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Legendary USC star FB Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham, credited with role of integrating football in South, dies at 71

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USATSI

Sam “Bam” Cunningham, former fullback at USC and with the New England Patriots, has died at 71. Cunningham played for the Trojans from 1970-72 and with the Patriots from 1973-82. USC announced Cunningham’s death Tuesday and no cause of death was given. 

Cunningham rushed for 1,579 yards and 23 touchdowns during this three years with the program. He had 349 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1972, was named a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and scored four touchdowns in the Rose Bowl win over Ohio State that earned the Trojans the national title. He was inducted Rose Bowl Hall of Fame for his performance against the Buckeyes. 

He rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns in his first career game in 1970 — a 42-21 win over Alabama in Birmingham. That performance came alongside quarterback Jimmy Jones and running back Clarence Davis, which marked the first time in major college football that a team boasted an All-Black backfield. That game vs. the Crimson Tide is regarded as one of the primary catalysts to integrate football in the South.

The New England Patriots drafted Cunningham with the 11th overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft. He had 5,453 yards and 43 touchdowns in 10 seasons in the NFL — all with the Patriots. He rushed for 1,015 yards and four touchdowns in 1977 and 768 yards and eight touchdowns in 1978 — the latter of which earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl.

“Extremely saddened by the loss of a college football legend,” said current USC coach Clay Helton. “As good a man as he was a player. Thank you Sam for being the example of what a Trojan should be. You will be missed but never forgotten.”

Cunningham was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the New England Patriots Hall of Fame in 2010.

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