He shattered 18 school records during his three seasons as UNLV’s quarterback and punter, then went on to enjoy a stellar 16-year NFL career in which he dazzled fans and frustrated opponents with his rocket right arm and nimble feet. And as his career took him from Philadelphia to Minnesota to Dallas to Baltimore, Randall Cunningham proudly told anyone who asked that he was a Rebel alum.
Except, well, he wasn’t.
“I always said that I was a UNLV alumni,” Cunningham says. “But until you graduate, you’re not official. So I became official.”
Indeed, he did. Three years after his second and final NFL retirement in 2001—and nearly a quarter century after he first arrived on campus as a prized recruit in 1981—Cunningham completed a series of online courses and earned his Leisure Studies degree from the Hotel College. It’s an achievement he at first didn’t believe was necessary, but one for which he is now immensely proud.
“Janice Henry, who was the academic adviser for the football team, said, ‘Randall, have you ever considered going back to school and getting your degree?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m an entrepreneur now; I really don’t need my degree,’” Cunningham recalls. “She said, ‘You should talk to your wife and think about going back.’ And I decided, all right, let’s get it done.”
“Graduating was like a big exhale. It was like I’d been elected to the Hall of Fame. … I wasn’t summa cum laude or magna cum laude—I was thank you laude!”
Aside from completing his education, Cunningham’s post-football career has been filled with faith. What started as regular bible studies blossomed into Cunningham becoming an ordained minister in 2004—just one day after his 41st birthday—and opening his own church, Remnant Ministries. As Remnant’s senior pastor, Cunningham leads weekly worship services to overflow crowds (and an online audience), and while the former All-Pro quarterback says this wasn’t necessarily his initial post-career game plan, he’s nonetheless grateful to be leading a different kind of team.
“This is a humbling experience, becoming a pastor,” says Cunningham, who was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California, but has called Las Vegas home since coming to UNLV. “It’s just a continuing maturation process. I’m always maturing and evolving into what God wants me to be, and I have to remain humble.”
Not surprisingly, that’s the one trait Cunningham encourages this generation of Rebels to embrace. “You’ve got to walk in humility. Don’t ever think you’re too big for your pants. Don’t get to the place where [you feel like] you’ve arrived and think that you’re all that. Because I got to that place in life, and you think you can relax. But there’s no time for relaxing. … There’s always something else God wants you to do.”