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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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July 2017

Starting June 3rd thru August 27th, Ridgefield Golf Course offers families an opportunity to play golf. For $25 groups of up to 5 people can play a few holes (golf cart included). Tee times are...

Cost: For $25 groups of up to 5 people

Where:
Ridgefield Golf Course
545 Ridgebury Road
Ridgefield, CT
View map »


Website »

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There’s a new theatre in the neighborhood, committed to producing ambitious, thought provoking plays and readings. Thrown Stone, the brain child of  co-artistic directors Jason Peck...

Cost: $29-$49

Where:
Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance
440 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

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Each year Stamford Downtown hosts a distinguished outdoor sculpture exhibit designed to attract both local and regional audiences. Art in Public Places Outdoor Sculpture exhibit features sculptures...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stamford Downtown
, CT


Website »

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Starting June 3rd thru August 27th, Ridgefield Golf Course offers families an opportunity to play golf. For $25 groups of up to 5 people can play a few holes (golf cart included). Tee times are...

Cost: For $25 groups of up to 5 people

Where:
Ridgefield Golf Course
545 Ridgebury Road
Ridgefield, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

There’s a new theatre in the neighborhood, committed to producing ambitious, thought provoking plays and readings. Thrown Stone, the brain child of  co-artistic directors Jason Peck...

Cost: $29-$49

Where:
Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance
440 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

Each year Stamford Downtown hosts a distinguished outdoor sculpture exhibit designed to attract both local and regional audiences. Art in Public Places Outdoor Sculpture exhibit features sculptures...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stamford Downtown
, CT


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Starting June 3rd thru August 27th, Ridgefield Golf Course offers families an opportunity to play golf. For $25 groups of up to 5 people can play a few holes (golf cart included). Tee times are...

Cost: For $25 groups of up to 5 people

Where:
Ridgefield Golf Course
545 Ridgebury Road
Ridgefield, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

There’s a new theatre in the neighborhood, committed to producing ambitious, thought provoking plays and readings. Thrown Stone, the brain child of  co-artistic directors Jason Peck...

Cost: $29-$49

Where:
Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance
440 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

Each year Stamford Downtown hosts a distinguished outdoor sculpture exhibit designed to attract both local and regional audiences. Art in Public Places Outdoor Sculpture exhibit features sculptures...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stamford Downtown
, CT


Website »

More information

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Hailed by the New York Times as “terrific”, The Calpulli Mexican Dance Company celebrates the rich diversity of Mexican and Mexican-American cultural heritage. With an evening...

Cost: Adult $10, Child $5

Where:
Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts
149 Girdle Ridge Road
Katonah, NY  10536
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French mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine stars as Bizet’s immortal Gypsy heroine. Tenor Marcelo Álvarez is her hapless soldier Don José, and newcomer Maria...

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

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge Rd
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: The Ridgefield Playhouse
Telephone: 203-438-5795
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Cut a rug during our Wall to Wall carpet exhibition this summer! The KMA invites you to kick back early at the mid-week hump and turn ho-hum Wednesdays into family jam night. Join us in...

Cost: $15 members, $20 non-members; Buy 2 and get 1 concert FREE

Where:
Katonah Museum of Art
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Telephone: 914-232-9555
Contact Name: Margaret Adasko
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Starting June 3rd thru August 27th, Ridgefield Golf Course offers families an opportunity to play golf. For $25 groups of up to 5 people can play a few holes (golf cart included). Tee times are...

Cost: For $25 groups of up to 5 people

Where:
Ridgefield Golf Course
545 Ridgebury Road
Ridgefield, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

There’s a new theatre in the neighborhood, committed to producing ambitious, thought provoking plays and readings. Thrown Stone, the brain child of  co-artistic directors Jason Peck...

Cost: $29-$49

Where:
Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance
440 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

Each year Stamford Downtown hosts a distinguished outdoor sculpture exhibit designed to attract both local and regional audiences. Art in Public Places Outdoor Sculpture exhibit features sculptures...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stamford Downtown
, CT


Website »

More information

Show More...
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A recent top prizewinner in the George Enescu International Cello Competition and Beverly Hills National Auditions, Evnin Rising Star alumna cellist Sarah Rommel is indeed a star on the...

Cost: $15, $24, $32, $40 / Free tickets for students 18 and under!

Where:
Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts
149 Girdle Ridge Road
Katonah, NY  10536
View map »


Website »

More information

Toad the Wet Sprocket share in the kind of musical chemistry that can only come from meeting in high school and writing, recording and touring on albums over the course of those 25 years. While...

Cost: Varies

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


Sponsor: The Ridgefield Playhouse
Telephone: (203)438-5795
Contact Name: Vania Saintfery
Website »

More information

Starting June 3rd thru August 27th, Ridgefield Golf Course offers families an opportunity to play golf. For $25 groups of up to 5 people can play a few holes (golf cart included). Tee times are...

