Patriots great and college football legend Sam Cunningham dies at 71

New England Patriots v Cincinnati Ohio
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Sam Cunningham, who had a legendary college football career and played for the Patriots for a decade, has died at the age of 71.

A bruising, 6-foot-3, 226-pound running back, Cunningham is best remembered for his spectacular performances in college at USC, where he was named Most Valuable Player of the 1973 Rose Bowl for scoring four touchdowns as USC clinched the national championship with a victory over Ohio State.

Perhaps most significantly, the African-American Cunningham turned in a dominant performance in USC’s 42-21 win against an all-white Alabama team in 1970. That game was said to help integrate Southern college football, as it convinced many football coaches and fans in the Deep South that if they remained segregated, their teams could not compete against the best integrated teams.

Cunningham was proud of his performance against Alabama but had mixed feelings about how that game was remembered, telling the Los Angeles Times years later that if he helped integrate Southern football, it wasn’t necessarily for the right reasons.

“That didn’t change how those white people thought of Black people,” Cunningham said. “They were accepted because they could help their program win football games.”

The Patriots selected Cunningham with the 11th overall pick in the 1973 NFL draft, and he played his entire career in New England, retiring after the 1982 season. He finished his NFL career with 1,385 carries for 5,453 yards and 43 touchdowns.

Among Cunningham’s survivors is his younger brother, former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham.

27 responses to “Patriots great and college football legend Sam Cunningham dies at 71

  1. Sam Bam Cunningham, Mini Mack Herron, Don Calhoun, Andy Johnson and Steve Grogan…that was a great rushing team. Too bad they got robbed by Ben Dreith.

    Sam Bam was one of my boy hood idols when I first fell in love with football and the New England Patriots back in ‘75.

    Hope he went gently into that good night.

  2. Sam “the bam” Cunningham, if you saw him play, he could go over the goal line defense from the 3 yard line and score at will.

  3. just a friendly reminder before all the barnyard animals arrive:
    During this era bam was good but the pats were not.

  4. Damn, twice in one week.

    He was before my time, but he was a beast. If the Raiders hadn’t have paid off Ben Dreith in the ‘76 semis, he and Horace Ivory and Andy Johnson would have run amuck on the Steelers that next week. People aren’t aware how good that ‘76 Pats team was.

  5. I always liked this guy. I would always check his stats in the paper on Monday morning (it was before ESPN, for you youngsters), who’ve never heard of him.

  6. “People aren’t aware how good that ‘76 Pats team was.”

    The 76 Steelers were far better, so the Patriots wouldn’t have done a thing with them. Number one defense, five shutouts. The Patriots would have been dust.

  7. As a young Ohio State fan I remember him just crushing the Buckeyes D. He was a great player and from everything I hear an even better man. Here’s to a life well lived.

  8. Loved Sam “THE BAM” Cunningham….so much fun to watch…. Pretty much unstoppable at the goal line…. Great player on mostly lousy teams back then…. The Fairbanks were just not good owners…they couldn’t find a coach & they let so many talented players leave ……
    RIP BIG GUY!!!

  9. During this era bam was good but the pats were not.

    _____

    Two 11 win seasons, 1 10 win season and 2 9 win seasons, three playoff appearances….only three losing seasons……

  10. Did I really just read a response to a sports obituary that the team Sam Cunningham (who died) played for would have been “dust” against the Steelers if Ben Dreith didn’t make a universally recognized horrible “roughing the passer” call on Ray “Sugarbear” Hamilton?

    It’s an obituary. Let people enjoy a wonderful life instead of being petty.

  11. “he and Horace Ivory and Andy Johnson would have run amuck on the Steelers that next week”

    This comment by your super troll prompted my comment. The Patriots would have lost, big time.

  12. Kiss Bill’s rings, the Patriots never had “Fairbanks” as owners. They had Chuck Fairbanks as a coach for a bit. Billy Sullivan was the original owner and was owner until 1988 when he sold it to Victor Kiam. You sure you’re a Patriots fan ?

  13. Fairbanks was the Patriots coach from 1973 to 1978. You are confusing him with the Sullivans.

    Those were some great teams.

    They traded Plunkett and drafted Hannah, Cunningham and Stingley. They had Russ Francis. They had Grogan. They were 13-1 (14 game season) and it was a playoff game that Dreith gave to the Raiders after the Patriots stopped them.

    Howard Slusher was the agent for Hannah and Leon Gray. Fairbanks had a deal to resign them but the Sullivans (the nepotism of an incompetent son) queered the deal, hurting the team.

    Mini Mack Herron was a joy to watch return a kick or a punt.

    Tragedy struck when Raider Jack Tatum paralyzed Stingley with a cheap hit over the middle.

  14. The petty part is not letting fans celebrate a former players career upon his death.

    Not a time to whine my team’s better than your team.

  15. The 76 Steelers were far better, so the Patriots wouldn’t have done a thing with them. Number one defense, five shutouts. The Patriots would have been dust.

    ____

    I dont know, Pats beat the Steelers that year in the regular season….30-27….

    Steelers were banged up going into the championship game, Franco Harris was out, Rocky Bleier was out too, so they didnt have their top 2 RB’s, both rushed for over 1000 yards that season….Pitts played a 2 back set mostly back then. Changed their whole offense, they went with a 1 back set most of the game, which no one did in the 70’s.

    The Raiders rolled them 24-7. Bradshaw was horrible.

    Just saying, the 1976 Steelers werent the Steeler team that won all the superbowls

  16. “Not a time to whine my team’s better than your team”

    I agree. Tell it to your buddy TB6.

  17. As someone who was very young when he played I only remember him as a huge back (15-20 lbs on most linebackers says pro football reference) with a great and fitting nickname. Thoughts and prayers to his little brother, Randall, and the rest of his family.

  18. “Just saying, the 1976 Steelers werent the Steeler team that won all the superbowls”

    That’s true. The 76 team was probably the best of those years. The injuries to Bleier and Harris couldn’t be overcome.

  19. “That didn’t change how those white people thought of Black people,” Cunningham said. “They were accepted because they could help their program win football games.””

    Sam “The Bam”, one of my all time favorite players, on your way out, know that your quote isn’t entirely true. The super athletic white race realized that there were super athletic athletes representing the black race ….. BUT we are all the human race … so let’s play ball!

  20. I remember his college days and of course the name “Sam Bam Cunningham”. He was an inspiration for many kids during those years. R.I.P. “Bam”.

  21. Even though I don’t know much about Sam Cunningham, The only thing to me was that he was a Patriot and judging by his old highlights he was a great player. I was born 15 years after he came into the league (1988). RIP Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham

  22. @billshatnerstoupee:

    1976 at Pittsburgh…NE 30 Pitt 27.

    The next week NE rolled the Raiders to the tune of 48-17…John Madden called it the most humbling defeat of his coaching career. Look it up!

  23. Bear Bryant scheduled that game against USC knowing that Alabama couldn’t win against an integrated team ..Sam destroyed them and the Southern teams were integrated.

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