SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Sam "Bam" Cunningham, one of the top athletes to ever attend Santa Barbara High School, has passed away at the age of 71 in Inglewood.
The University of Southern California announced his passing on Tuesday.
The oldest of the four Cunningham brothers, Sam excelled in both football and in track and field for the Dons in the late 1960s.
He won the 1969 State Championship in the shot put.
Following high school Sam Cunningham starred in football at USC where his outstanding performance in a game at Alabama in 1970 drew praise from Alabama's Bear Bryant.
Just a sophomore, Cunningham ran for 135 yards with two-touchdowns in a season-opening 42-21 win at Alabama.
The Alabama coaching staff met with USC's all-Black backfield after the game to exchange praise and congratulations. The moment is considered a flashpoint in the history of college athletics and is credited as a defining moment toward integration of football in the American South.
The running back earned All-American first team honors in 1972 as he led USC to a national championship.
Cunningham scored four touchdowns in the 1973 Rose Bowl against Ohio State and was named the MVP of the game.
#FightOnForever, Sam "Bam" Cunningham.— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) September 7, 2021
The All-American fullback, Rose Bowl MVP and College Football Hall of Famer, whose performance in USC's 1970 win at Alabama has often been credited with helping integrate Southern football, died on Tuesday in Inglewood. He was 71.
He was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Clay Helton, USC's current head football coach said of Cunningham:
"Extremely saddened by the loss of a college football legend. 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."Clay Helton - USC Head Football Coach
At the next level, Cunningham had a standout career with the New England Patriots in the National Football League. He is the franchise's all-time leading rusher and was inducted to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2010. Patriots owner Robert Kraft released a statement about Cunningham's passing in which he said, "He made a tremendous impact on and off the field... his loss is felt with heavy hearts."
This past summer the new track at Santa Barbara High School was named after the Cunningham family that includes his three younger brothers Anthony, Bruce and Randall.
Sam was unable to attend the ceremony due to health reasons.
Like Sam, Randall Cunningham also starred in football and played in the NFL as a Pro Bowl quarterback.