Of the top teams in the NFL, the Eagles could least afford to lose their premier player. Without quarterback Randall Cunningham, probably lost for the season with what on Sunday night appeared to be torn ligaments in his left knee, underachieving Philly is in deep muck. "The Eagles without Cunningham," said Cowboy linebacker Jack Del Rio, "is like Gotham City without Batman."
Never mind that Philadelphia, under the direction of backup quarterback Jim McMahon, beat the Packers 20-3 in a game that was scoreless when Green Bay linebacker Bryce Paup sent Cunningham to the sidelines with a lunging tackle at the knees on the first play of the second quarter. Philly is not likely to win the NFC East with the 32-year-old McMahon, because he's not exactly an Iron Horse.
McMahon, who's best known for taking the Bears on a wild run to Super Bowl XX, has been on injured reserve three times in the past five years, with shoulder and knee injuries. Chicago traded him to San Diego in 1989, and the Chargers waived him after one season. He signed with the Eagles before last season, but Philly never really expected to play him.
Cunningham was making his 62nd straight regular-season start on Sunday, and McMahon was spending the twilight of his pro career in anonymity. Now, to see McMahon back in prominence is like seeing the Nehru jacket back in fashion. Does this brittle quarterback have enough left in him to survive behind the Eagles' leaky offensive line?
"If they can find enough tape and aspirin and Darvon for Jim, he's got a chance," says former Bears defensive tackle Dan Hampton, now an NBC analyst. "He never showed he could fight through injuries before. Look, he's not Marino or Montana, and you don't build your team around him. But if he's focused, he'll find a way to win for a quality team. And that's a quality team. Who knows? Maybe what he needed was to get his body right. You see what happened to O.J. Anderson after a couple of years in New York. He's a great player again."
McMahon was steely-eyed when the subject of his being washed up was broached on Sunday. "After I won the Super Bowl, people said any quarterback could have won it with that team," he said. "Check it out. They [the Bears] haven't been to the Super Bowl since."
And the Eagles haven't been there in 10 years. What a remarkable career reversal it would be for McMahon, if he took Philly deep into the playoffs. To do that he'll have to last the season, and he has never played an entire 16-game campaign. Just in case he can't do it this year, the Eagles spent part of Sunday night putting together a short list of veteran signal-callers who might be available to back up McMahon. Whoever is signed better have some tread left on his tires.
To the Moon, Warren
When Oiler quarterback Warren Moon signed a guaranteed five-year, $10 million contract in 1989, the money, by market standards at the time, was excellent. The best part of the deal, though, was yet to come. He had an escalator clause written into the contract that said if Moon wasn't one of the three highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL in any season, the Oilers would have to pay him the difference between his salary that season and the average of the combined salaries of the top three guys.