University of Southern California: Ex-USC, New England Patriots Star Fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham Dies At 71

Former USC All-American fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham, a College Football Hall of Famer whose performance in USC’s 1970 win at Alabama has often been credited with helping integrate Southern football and whose 4-touchdown outing in the 1973 Rose Bowl earned him Player of the Game honors before going on to a record-setting career with the New England Patriots, died on Tuesday (Sept. 7) in Inglewood, Calif. Cause of death is pending. He was 71.

Cunningham, a 3-year (1970-72) letterman at USC, earned All-American first team honors in 1972 while captaining the Trojans to the national championship. He was USC’s Back of the Year that season. He rushed for 1,579 yards and 23 touchdowns in his career (including 13 TDs in 1972) and added 34 receptions for 293 yards and 2 scores.

As a sophomore in 1970, his 135-yard, 2-TD debut performance in the Trojans’ season-opening 42-21 victory over Alabama in Birmingham provided a catalyst for the integration of college football in the South.

Cunningham’s 4 short goal line scoring dives against Ohio State in the 1973 Rose Bowl earned him game MVP honors and he was later inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1992.

He played in the 1973 Hula Bowl, College All-Star Game and Coaches All-America Game.

He was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.


Drafted 11th overall in the 1973 NFL Draft’s first round by New England, he played 9 seasons for the Patriots (1973-79, 19881-82) 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.

He came to USC from Santa Barbara (Calif.) High.

After his playing career, Cunningham worked as a landscape contractor in Southern California.

He is survived by his wife, Cine, and daughter, Samahndi, a USC graduate, as well as brothers Randall, Bruce and Anthony.

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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