Cunningham: Green 'a man who really, really cared'


The NFL world woke up Friday to the passing of Dennis Green at the age of 67.

The former Vikings coach -- who led the franchise to eight playoff appearances in 10 seasons -- is best remembered for his 1998 team, a devil-may-care juggernaut that rampaged to a 15-1 record before suffering a soul-crushing overtime loss to the Falcons in the NFC title game.

Minnesota's high-flying offense -- which set a record at the time for most points in a season -- was led almost magically by a late-career Randall Cunningham, the former Eagles quarterback who joined the team in 1997 after being out of football the previous season. Cunningham on Friday took time to remember his coach and friend.

"Here's a man who impacted my life, part of the restoration of me coming back to the NFL," Cunningham told NFL Network. "Coach Green was an innovator but he was a players' coach. Much like how Buddy Ryan got his players motivated, coach Green did it in a way by making us go to Bible study, by sitting down and talking to us like Buddy Ryan did, hugging us and really looking us in the eye and showing us how we were supposed to be as athletes and people."

Said Cunningham: "He built our morals, our character, our integrity. What he did was he assembled a coaching staff that was bar none. This coaching staff, with Brian Billick and all the coaches that we had, were just excellent people. It wasn't just about football, but it was about our character, the community and who we were going to be representing America and the Minnesota Vikings. He was a man who really, really cared. I believe that without God using Dennis Green, I probably would not have played football as long as I played."

Cunningham was sensational in '98, taking over for Brad Johnson in Week 3 and ripping off 13 wins as a starter, throwing 34 touchdowns and leading the NFL in passer rating. Cunningham on Friday repeatedly credited Green for recharging a career that looked finished after his swan song with the Eagles in 1995.

"He was real. I met him, I was at the Super Bowl and I was just working out," Cunningham said. "I saw (Vikings team chaplain) Keith Johnson there and he said 'What are you doing Randall?' I said, 'Just getting ready to make my comeback.' 'Comeback?!' He immediately went to Dennis Green. Dennis Green immediately offered me -- I was being offered by New Orleans, by Mike Ditka at the time -- he said, 'Look, you'll be our backup quarterback. Brad Johnson's our starting quarterback. If anything happens to Brad, you're our starting quarterback.' He was just straight forward with me."

Said Cunningham: "The thing that I loved about Dennis Green was he was a head coach that allowed the offensive coordinator to be the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator to be the defensive coordinator. He gave speeches every single day and every single game or night before the game and he motivated you. By the time it was time to go out and put your uniform on, there were no doubts in your mind that you were ready to go based on the words he gave us just to ignite us and get us going."

As shown by the tidal wave of support and love from the NFL community, Cunningham isn't the only one missing Green.