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Robert Kraft mourns the loss of Patriots Hall of Famer Sam Cunningham: ‘He made a tremendous impact’

Sam “Bam” Cunningham died Tuesday at the age of 71.

Cleveland Browns v New England Patriots Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Sam Cunningham, a 2010 inductee into College Football Hall of Fame and the New England Patriots Hall of Fame, died Tuesday in Inglewood, Calif. He was 71.

In a statement, Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft mourned the loss of the former USC first-team All-American fullback and franchise rushing leader while commending the ground broken.

”We are deeply saddened to learn of yet another loss to the Patriots family this week and our hearts ache for Sam Cunningham’s family and all who are mourning his passing today,” Kraft’s statement read. “Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham was one of my favorite players throughout the ‘70s and my sons all loved him. After I bought the team in 1994, it was my honor to welcome him back to the team on multiple occasions, recognizing him as a 50th anniversary team member and again for his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame.

“As much as I admired him as a player, my affection for him only grew after spending time with him and learning more about him as a person. He made a tremendous impact, both on and off the field, and was beloved by his teammates. As a Patriots Hall of Famer, Sam’s legacy and contributions will be preserved and celebrated forever, but today his loss is felt with heavy hearts.”

Cunningham was one of three Black starters in the 1970 USC backfield, alongside running back Clarence Davis and quarterback Jimmy Jones, as the Trojans defeated head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 42-21 in Birmingham. He would go on to win a national championship in 1972, and scored four touchdowns to set what remains a modern-day Rose Bowl record.

Drafted No. 11 overall by the Patriots in 1973, Cunningham appeared in 107 games across nine NFL seasons.

A 1978 Pro Bowl selection and member of the Patriots 50th anniversary team, Cunningham finished his tenure having totaled 5,453 rushing yards, 1,905 receiving yards and 49 touchdowns.