He had a notable performance (135 yards, 2 touchdowns) against an all-white University of Alabama football team, as USC beat Alabama 42-21 in Birmingham on September 12, 1970. His performance in the game was reportedly a factor in convincing the University of Alabama and its fans to let Coach Bear Bryant integrate Southern football. Jerry Claiborne, a former Bryant assistant, said, "Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 20 years."
Despite the legend surrounding the story, Bryant had already taken a step toward integrating his team. Wilbur Jackson, the first African-American offered a scholarship by the University of Alabama, watched the game from the stands, ineligible to play as a freshman due to NCAA rules at the time.
In only his second year 1974, he gained 811 yards and 9 touchdowns as he led the New England Patriots to a surprising 4-0 start before faltering to a 7-7 finish. In 1977 he gained a career high 1,015 yards and scored 4 touchdowns, and also caught 42 receptions for 370 yards and a touchdown. He played his entire career (1973 through 1982) with the Patriots and was a 1978 Pro Bowl selection.
Cunningham finished his career with 5,453 rushing yards, 210 receptions for 1,905 yards, and 49 touchdowns. He is the older brother of former UNLV and NFL quarterback (and All-America punter) Randall Cunningham.
Cunningham is the 2010 Inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame.
↑Chapin, Dwight - McKay's Message Puts the Bam Back in Sam. Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1971. "The name-Sam (Bam) Cunningham--makes you think of a big guy crunching through tacklers like a truck going through a plate glass window."