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Sam 'Bam' Cunningham, Barrier-Breaking HOF Running Back, Dies at 71

Sam 'Bam' Cunningham, who was elected to both the New England Patriots and College Football Hall of Fame, has died at the age of 71.

Cunningham died Tuesday in Inglewood, California, his alma mater, the University of Southern California, confirmed via Twitter.

Cunningham was part of Division I college football's first "all-Black" backfield, playing alongside quarterback Jimmy Jones and running back Clarence Davis in 1970, which included a debut performance of 135 yards and two touchdowns against an all-White Alabama Crimson Tide team during a 42-21 victory over the Tide in Birmingham.

Cunningham's performance is credited for being a factor convincing the University of Alabama and its fans to allow then-head coach Paul'Bear 'Bryant to integrate Southern football.

Cunningham was also a member of USC's 1972 national championship team and set a Rose Bowl record with four touchdowns during a 41-17 win over Ohio State.

"#FightOnForever, Sam "Bam" Cunningham," USC Athletics wrote with a graphic honoring Cunningham. "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."

The Santa Barbara native was selected by the Patriots at No. 11 overall in the 1973 NFL Draft and spent all nine seasons of his career in New England.

Cunningham remains the Patriots' all-time leader with 5,453 career rushing yards, which included career-high 1,015 yards in 1977.

The former USC standout also earned a Pro Bowl nod in 1978 when he was part of a Patriots rushing attack that set an NFL record for team rushing yards (3,165), which stood until it was broken by the Baltimore Ravens 41 years later (2019).

Cunningham was elected into both the Patriots Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Cunningham's cause of death is still pending.

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