GREATS | Sam Cunningham

GREATS | Sam Cunningham


Sam Cunningham (born August 15, 1950, in Santa Barbara, CA) is a former USC All-American fullback in 1972 who convinced (through his play) Bear Bryant to integrate Southern football after USC soundly beat University of Alabama 42-21 at Birmingham on September 12, 1970 in a primetime matchup.

Bear Bryant allegedly brought Cunningham into the all-white Alabama locker room after the game and said "This is what a football player looks like." While Cunningham's performance in the game was unquestionably dominant, the locker room story is not true.


He was a 1978 Pro-bowler with the New England Patriots and played with them in his whole career from 1973 until 1982.

He was known as "Bam" because of his running style, and is the older brother of NFL star quarterback Randall Cunningham. Member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

Sam Cunningham should also be noted for his contribution to racial integration. On Sept. 12, 1970, Cunningham’s USC squad traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Like all prominent college teams in the Deep South, the Alabama squad was all white. Segregation may have been starting to crumble by this time, but football has always been a religion in the land of Dixie. And Southern white society was not about to let black athletes become their gods.

To make a long story short, Sam Cunningham ran wild that day. He rumbled for 135 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries as USC humiliated Alabama, 41-14. Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant saw the writing on the wall. After the game, he asked Cunningham to stop by the Alabama locker room. Addressing his all-white squad, The Bear pointed to Cunningham and said “Men, this is what a football player looks like.”

The very next season the Crimson Tide football team had three black players. And such was the stature of Bear Bryant that once he recruited black athletes, other coaches were quick to follow suit. Just like that, segregation in Southern college football was over.