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Ten Minutes with Richie Cunningham

NFL pro turned pharmaceutical CEO



Photo by Stan Godlewski

Richie Cunningham spent the 1990s seesawing between the life of a pro athlete and that of a healthcare executive. So how does he end up here: an All-Pro NFL placekicker from Louisiana who is now CEO of Icagen, a North Carolina–based pharmaceutical company that specializes in early drug discovery? We sat down with Cunningham to trace the arc of his fascinating career—from the Dallas Cowboys to Boehringer Ingelheim, which brought him to Ridgefield. 

Your career has taken an unusual path. Help us connect the dots. 
I grew up in south Louisiana, and most of the kids there went into the oil or seafood industry. Sports were an escape for me. I played baseball at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which paid for my books. And I walked onto the football team. I probably only kicked 12 field goals my entire college career.  

So how did you turn pro?
After college, I flew around to tryouts, slept in my car, put myself into debt. I got invited to camp for the Cowboys in 1994, worked my way up to number one, and then missed a couple of 52-yard kicks in preseason. So I missed the team. 

Was that a big disappointment?
That was the best thing that could have happened to me. I never wanted to forsake my career for something that was a long shot. And I had a background in marketing, so I got a job in San Diego with a medical company. My boss there—a mentor of mine—told me I shouldn’t give up on the NFL. I almost made the Packers in 1996, and then landed the starting job for the Cowboys in 1997. 

You played on a team with Troy Aikman, Emmit Smith, and Herschel Walker, but only you and Deion Sanders made All-Pro. Ever tease your teammates about that? 
Ha! No. At that point I knew I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I knew it would be short-lived, so in the off-season I went back to California and worked full-time. 

How are things in an NFL locker room for a placekicker named Richie Cunningham? 
Personalities are different in the locker room than in front of the camera. Deion in Dallas and Reggie White in Carolina were the nicest guys. A lot of kickers keep to themselves, but when I went to the Cowboys, I wanted them to know that I worked as hard as everyone else. I would pull the sleds. I would run the scout-team quarterback. And yes, they called me Opie. 

What was the most pressure-packed kick you made in the NFL? 
My first one! It was 1997, Three River Stadium in Pittsburgh. And it was, you guessed it, a 52-yarder from the left hash. 

How did dealing with that pressure help in your business career?
Well, my whole NFL career helped me. Nothing ever comes easy in business. There is always a challenge, always stress. It comes down to who can remain composed in those situations. 

If or when the Affordable Care Act is repealed, how will that affect Icagen?
I don’t think it will impact us too much. The bottom line is that, for many people, pharmaceuticals provide the most effective way to manage care outside of healthy living. So we’re in favor of anything that increases the access to life-saving drugs.

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January 2019

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Hartford Boat Show (HBS50) features the newest boats on the market including center consoles, fishing boats, luxury cruisers, deck and pontoon boats, sport and...

Cost: $12 in advance online, $14 at the door, $10 Senior/Military one day pass

Where:
Expo Center at Mohegan Sun
1 Mohegan Sun Blvd
Uncasville, CT  06382
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Sponsor: Connecticut Marine Trades Association
Telephone: 860-767-2645
Contact Name: Kathleen Burns
Website »

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The temple dancer Nikiya and the warrior Solor fall deeply in love, igniting heated passions and murderous intrigues when the Rajah and his daughter Gamzatti discover their forbidden love. La...

Cost: Tickets: $25 | Members & Seniors $20 | Students $15

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge Rd
Ridgefield, CT  06877


Telephone: 203-438-5795
Contact Name: The Ridgefield Playhouse
Website »

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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Join us to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year. Create your own decorative dragon using construction paper, paper towel rolls, tissue paper, and other fun materials to usher in the New...

Cost: Free for members and with Museum admission

Where:
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Wednesday, January 23rd at 7:00 PM Create a cool yarn hat in a single evening! All materials will be provided. This event is free and no registration is required. Ages 12 and up. Hosted by North...

Cost: Free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Grab a glass of wine and join us in exploring the basics of drawing the figure with artist and Aldrich staff member Noah Steinman. With a live model as inspiration, use a variety of materials such...

Cost: $12; $10.80 member

Where:
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

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Thursday, Jan. 24 Author Talk: Stephanie Land - Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother's Will to Survive, 7 – 8:30 p.m. Maid is showing up on almost every best of, must read, don't miss list of...

Cost: free

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
Website »

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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Original members of the Billy Joel Band featuring Liberty DeVitto on drums, Richie Cannata on saxophone and Russell Javors on rhythm guitar. The band recorded and toured extensively with Billy Joel...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Telephone: (203) 438-5795
Website »

More information

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Winter Guided Hike @ Woodcock Nature Center Saturday January 26th, 10-11:30am, FREE ​ Join Mr. Sam for a hike where we'll investigate whats going on in nature in the winter season and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Woodcock Nature Center
56 Deer Run Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »


Sponsor: Woodcock Nature Center
Telephone: (203) 762-7280
Contact Name: Sam Nunes
Website »

More information

Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Saturday, January 26th from 1:00 - 2:00 PM, Ages 4+ Attend for groovy crafts, snacks, games, and more in celebration of the Pete the Cat book series. This event is free and no registration is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Hudson Chorale, the area’s largest mixed voice chorus, is poised to please.  The group will begin its 2019 season with two matinee concerts on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm and Sunday,...

Cost: Advance Sale-$25; Door-$30; Students-$10.

Where:
The Chapel at Maryknoll
55 Ryder Rd
Ossining, NY  10562
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Sponsor: Hudson Chorale
Telephone: 1-800-838-3006
Contact Name: Anne Norum
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