People sometimes recognize Ed Cunningham even without the help
of the number on the back of his uniform. As a fourth-year
starter for the Cardinals, the center is still largely faceless
in Phoenix. But as the former host of a weekly three-hour
call-in radio show in that city, his voice is well-known.
Cunningham chafes good-naturedly at his anonymity. "I am
definitely known more for radio work than football," the 6'3",
285-pound lineman says. "That's just the nature of the
position." It was during his senior year at the University of
Washington that Cunningham began to separate himself from the
ranks. While the Huskies were on their way to a 12-0 record and
a share of the 1991 national title with Miami, Cunningham did a
weekly five-minute game-preview spot on KISW, a Seattle-area
rock station. After four on-air appearances, the radio brass
were so impressed by his limited run that they invited
Cunningham to join sports-talk host Spike O'Neill for a regular
Had it not been for his gift of gab, the 1992 third-round draft
choice might have continued to toil quietly in the trenches. But
his experience in the medium attracted the attention of
Phoenix's KTAR, and the station offered him the opportunity of a
lineman's lifetime: 15 minutes of fame. Initially appearing as a
guest host on a call-in sports show, Cunningham's slot evolved
into a weekly gig, On the Air with Ed Cunningham, running for
three hours after the Monday-night football broadcast.
Hearing his rich voice and his broadcaster-perfect delivery, a
listener has a hard time believing that Cunningham, a three-time
Academic All-America, graduated with a degree in business
administration, not communications. He developed his talent for
talk back home in Alexandria, Va. "In my family, heated
discussion has always been the preferred method of
communication," he says. The give-and-take in the Cunningham
household also taught him another prerequisite of the good
broadcaster. "I get my ability to b.s. from my father," he says.
"If you ask him a question, it doesn't matter if he knows the
answer. He'll just talk until it sounds to him as though he's
given a logical answer."
In 1992 Cunningham--together with his father, Emmett, and his
older brother Ernest--opened two Phoenix-area rug stores (the
Cunningham family will open a third store next month). Emmett, a
retired carpet distributor, offers insight into the business
while Ernest manages the day-to-day operation. Ed lends the bulk
of his support during the off-season. "In 1993 I was a
salesperson," he says. "It was great. I learned a lot about our
products, about what sells and what colors go together."
During the 1995 off-season, Cunningham set up a computerized
inventory system for his family's stores. He also decided
against hosting his radio show this fall. "It got to be a little
draining, especially when we were losing," he explains. "People
seem to forget. I don't just follow football, I am it. I take
criticism very personally."
Given Arizona's slow 1-2 start, Cunningham is especially happy
with his decision. Nevertheless, when his football career is
finished, Cunningham, who did color commentary for the Arena
Football League's Arizona Rattlers for KUTP-TV last summer,
plans to become a full-time broadcaster. "I imagine I will be
much better recognized in that career," he says.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH The Cardinals' unsung center is making a name for himself trading rugs and talk. [Ed Cunningham lying on rug]