Sam Cunningham Dies at 71; Fostered Integration on the Football Field

Sam Cunningham, a fullback for the built-in University of Southern California soccer workforce that in 1970 trounced Coach Bear Bryant’s all-white Alabama squad, died on Tuesday at his house in Inglewood, Calif. He was 71.

His spouse, Cine (Ivery) Cunningham, confirmed his dying however didn’t cite a trigger.

Cunningham, a sophomore, was taking part in his first recreation for U.S.C. on Sept. 12, 1970, at Legion Field in Birmingham. For the Trojans it was a journey into the Deep South to a state that had been ruled, and could be once more, by the fiery segregationist George C. Wallace.

Cunningham, whose nickname was Bam, shaped an all-Black backfield with the quarterback Jimmy Jones and the tailback Clarence Davis. Cunningham, a backup participant, was the recreation’s surprising star, operating for 135 yards on 12 carries and scoring two touchdowns in the Trojans’ 42-21 victory.

For Alabama, it was a humiliating loss on the option to a 6-5-1 file — nevertheless it was additionally a lesson to Bryant that his Crimson Tide would falter in the future with out Black gamers. He knew that already, having recruited Wilbur Jackson, a operating again. But as a freshman, Jackson was not allowed to play for the varsity and watched the recreation at the stadium.

Cunningham referred to as the recreation a “tipping point” in the wrestle for civil rights in sports activities. He instructed the U.S.C. athletics web site in 2016 that it confirmed “that things should be equal on the football field as they should be in all other parts of life, but that’s not always the case.”

The subsequent 12 months, Jackson and John Mitchell, a defensive finish, built-in the Alabama workforce, which went 11-1 (together with a win over U.S.C.). The workforce’s solely loss was to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

Richard Lapchick, a human-rights activist and the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, mentioned Bryant knew he wanted to recruit Black gamers to remain aggressive.

In a telephone interview, Lapchick mentioned that Bryant had confided in Eddie Robinson, the longtime coach of the traditionally Black Grambling State University in Louisiana, about the influence of his workforce’s loss to U.S.C.

“Eddie told me how often Bear talked to him about what the game meant,” Lapchick mentioned, “and what Sam meant to his ability to integrate.”

By 1977, Alabama had 17 Black soccer gamers on scholarship.

Samuel Lewis Cunningham Jr. was born on Aug. 15, 1950, in Santa Barbara, Calif. His father was a railroad employee. His mom, Zoe (Ivory) Cunningham, died when he was younger; he was raised by his father and stepmother, Mabel (Crook) Cunningham, a nurse.

Sam and his brothers, Anthony, Bruce and Randall, a future quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles and three different N.F.L. groups, have been all athletic. Sam was launched to organized sports activities in elementary college, the place he performed basketball, baseball, volleyball and flag soccer.

He was recruited by Coach John McKay to U.S.C. and, in his three seasons on the workforce, gained 1,579 yards on 337 carries. He scored 4 short-yardage touchdowns in the Trojans’ 42-17 victory over Ohio State in the 1973 Rose Bowl, which wrapped up a 12-Zero season. That 12 months’s workforce was ranked No. 1 in school soccer.

Cunningham was chosen by the New England Patriots with the 11th total choose in the 1973 N.F.L. draft. In his 9 seasons with the workforce, he collected 5,453 dashing yards, together with 516 in his first season, a Patriots rookie file, and 1,015 in 1977, making him the second Patriot to exceed 1,000 yards in a season. He sat out the 1980 season in a contract dispute, which prompted the Patriots to commerce him to the Miami Dolphins. But he failed the workforce’s bodily and returned to the Patriots shortly earlier than the 1981 season.

“Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham was one of my favorite players throughout the ’70s, and my sons all loved him,” the Patriots’ proprietor, Robert Kraft, mentioned in a press release. “After I bought the team in 1994, it was my honor to welcome him back to the team on multiple occasions, recognizing him as a 50th-anniversary team member and again for his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame.”

Cunningham turned a panorama contractor after his taking part in profession ended.

In addition to his spouse, he’s survived by his daughter, Samahndi Cunningham; and his brothers.

Cunningham joined Jones and Davis in the backfield early in the first quarter of that historic 1970 recreation towards Alabama.

“I didn’t go into any game looking to change history, even though history has a tendency to be changed by things of that nature,” he instructed The Santa Barbara Independent this 12 months. “I always tried to play to the best of my ability, and that’s what I did that evening. I was put in the right spot and got touched by the hand of God.”