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Randall Cunningham: Tragedy Reminds Us of Our Heroes

The sports nation was saddened this week when word broke that the 2-year-old son of former NFL Quarterback Randall Cunningham had drowned in their backyard hot tub.

Despite never winning a Super Bowl, Cunningham is still immensely popular in Philadelphia. He has been given the rare "first-name status," meaning that any Philly-Sports Fan knows exactly who you're talking about just by uttering the word "Randall."

He was the Ultimate Weapon. He was the original elusive Quarterback, and he did so to a degree that has yet to be matched. He could leap over a linebacker and throw the football a mile.

He is the centerpiece to some of NFL Films greatest highlight videos, including ducking under Hall-of-Famer Bruce Smith right before throwing a 95-yard touchdown pass and punting a ball over 90 yards. He was, alongside Warren Moon, an inspiration to many of the African-American Quarterbacks in the NFL today. He is, in the eyes of many, a Hall-of-Famer.

He holds even more significance to this writer personally, as Randall was the first professional athlete that I ever idolized.

Not among the first. THE first.

He was the first Eagle I knew by name, and the first sports jersey I ever owned. And an authentic Spalding football with his signature has proudly been on display atop my mantle for nearly two decades now.

But the truth is, despite the love and affection from myself, and all of Philadelphia, Randall has been gone for years. Feeling underappreciated, Cunningham retired from the Eagles in 1995, and then returned to play for the Vikings two years later. He spent a year with the hated Dallas Cowboys, and then retired for good after a lone year as a Baltimore Raven in 2001.

And except for an appearance last September as he was inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame, I have not heard the name "Randall Cunningham" uttered in years.

Until now.

Which brings us to the point of this post; that it is only in tragedy that we revisit the lives of our former heroes. Former Celtic All-Star Antoine Walker only gets in the news for blowing all his money. Same with Ex-Met Lenny Dykstra. The legendary Lawrence Taylor is currently facing rape and prostitution charges, while O.J. Simpson is known more for his criminal record than his playing careers.

And in keeping with the Philadelphia-theme, Julius "Dr. J" Erving's only headline-grabber the past decade was in the summer of 2000, when his son, Cory, drowned in a pond a mile from their home.

Perhaps it is inevitable. After all, what were we supposed to do? Follow Randall around after he retired? Gone to UNLV, where he finished his college degree after football? Show up to cheer him at his Protestant Chuch, Remnant Ministries, where he's been a minister since 2004?

That would be ridiculous. As fans, we admire an athlete to great lengths, but once they stop being that, there is nothing wrong in not following them anymore.

But that doesn't make it any less... for lack of a better word... sad.

Don't misread the thesis here. A two-year-old boy has drowned. That is the real tragedy. It is difficult to imagine anything more painful than the loss of an infant. It is a disastrous calamity that no decent person would ever wish upon anyone. And our hearts and prayers go out to the Cunningham family, as well as all the other families who had to endure the pain and suffering of having to bury a child.

And while clearly not equally as tragic, there is something saddening in the fact that the only time we hear from our retired star athletes and former idols is when they are struck by tragedy. What happened to Christian Cunningham serves as a reminder that just because a sports star hung up his uniform for the last time doesn't mean his life is over.

Their existence hasn't ended. It's just that our interest has. - Eric Marmon

Eric Marmon is a freelance writer from Philadelphia. He graduated from Hofstra University, is a retired Whaler, and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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