Randall Cunningham, Mike Pritchard recall NFL draft experience

New UNLV football head coach Marcus Arroyo, left, and former UNLV star Randall Cunningham, pose ...

One was so nervous, he chose to take a walk around a mall.

The other almost overslept being selected.

Memories, it has been said, tell us who we are and how we accomplished certain things in life.

Being drafted into the NFL is no different.

Two former players with local ties recall well that moment, their lives immediately altered for the better with one phone call.

Or, in the case of Randall Cunningham, one voice message.

Here is how Cunningham and former Rancho High standout Mike Pritchard remember when they became part of the NFL family.

Randall Cunningham

Position: Quarterback

Draft year: 1985

Round: Second, 37th overall.

Team: Philadelphia Eagles

The moment: The former UNLV quarterback and punter was at his apartment near campus on draft day. He was joined only by a reporter, there to chronicle Cunningham’s selection. But when the first round passed and he hadn’t heard his name, Cunningham headed to the Boulevard Mall.

“I had to get my mind off it,” Cunningham said. “I was so anxious. The reporter came with me. I probably tried to get him to buy me something because I was as broke as can be. Then he became the nervous one, probably thinking, ‘This might be illegal and if this guy doesn’t get drafted, he won’t be able to pay me back.’”

But upon returning home, a UNLV teammate of Cunningham told the player to check his answering machine. There it was. He had gone to the Eagles in the second round as the first quarterback selected in the draft.

“I had wanted to stay close to home (in Santa Barbara) and be drafted by the Raiders or Chargers. I just wanted to stay in the sun. I had never played in cold weather. But then I ended up being drafted by the perfect team for me.

“I had gone to the scouting combine and run one of the fastest 40s for quarterbacks. Faster than some wide receivers and running backs. Had the best shuttle runs and broad jump and agilities. So when you start to slip in the draft, the anxiety takes over.

“I was actually grateful to even be considered worthy to play in the NFL. I’m sure I was watching the draft on my giant Sony Trinitron.”

The aftermath: Cunningham would play 10 years with the Eagles, make three Pro Bowls with the team (and another with the Vikings) and throw for 22,877 yards while rushing for 4,482 more in Philadelphia.

He would finish his career with stints in Minnesota, Dallas and Baltimore before signing a one-day contract to retire as an Eagle, where he is a member of the organization’s Hall of Fame.

Mike Pritchard

Position: Wide receiver

Draft year: 1991

Round: First, 13th overall.

Team: Atlanta Falcons.

The moment: Pritchard actually overslept the beginning of the draft, waking up around pick No. 6. That’s about the time there was a run on wide receivers.

He had expected to be selected in the late first round or early second.

“I had 22 workouts before the draft because I didn’t have a Pro Day,” said the former Colorado star. “June Jones of the Falcons had flown out to UNLV on a private plane, where we just played catch. That’s it. He said he just wanted to get to know me.

“So there I am on draft day, in my apartment in Boulder, Colorado, in my pajamas, watching.”

And then his telephone began to ring. A lot.

“I had one landline and no call waiting because I couldn’t afford it,” Pritchard said. “Dallas called and then Pittsburgh was trying to move up to take me and then Atlanta. It was as chaotic in as good a way as it could be.

“But then the Falcons put head coach Jerry Glanville on the phone and in his drawl he said, “Do you want to be a Falcon!’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, Jerry, please, I’d love to.’ The next thing I know, the travel agent for the team is on the line and I have a first-class ticket to Atlanta. I wanted to call my parents but couldn’t because I had to keep the landline free.

“My Dad never taped the draft, but for some reason, he did that day. Every once in a while, we break it out and there’s Mel Kiper and Joe Theismann and Chris Berman talking about me all over again on a VHS tape. You can relive the moment all over again.”

The aftermath: Pritchard would end his career — he also spent time with the Broncos and Seahawks — with 422 receptions, 5,187 yards and 26 touchdowns.

And now, the draft has come to his hometown where he is a member of the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.

“I never thought the draft would be what it is now,” Pritchard said. “But the NFL recognizes growth and potential in everything. The NFL world is going to be here in Las Vegas. I couldn’t be happier for my city.”

Bet he won’t oversleep this one.

Or be wearing pajamas.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.