Former USC, New England Patriots star running back Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham dies at 71

By Barry Werner

Sam Cunningham, who starred at USC and for the New England Patriots, died on Tuesday in Inglewood, Ca., at the age of 71.

The cause of death is pending.

Cunnigham, nicknamed “Bam,” is also credited with helping integrate college football.

Cunningham and USC went to Birmingham for a game with Alabama in 1970 and his 135-yard, 2-TD debut performance in the Trojans’ 42-21 victory over Alabama in Birmingham provided a catalyst for the integration of college football in the South.

“What they saw was the future,” Cunningham told ESPN in 2016 of the hushed, stunned Legion Field crowd. “Their team was eventually going to be integrated.”

Cunningham was a first-team All-American in 1972 while captaining the Trojans to the national championship. Cunningham scored four touchdowns in USC’s victory in the Rose Bowl.

He rushed for 1,579 yards and 23 touchdowns in his college career.

Cunningham was the 11th pick in the first round by the New England Patriots in 1973. He played nine seasons for the Patriots (1973-79, 1981-82) and became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher (5,453 yards) while also catching 210 passes for 1,905 yards.

He scored 49 touchdowns with New England, with 43 on the ground. He was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team in 1978. He was inducted into the Patriots’ Hall of Fame in 2010.

His brother, Randall, played quarterback at UNLV (he is a 2016 College Football Hall of Fame inductee) and then for 16 years in the NFL with the Eagles, Vikings, Cowboys, and Ravens.

His nephew Randall II was a 2-time NCAA champion high jumper at USC and his niece Vashti is a world indoor champion high jumper who competed in the 2020 Olympics.


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