USC Legend Sam Cunningham Dies

Sam Cunningham, MVP of the 1973 Rose Bowl and a USC legend, died on Tuesday. He was 71.

Cunningham scored 4 TD’s in the Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State and then became the career rushing leader of the New England Patriots with 5,453 yards.

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

In later years, he experienced more fame from playing in the 1970 USC-Alabama game. Cunningham rushed for135-yards and scored 2 TDs in the 42-21 victory over the Crimson Tide.

Cunningham was an All-American in 1972. He was a friendly figure around USC and close friends with booster Wayne Hughes, who died August 18.

His nickname was Sam “Bam” Cunningham and his four TDs in the Rose Bowl still stand as a record.

35 thoughts on “USC Legend Sam Cunningham Dies

  1. My condolences to Sam’s entire family -brother Randall, Bruce, and AC all Santa Barbara legends. There was no one like Sam as a football player, and person. One of the greatest Trojans of them all.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. After Cunningham rushed for 135 yards on just 12 carries and scored two touchdowns in a 42-21 victory over Alabama in 1970, Bear Bryant brought Cunningham into the Crimson Tide locker room, stood him in front of his players and said, “This is what a real football player looks like”

      True story

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I was born and raised in Santa Barbara. I can recall seeing Sam at Randall’s high school football games. His niece Vashti (Randall’s daughter) just competed at the recent summer Olympics in the high jump.

      RIP Sam!

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Boys keep your comments respectful. A great Trojan has passed away. He was a great supportive Trojan that had faith in me, Mike Bohn and coach Helton! 30-7! How can you be mad at a such blow out win.

      Like

  2. Liked by 5 people

    1. I don’t know who needs to know this, but I broke this story on an earlier post, Scott Wolf is trying to take credit . Cockadoodledoo !!! 😀

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      1. I had hoped we wouldn’t have to wade through troll trash on this particular post in which we remember a terrific person and great football player.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Taken far too soon…a great person, the highest level of integrity and thoughtfulness, treated everyone well.

    If USC was going to pick former football stars as ADs 10 years, ago, he would have been the person to pick.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I had the great pleasure of speaking to him a few times. He was always polite, nice, and kind. He answered every quesiton a million times and each time he answered it like it was his first time. He was around 6’3″ inces tall and around 220. That is huge for a fullback at the time. I was at the 73 Rosebowl game I saw him score the 4 tds. Mckay would signal to Woody Hayes the play. He signaled it like it was a wave. Sure enough he would jump over the dline and lbers for a td. Woody got so pissed off that he jumped on his hat. God Bless and may he RIP. McKay just got his fullback. Mckay is building up a great team in heaven.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Going over the top was his specialty, He could jump over the defense and score from the six yard line. McKay once signaled Woody Hayes that he was sending Sam over the top just to mess with Hayes. I met him at a game and he was a very genuine person. He said to me he only charged for autographs for charity and football contracts.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. People remember Sam for what he did to Alabama, and his jumps over the defense at the goal line, but he was a tremendous blocker, and he could have also won the heisman as a tailback he had that much speed.
    Probably one of the top 5 greatest athletes to every play football at SC he was that talented, but he agreed to play fullback for the sake of the team since he knew they needed his blocking. Anthony Davis, Rod McNeil, and all the tailbacks accomplished what they did with Sam’s help no doubt about it. THANK YOU SAM for teaching us that the fullback position is indeed an important element of building a successful running game. We will miss you No. 39.

    I heard Chip Kelly on the radio today he said: “All good teams that look to be successful in college football must be able to RUN THE FOOTBALL, and then use the pass to keep the defense honest”.

    Are you listening Graham Harrell, and Clay Helton!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Didn’t Coach McKay once say that Sam was the greatest player that he ever ruined (ie by ‘condemning’ him to primarily blocking as a fullback because it was the optimal decision, even though individually he could have as you say been a Heisman-caliber tailback, as evidenced by his NFL prime with the Pats — as opposed to Ricky Bell and Marcus Allen being switched after playing fullback to tailback).

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  7. NO 39 should be retired – One of the great Trojan football players of all time. He did not win the Heisman but had the talent to do that. Just a great, great football player not many were better. Sure would like to see No. 39 retired- Mike Bohn it’s time to do something right honoring the great USC Tradition, and for sure one of the Top 10 greatest all around Trojan football players.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I think the goal line play was 21 Jump or 21 ice–the #2 back (TB deep in the “I”) over the #1 hole. Mr. Cunningham popularized the jump, if I recall correctly.
    (A few TB’s along the years were known to fumble during the particular goal-line jump–I think Charles White did so once.)

    I recall watching that Rose Bowl as a wee 10 year old. I was already hooked on USC FB and already had developed a disdain for the Big 10 by then. I don’t recall if all 4 TD’s were 21 JUMP, but my selective memory tells me Sam did!
    “Sam Bam, and its a Trojan runaway!” Great memories.

    I recall rooting for Sam as he toiled in the NFL for the hapless NE Pats. I think Plunkett was the QB. Darrell Stingley, of Purdue (I think) was their star receiver. Wow.

    Sincere condolences to the entire Cunningham family.
    The Trojan Family lost a great lifetime ambassador.
    May he rest in peace.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think Archie Griffin was the reigning Heisman winner the year of this infamous Rose Bowl, and USC stuffed him. Griffin had gained a lot of junk yardage that year against inferior teams. Sam put an exclamation mark on an epic season and proved that maybe the feckless Heisman voters had picked the wrong TB.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Griffin was a freshman that year (he won’t the Heisman twice down the road) but became the player that forced Woody Hayes to reconsider his “the best thing about a freshman is they become a sophomore” attitude. It was the first of three consecutive USC-OSU Rose Bowls…USC won 2 of the 3 (but those OSU teams were really good – not just Griffin but Pete Johnson, Randy Gradishar, et al). But Sam’s performance in that game was definitely the exclamation point (McKay finally got back at Woody for the fumbling away of the 1969 Rose Bowl and Woody’s haughtiness…supposedly what fueled his having Sam score in that way to rub salt in the wound).

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      2. My bad.
        The great Johnnie Rogers was the reigning Heisman winner that year.
        Archie did play in 4 consecutive RB’s, losing 3 of 4 including one to the Bruins and two to USC.

        Liked by 1 person

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