Super Bowl with the Vikings in 1998, the best year of his career. He only won two of seven playoff games with the Eagles and never got beyond the divisional round. The Raiders are officially out of postseason competition this year, but now that he’s back in the NFL, Cunningham has his eye on that elusive Lombardi trophy.
“I want to preach myself in a Super Bowl ring,” he said.