Cost: For $25 groups of up to 5 people

Where:
Ridgefield Golf Course
545 Ridgebury Road
Ridgefield, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

There’s a new theatre in the neighborhood, committed to producing ambitious, thought provoking plays and readings. Thrown Stone, the brain child of  co-artistic directors Jason Peck...

Cost: $29-$49

Where:
Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance
440 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

Each year Stamford Downtown hosts a distinguished outdoor sculpture exhibit designed to attract both local and regional audiences. Art in Public Places Outdoor Sculpture exhibit features sculptures...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stamford Downtown
, CT


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join us at Lounsbury House on Friday, July 21th from 7-9pm (was moved from July 14 due to weather) for an evening of great food and friendly people. There will be family fun...

Cost: $45 before June 1, $50 after June 1

Where:
Lounsbury House
316 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Website »

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Race & American Memory programs at Grace Farms examine the ways in which Americans comprehend and recall national history, and seeks to revisit instances, ideas, and lives which have suffered...

Cost: Free

Where:
Grace Farms, Sanctuary
365 Lukes Wood Road
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Grace Farms Foundation
Telephone: (203) 920-1702
Website »

More information

Fan favorite John Fullbright returns with an evening featuring the Oklahoma singer/songwriter’s pungent lyrical imagery. Winner of the ASCAP Harold Adamson Lyric Award, the Los Angeles...

Cost: $40, $45, $55, $65, $75

Where:
Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts
149 Girdle Ridge Road
Katonah, NY  10536
View map »


Website »

More information

Starting June 3rd thru August 27th, Ridgefield Golf Course offers families an opportunity to play golf. For $25 groups of up to 5 people can play a few holes (golf cart included). Tee times are...

Cost: For $25 groups of up to 5 people

Where:
Ridgefield Golf Course
545 Ridgebury Road
Ridgefield, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

There’s a new theatre in the neighborhood, committed to producing ambitious, thought provoking plays and readings. Thrown Stone, the brain child of  co-artistic directors Jason Peck...

Cost: $29-$49

Where:
Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance
440 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

Each year Stamford Downtown hosts a distinguished outdoor sculpture exhibit designed to attract both local and regional audiences. Art in Public Places Outdoor Sculpture exhibit features sculptures...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stamford Downtown
, CT


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Spend the day in Ridgefield, Connecticut for SummerFest on Saturday, July 22nd from 10 am to 4 pm for sidewalk sales, food, music, children's activities/games, shopping, and more! ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Ballard Park
Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 203-438-5992
Contact Name: Jen Mulhern
Website »

More information

Brews & BBQ is back! Come out on Saturday, July 22nd at Ives Concert Park in Danbury to celebrate the change of the seasons with the ultimate spring bash featuring BBQ, craft beer and live...

Cost: Advance tickets $15, tickets at the door $20

Where:
Ives Concert Park
43 Lake Ave Ext
Danbury, CT  06811
View map »


Telephone: 203-837-9226
Contact Name: Phyllis Cortese
Website »

More information

A legend lives on! The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra returns to the Playhouse! With its unique jazz sound, the 18-member Glenn Miller Orchestra is considered one of the greatest bands of all...

Cost: $38

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


Sponsor: The Ridgefield Playhouse
Telephone: 203-438-5795
Website »

More information

A true music legend, 13-time Grammy Award-winner Emmylou Harris returns to Caramoor with her unique blend of folk, country, and roots music. Whether singing the songs of Seeger, Dylan, Baez, or a...

Cost: $30, $45, $60, $70, $80, $90, $100, $110

Where:
Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts
149 Girdle Ridge Road
Katonah, NY  10536
View map »


Website »

More information

Join Townvibe on Saturday, July 22 for a very special evening with the cast of Milk. Begin the night with the 8pm performance of the U.S. Premiere of Milk by Ross Dunsmore at...

Cost: $100/ticket to Cocktails with the Cast. Tickets to Milk sold separately.

Where:
Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance
440 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

Starting June 3rd thru August 27th, Ridgefield Golf Course offers families an opportunity to play golf. For $25 groups of up to 5 people can play a few holes (golf cart included). Tee times are...

Cost: For $25 groups of up to 5 people

Where:
Ridgefield Golf Course
545 Ridgebury Road
Ridgefield, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

There’s a new theatre in the neighborhood, committed to producing ambitious, thought provoking plays and readings. Thrown Stone, the brain child of  co-artistic directors Jason Peck...

Cost: $29-$49

Where:
Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance
440 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

Each year Stamford Downtown hosts a distinguished outdoor sculpture exhibit designed to attract both local and regional audiences. Art in Public Places Outdoor Sculpture exhibit features sculptures...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stamford Downtown
, CT


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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