Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | 12:15 p.m.
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Before a UNLV football practice in the early 1980s, Rebel quarterback Randall Cunningham was showing off another weapon in his game.
A punter during his youth and high school football days, Cunningham was blasting punts from one end of Rebel Park to the other. With the help of a light breeze, his kicks caught everyone’s attention.
“I was punting from one end zone and it was going out of the other. Not bouncing, flying out,” Cunningham said. “The next day, I’m our punter.”
Cunningham wound up becoming the best player in UNLV history, breaking 18 school records and leading UNLV to an 11-2 record and California Bowl victory in 1984.
The Las Vegas resident is still being honored for his collegiate greatness.
He was one of 77 former players and five coaches announced Tuesday for the ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
It’s not the first time Cunningham, who in 1984, after leading UNLV to its first-ever bowl win, was named an All-American at both quarterback and punter, has been nominated for the Hall. This is the eighth straight year he’s been a finalist, meaning congratulatory phone calls on the nomination aren’t as frequent this year.
“To be in any Hall of Fame you have to consider how you changed your position and how you impacted your position,” said Cunningham, who in 1984 was honorable mention All-American at quarterback and second-team All-American at punter. In 1983, he was a first-team All-American punter.
“It’s nice to know the impact I had on the game and that someone appreciates that.”
A press release from the Hall estimates nearly 5 million young men have played college football since the first game in 1869, giving voters plenty of options.
UNLV fans are always quick to complain that legendary basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian has been snubbed for the basketball hall of fame. They could make a similar argument for Cunningham, who was the 37th overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft and played 15 years in the NFL.
Cunningham’s name still ranks high in several categories of the UNLV record book and, of course, there is the obvious: He was an All-American at two positions in the same year, which is virtually unheard of in the college ranks.
“I don’t know what I have to do to make it in, but it is something I would really like to do and would be honored to do,” said Cunningham, who as a pro passed for nearly 30,000 yards and 207 touchdowns and was one of the league’s first dual-threat quarterbacks with his ability to run and pass.
“I’m on the list every year and realize how fortunate I am. There are so many great players who aren’t even (nominated),” he said.
A statement from the Hall doesn’t go into specifics about how many votes, or what percentage of a vote, a player must receive. The lone requirement for a player is being a first-team All-American. The inductees will be announced May 7.
“The ballot was mailed this week to the more than 12,000 NFF members and current Hall of Famers, whose votes will be tabulated and submitted to the NFF’s Honors Court, which deliberates and selects the class,” the statement reads.
“Chaired by Gene Corrigan, a former ACC Commissioner and NCAA president, the 14-member NFF Honors Court includes an elite and geographically diverse pool of athletics directors, conference commissioners, Hall of Famers and members of the media,” it continued.
Other players nominated include: Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska, two-time All-American linebacker Brian Bosworth of Oklahoma, Heisman Trophy winner and record-setting Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne, legendary SMU back Eric Dickerson, Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace, and Danny Wuerffel, who led Florida to the 1996 national title, won the Heisman Trophy and was the two-time SEC player of the year.
"It’s an enormous honor to just be on the ballot when you think that more than 4.92 million people have played college football," said NFF President Steven J. Hatchell in a statement. "The Hall’s requirement of being a first-team All-American creates a much smaller pool of only 1,500 individuals who are even eligible to be on the ballot, so being in today’s group of 77 names means an individual is truly among the greatest to ever have played the game, and we are proud to announce their names today.”
Cunningham, now 49, retired to Las Vegas about 10 years ago and completed his UNLV degree in leisure studies. He’s still a fixture on campus, arriving each morning at the library to prepare his Sunday sermon. Cunningham is no longer identified as a great football player. Instead, he’s a great pastor at a local church.
“A lot of the younger ones (at my church) don’t even know who I am or that I played. Their parents are the ones who remember me,” he said.
And Cunningham might not be the best football player in his family. His son, Randall Cunnighman Jr., is one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation. The Bishop Gorman High rising senior already has scholarship offers from Baylor, Syracuse, Mississippi State and UNLV.