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Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham, former USC and New England Patriots star running back, and one of the forces behind the integration of college football in the 1970s, passed away on Tuesday.
He was 71 years old.
Cunningham — older brother of longtime NFL QB, Randall Cunningham — starred at the University of Southern California in the early ’70s. He was a consensus All-American in 1972 … the year he helped USC go undefeated and win a National Championship.
But, more important than the accolades was Cunningham’s impact on the game. He’s credited with helping diversify the Alabama football team — under legendary coach Bear Bryant — and college football as a whole.
As a sophomore in 1970, Sam led USC’s all-Black backfield in Birmingham … routing ‘Bama 42-21. Cunningham ran for 135 yards and scored 2 touchdowns.
The following year, Alabama’s squad featured Black players (they won the National Championship). The USC-Bama game the previous year was said to have expedited the integration in the south.
After leaving Southern Cali, Cunningham was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 11th overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft.
Bam played 9 seasons for the Pats … before hanging up his pads in 1982.
He finished his career with 5,453 rushing yards and 43 rushing TDs.
In 2010, he was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame … and was also named a member of the team’s 50th Anniversary squad.
Pats owner Robert Kraft weighed in on Cunningham’s passing, saying … “We are deeply saddened to learn of yet another loss to the Patriots family this week and our hearts ache for Sam Cunningham’s family and all who are mourning his passing today.”
The other former Pat that Kraft is talking about is David Patten … a 3x Super Bowl champ who died at the age of 47 on Thursday night following a motorcycle accident.