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Leading the rush

catching up with Sam Cunningham

ENGLEWOOD, California - He sits atop the all-time rushing list for the New England Patriots.

Sam Cunningham played nine seasons (1973-1982) with New England rushing for 5,453 yards - the most of any running back to ever wear a Patriots uniform. The closest active running back to him is Kevin Faulk, who enters the season with 2,489 yards.

“I tell everybody I’m only the team’s leading rusher by default because of the way the system is set up now," said Cunningham.

"If the system was set up when I played Curtis Martin would be the leading rusher. He was an outstanding back we had who left through free agency. It makes me smile, but I didn’t anticipate it being this long.”

These days, Cunningham resides in Englewood, California with his wife. They have two children, Jamela, 23 and Samahndi, 17, and one grandchild, Zamiyah, who is two.

“I grew up in Santa Barbara and even when I played I always came back pretty much every off-season,” said Cunningham. “I stayed here and worked out then came back during the season. It’s just home and where I was born and raised. A lot of my friends and relatives are over this way.

“When I was playing my mom and dad were still alive in Santa Barbara. I liked to go up and hang out with them as much as possible. I was fortunate I did because the last two years that I played they both passed away one year right after another.”

Cunningham is now working as a landscape contractor for A & D landscaping. He has been involved with it for almost 20 years.

”I have always gravitated towards that and plus it’s an outdoor job, so I don’t have to dress in a suite and tie,” said Cunningham. “That’s pretty much in and of itself why it attracted me. It’s fun being outdoors and fun taking something and turning it into something else real nice.”

In addition to landscaping, Cunningham has been talking to a lot of players coming out of college, who are looking go to the next level.

”I try to temper them a little bit and make them understand it’s a business,” said Cunningham. “You get paid, but you have to work for that pay. There are a lot of traps out there. I learned a lot from my teammates and a lot of people I worked with. It makes no sense to take what I learned and not pass it on so somebody else can get some use out of it.”

Community and charity are extremely important to Cunningham as well. His youngest daughter, Zamiyah, is a Cancer survivor and he does a lot of fund-raising for the cCancer Foundation.

The New England community got to know Cunningham when he was taken in the first round (11th overall) of the 1973 NFL Draft alongside another Patriots great, John Hannah, who was taken with the fourth pick overall.

”That was definitely an honor in that class of '73 as a first round draft choice,” said Cunningham. “John was an outstanding player and is probably the greatest Patriot on the face of the planet. I played with a lot of great lineman, but he was probably the best I have played with.”

Cunningham came to the Patriots from USC, where he is a member of the Hall of Fame. Playing for USC, he won a National Championship in 1972 and was known as "Sam Bam" for his famous goal line dives for touchdowns.

In the 1973 Rose Bowl, Cunningham scored four touchdowns to earn Player of the Game honors. He was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1992. Cunningham had a profound effect on college football. His 135-yard, 2-touchdown performance during a Trojan victory at Alabama in 1970 convinced Bear Bryant to integrate Southern football.

”I probably got a lot of notoriety for the least amount of rushing yards for a running back from USC,” joked Cunningham. “There are a lot of great running backs and a lot of great players that have gone to USC. I’m just tickled to death to be mentioned in that group. I didn’t run the ball a lot, but I was able to score a lot and block for some great runners. That in itself is very fulfilling.”

"Sam Bam" college success continued during his time with the Patriots. He was the team's rushing leading for six seasons, rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1977 and was named to the 1978 Pro Bowl.

More than 20 years later, Cunningham still loves what he sees with the Patriots. He is excited to see Corey Dillon perform this season.

”I still follow the Patriots and they are the only team I have ever played for. I am always a Patriots fan,” said Cunningham. “They are a fun team to watch and do it the way it’s supposed to be done. Corey is going to be a great asset and will give them that explosiveness. Where I come from you run the ball to be successful.” 

The Cunningham File

NAME: Sam Cunningham

BIRTHDAY: August 15, 1950

RESIDES: Englewood, California

COLLEGE: USC

CLAIM TO FAME: The New England Patriots all-time leading rusher

DID YOU KNOW? Sam Cunningham is the older brother of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.

AQUIRED: New England Patriots first-round draft pick (11th overall) in 1973 NFL Draft

FOOTBALL PLAYER YOU MOST ADMIRE: Barry Sanders

HARDEST HITTER YOU PLAYED AGAINST: Sam Hunt

PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THE N.E. MEDIA WROTE/SAID: I tried not to, but sometimes you could not help it. When it was negative of course everybody heard it and it hurt, so that just motivated me to try and do better.

WOULD YOU EVER PARTICIPATE IN A REALITY TV SHOW: I doubt it

IF YOU COULD CLONE ANYONE WHO WOULD IT BE: My parents

EVER WALK THE FREEDOM TRAIL: No I never did. If I had stayed in the off-season I probably would have.

CLAM CHOWDA OR LOBSTA: Clam Chowder

ROTARIES – KEEP THEM OR GET RID OF THEM: Get rid of them

CANDLEPIN BOWLING OR BIG BALL BOWLING: Candlepin Bowling

PICK TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL: New England Patriots. I pick them to defend.

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