Patriots great Sam Cunningham, the franchise’s rushing leader, dies at 71

Phil Sandlin
Sam Cunningham, seen in a 1977 game against the Dolphins, rushed for 5,453 yards in his career. Phil Sandlin

Sam Cunningham, the Patriots’ career rushing leader, died Tuesday in California at the age of 71.

Cunningham, a first-round pick of the Patriots in 1973 out of Southern Cal, rushed for 5,453 yards in nine seasons for New England.

The bruising fullback was the leader of one of the best single-season rushing attacks of all time. The 1978 Patriots rushed for 3,165 yards as a team, setting a record that stood until 2019, when the Ravens rushed for 3,296 yards.

Cunningham was one of four players on that 1978 team who finished with 500 or more yards, ending the season with 768.

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