It's funny, but in the end it may have been the very player the Eagles feared they would miss most who won the game for them. Brown's memorial so inspired the team that Cunningham and the offense left the locker room and scored on their first drive. Cunningham even scrambled 10 yards for a first down, and on the following play Walker ripped off a 32-yard section of carpet. Then the defense came out and practically shoved the football down the Saints' throats—three downs and a punt. "I've been in football a long time," said Eagle center David Alexander, "but that's the most emotion I've ever seen in a football team coming out onto the field."
Philadelphia's defense never came down from that moment. At one point in the second half the Eagles kept the Saints from a first down on four straight possessions. For the entire day the Saints got one rushing first down—and they had the No. 1 time-of-possession offense in the league last season. "It's like they knew the plays," said the Saints' flummoxed quarterback, Bobby Hebert. Nah. Alexander had a better explanation. "Our defense," he said. "Those are the 11 meanest sons of bitches in the NFL."
Somehow the Saints stayed in the game, mostly because the Eagles' offense either sputtered or left footballs lying around in dangerous places. Here's a sputter: With the score tied 6-6 in the second quarter, Cunningham had a first-and-goal at the Saints' two. But somehow he missed Heath Sherman, achingly open in the end zone, by five yards. Three plays later the Eagles settled for a field goal from the one (no easy feat for kicker Roger Ruzek, who would miss both extra points he tried) and a 9-6 lead.
And here's a football lying around: At the New Orleans 13 in the third quarter, Walker coughed one up to kill a drive.
Luckily Eagle receiver Barnett did something he wasn't supposed to do on the first play of the fourth quarter. Instead of running a 10-yard hitch, he ran a 20-yard fade. Cunningham threw it up and got lucky when Saint cornerback Toi Cook jumped a good one-Mississippi too early. The Eagles had a 15-6 lead.
Then another football was left lying around: Cunningham dropped it on the Saints' 26 about 3½ minutes into the fourth quarter, when an Eagle touchdown would have blown the game open, and the Saints gladly picked it up. Cunningham was definitely not his 1990 self. Said Eagle guard Mike Schad, "Instead of just exploding out and running with it, it seems like Randall was going, 'Well...let's...see.... Maybe...I'll...run...with... it,' and that's when they'd get to him." Byars could see it too: "Look, he's going to have to play his way through some things. I mean, he saw the '91 season go down the drain in one play. You could see him thinking, in the back of his mind, It could all go down the drain in one play again."
That didn't happen, though the game nearly did a Drano. Hebert finally had enough time in the pocket to turn his helmet facing forward, find wideout Quinn Early and hit him with a bomb that set up the 10-yard touchdown route to Wesley Carroll. The Saints made the point after (yes!), and it was 15-13 with 3:20 left.
New Orleans would have gotten the ball back with about two minutes to go had it not been for a dubious pass-interference call on Reggie Jones. "I wasn't even looking for a flag after that play," said the Eagles' Barnett, and he was the intended receiver. That gave the Eagles a first down and the win.
O.K., Cunningham wasn't all that bad. When he decided to cut loose and run, he looked good. Besides, who needs to worry when you have the best defense in the NFL and a 300-pound guardian angel riding shotgun?