Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 | 5:45 p.m.
Saturday afternoon the Rebels honored the best UNLV player to ever put on a helmet.
Randall Cunningham took the field at Sam Boyd Stadium as he received a plaque marking his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
“It’s been a long time,” Cunningham said. “Coach (Harvey) Hyde was really voting and trying to get me in there, and I was like, ‘If it happens, it happens.’ But when it happened I was like, ‘Oh my God,' and I almost lost it.”
Cunningham is the first UNLV player inducted into the hall. As part of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute program, he was presented with a plaque that will remain on permanent display at UNLV.
“We’re on the map,” Cunningham laughed. “We’re legit.”
The ceremony came in the midst of UNLV’s blowout loss to Colorado State. Cunningham was asked if he had any eligibility left to suit up for the second half.
“They said I do; I just found out,” the 53-year-old joked. “But my body couldn’t handle it. I could throw it, but if they hit me, I’m going to the sideline to get some Gatorade.”
Cunningham was joined on the field by his family between quarters as he was honored. His son Randall Jr., 20, surprised him on the sidelines of Friday night’s Silverado High School football game; Cunningham is Silverado’s head coach.
“I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re supposed to be in class,’ but he loves his daddy so he came and gave me a big hug,” Cunningham said of his son, a high-jumper at USC and former Bishop Gorman quarterback.
As a Rebel Cunningham set 18 school records, including career passing yards (8,020), touchdown passes (59) and punting average (45.6 yards). He was a first-team All-American as a punter in 1983 and was an honorable mention as a quarterback in his senior season, in 1984.
In 1984 Cunningham led UNLV to a 10-2 record, a conference title and the school’s first bowl appearance, a 30-13 win over Toledo in the California Bowl in Fresno. Cunningham was named the game’s MVP.
He said the most memorable moment of his UNLV career came that season before a game against then-powerhouse Southern Methodist University on Dec. 1.
“It was a game in this stadium,” Cunningham said. “It was our senior year and I remember when coach Hyde called all of the seniors into a meeting before we played SMU. They had all these great players and they were ranked. He literally said, ‘Guys, this is your last game in this stadium,' and he broke down and cried, then we started crying and we realized this man loves us. He really loves us like a father would love you.”
The Rebels fell, 38-21, for only their second loss of the season.
“We went out and almost won the game,” Cunningham said. “We realized that day that we could play with the top teams in the country. I will always remember that day.”
Cunningham went on to play 17 years in the NFL, for the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens. He was selected to four Pro Bowls and ranks second all time in the NFL for career rushing yards by a quarterback, with 4,928.
Since retiring Cunningham has founded the Remnant Ministries church in Las Vegas with his wife, Felicity, where he is a pastor.
“It means the world to me. I love giving back,” he said. “There are a lot of things I do behind the scenes, whether it’s helping families or being a father figure to a lot of athletes.”
Cunningham, and the rest of the 2016 Hall of Fame class, will officially be inducted at the 59th NFF annual awards dinner Dec. 6 at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.
“This is the greatest thing that’s happened to me in sports,” Cunningham said at a news conference announcing the class in January. “I’m very, very honored.”