Fran Duffy’s RSP Writers Project: “The Ultimate Weapon”

Randall CunninghamThe Eagles’ producer had several great options for his one player-one play. His choice? The Ultimate Weapon’s 95-yard touchdown versus the Bills.

By Fran Duffy

Producer at Philadelphia Eagles (Site: Twitter: @fduffy3)

When Matt first presented me with this concept, there were so many different directions that my mind went in. When you think of all the plays in NFL history, especially from my memory of just 30 years (which really only goes back about 20 or so), there are so many legendary figures and unforgettable moments.

Michael Vick’s extraordinary touchdown run against the Vikings back in 2002 was so good that Nike basically made a commercial based on it. I’d have loved to be in the mind of Malcolm Butler, who rose from relative obscurity as an undrafted free agent to make one of the most unpredictable plays in the history of the sport. Who wouldn’t want to be Joe Cool in ‘ The Catch’ or Franco Harris during the ‘Immaculate Reception’?

When it’s all said and done though, I’m from Philadelphia. I grew up a diehard Eagles fan and, amazingly enough, grew up to work for my favorite team. I’m writing this piece not 50 feet away from the 2004 NFC Championship Trophy that (finally) brought me to tears when I watched Donovan McNabb raise it back on January of 2005 (don’t think that I don’t think about that win and the loss that followed when I pass the trophy every day). How could I not choose a play from my beloved Eagles?

DeSean Jackson’s miraculous walk-off punt return against the Giants in 2010 certainly strikes a different chord with me (mainly because it was the last great play I got to watch with my father before he passed five months later). Chad Lewis’ clinching touchdown grab in that previously mentioned conference championship still brings a smile to my face. I’d love a peek inside the mind of Freddie Mitchell … but especially during that jaw-dropping
14-second scramble from McNabb to ‘Fred-Ex’ in Dallas all those years ago.

All of these plays popped into my head, but none of those plays had that dynamic feel to them. As special as those moments are, they weren’t accomplished by the man who was famously dubbed ‘The Ultimate Weapon’; the nickname given to one Randall Cunningham.

I was nine years old when Randall retired from the Eagles in 1995 (he returned to the league in 1997 with the Minnesota Vikings). I hadn’t been born yet when the Eagles picked him in the second round out of UNLV in the 1985 NFL Draft, and I was just a toddler when he was named NFL MVP in 1988. I have no actual recollection of the play that happened on December 2nd, 1990, but when you consider the scope of this play and this game, it’s certainly unforgettable.

Let’s enter the mind of Mr. Cunningham.

Alright, there’s about a minute left in the half. We’re down 24-9 (more on that later). It’s 3rd and 14, let’s see what (offensive coordinator) Coach Kotite calls.

Double Post? We’re going for it here. Alright we’re in a 3×1 set, I’ve got Mike (Quick) as
No. 1 to the left running a post, Calvin (Williams) running a post from the slot, he’s my No.2. I’ve got Freddie (Barnett) running a post as the X to the right, but I’m only going there if I need to. I’m working from Mike to Calvin. Man, this Buffalo crowd is loud!

Two safeties deep. Off coverage on the outside. Okay, Mike’s got free access, he should
be able to get open here vs man.


Where’s Bruce Smith?

He’s not to my left.

He’s not on my right.

He’s standing up in the A gap!

What are they doing?

Do I have time to reset?

Should I call timeout?

No, clock is ticking, it’s time to go (He gets under center and gets his eyes up) .

Bruce moved.

He just switched with the WILL.

He’s on the line of scrimmage, he’s coming.

Is the WILL coming?

Middle of the field is still open.

Can my guys block this up?

Crowd is louder now.

I might have to make something happen here.


No safety rotation.

Zone coverage.

Can’t hit Mike.

Where’s Bruce?

No time for Calvin.

Alright, I’m taking this myself.

This is where Randall Cunningham, the quarterback that looked like he was made of rubber half the time he was on the field because of the way he could bend his body and make people miss, ducked under one of the most feared pass rushers of all time, Bruce Smith. He was the Defensive Player of the Year that year in 1990, the first of two times he would win the award. He was a 9-time All-Pro and an 11-time Pro Bowl defensive end.

Smith played in 279 games in his 19-year career, and in 13 of those 19 seasons he put up
double digit sacks. The man was a machine. He racked up 200 sacks in his career, an NFL
record and two more than former Eagle Reggie White (who was on the opposing sideline that day).

This was no ordinary pass rusher; Randall eluded one of the greatest players in league history, cutting back against the grain after ducking through Smith’s tackle attempt, and scrambling to his left.

Do I have enough room to run?

Mike’s coming back to me.

Is he past the sticks?

I have my checkdown (Heath Sherman).

I may run this.

Is there someone behind me?

I can feel them coming.


Is that Freddie?

Cunningham, rolling to his left, launches a bomb to Fred Barnett. He couldn’t step into the throw, and had to throw against his body while falling away and into a piercing Western New York wind, but still delivered a catchable ball 58 yards downfield on a receiver on the run. Barnett out-umped Bills cornerback JD Williams, and sprinted the rest of the way for a 95-yard touchdown catch.

In a vacuum? This play was remarkable (and a fun one to break down). You had one of the
game’s most dynamic offensive weapons ever in Cunningham dodging one of the most feared pass rushers in the history of the NFL in Smith, with The Minister Of Defense watching. But one of the other takeaways from this game is considered by some to be the origin of offensive football as you know it today.

When you turn on a game nowadays, whether it’s a Friday, a Saturday, or a Sunday, you’re
most likely going to come across an offense playing primarily in a three-receiver set with one running back, one tight end and the quarterback in the shotgun. This is nothing out of the ordinary, and in most cases is the standard of offensive personnel in today’s game. In 1990, this was not the case, and on that day (December 2nd, 1990), the Bills unleashed what they dubbed the ‘K-Gun’ offense.

The previous year, the Bills had lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1988 AFC Title Game.
Bengals head coach Sam Wyche and quarterback Boomer Esiason ran a no-huddle operation most of the time they took the field, but not on a full-time basis (again, depending on who you ask). So Bills coach Marv Levy took that idea, looked at his personnel with quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receivers Andre Reed, Don Beebe and James Lofton, and athletic tight end Keith McKeller (whose first initial helped lead to the offense’s name) and turned the reigns over to his quarterback.

Kelly called his own plays out of a no-huddle operation in this new ‘K-Gun’ that day against Philadelphia. They ran at a tempo from the jump in this game, and Kelly would hit Lofton for a 63-yard touchdown less than a minute after the opening kick. That first quarter, Kelly finished 8-for-8 for 229 yards and three scores. He ended the game 19-for-32 for 334 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The Bills would go on to make four straight Super Bowls, and the NFL was never the same game again.

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