Sam Cunningham
refer to caption
Cunningham at his 2010 induction to the Patriots Hall of Fame
No. 39
Personal information
Born:(1950-08-15)August 15, 1950
Santa Barbara, California
Died:September 7, 2021(2021-09-07) (aged 71)
Inglewood, California
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:226 lb (103 kg)
Career information
High school:Santa Barbara (CA)
NFL Draft:1973 / Round: 1 / Pick: 11
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:5,453
Rushing average:3.9
Rushing touchdowns:43
Receiving yards:1,905
Receiving touchdowns:6
Player stats at · PFR

Samuel Lewis Cunningham Jr (August 15, 1950 – September 7, 2021), nicknamed "Bam",[1] was an American football fullback who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 10 seasons with the New England Patriots.[2] He played college football at USC, where he was named a first-team All-American and received MVP honors in the 1973 Rose Bowl.

Selected in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Patriots, Cunningham became the franchise's all-time leading rusher. He was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010. The same year, he was also inducted to the Patriots Hall of Fame.

College career

Cunningham was a letterman for University of Southern California's football team from 1970 through 1972 where he played fullback. He was named an All-American in 1972, and was a member of USC’s 1972 national championship team. He scored four touchdowns in the 1973 Rose Bowl, which is still the modern-day Rose Bowl record, and was named Player of the Game. He was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1992[3] and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

In 1970, he was part of USC's "all-black" backfield – the first one of its kind in Division I (NCAA) history – that included quarterback Jimmy Jones and running back Clarence Davis. He had a notable debut[4] performance (135 yards, two touchdowns) against an all-white University of Alabama football team, as USC beat Alabama 42–21 in Birmingham on September 12, 1970. His performance in the game was reportedly a factor in convincing the University of Alabama and its fans to let Coach Bear Bryant integrate Southern football. Jerry Claiborne, a former Bryant assistant, said, "Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King Jr. did in 20 years."[5][6]

Professional career

In only his second year 1974, Cunningham gained 811 yards and nine touchdowns as he led the New England Patriots to a surprising 4–0 start before faltering to a 7–7 finish. In 1977, he gained a career-high 1,015 yards and scored four touchdowns, and also caught 42 receptions for 370 yards and a touchdown. He played his entire career (1973–1982) with the Patriots and was a 1978 Pro Bowl selection. Cunningham was an integral part of the 1978 Patriots, who set an NFL record for rushing yards as a team with 3,165. This record stood for more than forty years and was not broken until the 2019 Baltimore Ravens.[7]

Cunningham finished his career with 5,453 rushing yards, 210 receptions for 1,905 yards, and 49 touchdowns. He was the older brother of former UNLV and NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham and uncle of Randall Cunningham II and world champion high jumper Vashti Cunningham.

Cunningham was the 2010 Inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame.


Cunningham died on September 7, 2021, at the age of 71.[8]


  1. ^ Chapin, Dwight - McKay's Message Puts the Bam Back in Sam. Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1971. "The name-Sam (Bam) Cunningham--makes you think of a big guy crunching through tacklers like a truck going through a plate glass window."
  2. ^ Ex-USC, New England Patriots Star Fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham Dies At 71
  3. ^ "Rose Bowl Game Hall of Fame". September 8, 2021.
  4. ^ Schoen, David (April 11, 2013). "Gorman siblings not burdened by celebrated name". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  5. ^ USC Legends: Sam Cunningham
  6. ^ Rose Bowl Legends: Sam Cunningham Archived January 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Ravens set single season rushing record". Matthew Stevens USA Today Ravens Wire. December 29, 2019.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ "USC icon, Patriots HOFer Cunningham, 71, dies". September 7, 2021.