The New England Patriots have announced that Sam Cunningham, the franchise’s all-time best rusher, died on Tuesday at the age of 71. Cunningham spent his nine NFL seasons with the Patriots, as the fullback rushed for 5,453 yards and 43 touchdowns from 1973 to 1982. He also recorded 210 catches for 1,905 yards and six touchdowns.
Known in the 1970s as Sam “Bam” Cunningham, he was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2010 and was a member of the Patriots’ 50th Anniversary team – which was revealed the same year. .
“We are deeply saddened to learn of yet another loss for the Patriots family this week and our hearts ache for the family of Sam Cunningham and all those mourning his passing today,” said Patriots President and CEO , Robert Kraft, in a statement released by the team. “Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham was one of my favorite players in the 70s and my sons all loved him.
“After purchasing the team in 1994, I had the honor of welcoming him back to the team on several occasions, recognizing him as a member of the 50th anniversary team and again for his Patriots Hall of Fame Induction As much as I admired him as a player, my affection for him only grew after spending time with him and learning more about him as a person. He had a huge impact, both on and off the pitch, and was loved by his teammates. As a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame, Sam’s legacy and contributions will be preserved and celebrated forever. , but today his loss is felt with a heavy heart. “
Cunningham was instrumental in integrating college football as a member of the “All-Black” backfield at USC with quarterback Jimmy Jones and running back Clarence Davis in 1970. He was named All -American in 1972 and won a national championship with the Trojans. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Patriots’ 11th overall pick in 1973 after a remarkable college career at USC, Cunningham was instrumental in one of the biggest turnovers in Patriots history in 1976, rushing for 824 yards (4.8 yards per carry) as New England went from a 3-11 record in 1975 to 11-3 in 1976 and a second place finish in the AFC East. Cunningham rushed for 1,015 yards in 1977 and achieved his only Pro Bowl in 1978. The Patriots set a single-season NFL rushing record (3,165) in 1978 before the Baltimore Ravens n ‘reach the mark in 2019.
Cunningham is the older brother of Randall Cunningham, who was a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. He is also the uncle of Vashti Cunningham, bronze medalist at the world high jump championships and a double Olympian.