Patriots

‘We’ve lost two great Patriots here in the last week’: Bill Belichick offered his thoughts on Sam Cunningham’s death

"Sam had a great college career and pro career here in New England."

Sam Cunningham Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick offered his thoughts on Wednesday afternoon regarding the death of Patriots great Sam Cunningham. Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

Bill Belichick never coached late Patriots star Sam Cunningham during the fullback’s nine-year NFL career, and he’s grateful he only coached against Cunningham sparingly as an opponent.

On Tuesday, Cunningham died at age 71 in California. Cunningham, who is the Patriots’ all-time leading rusher, is credited with helping integrate football programs in the South after helping USC beat Alabama in 1970 with a dominant performance.

In the NFL, Cunningham made the 1978 Pro Bowl and finished his nine-year career with 5,453 rushing yards, 210 receptions for 1,905 yards, and 49 touchdowns.

On Wednesday, Belichick was asked about Cunningham’s death and what he meant to the Patriots’ organization.

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Belichick thanked the reporter for the question.

“Sam had a great college career and pro career here in New England,” Belichick said. “I never coached Sam, and I only played against him a couple of times. He was in, of course, the AFC when we were in the NFC with the Giants, so we didn’t really, fortunately, cross paths too much with him. Big fullback in a two-back era where fullbacks now are, the few of them that there are, are primarily blockers whereas in that day, going back to Jim Brown and Jim Taylor and a bunch of other fullbacks, those guys were ball carriers. Franco Harris and Sam was that, so he could block. He could run. He had great size.

“It’s sad. We’ve lost two great Patriots here in the last week.”

The other Patriots player was former wide receiver David Patten, who died at 47 in a motorcycle accident on Sept. 2. Tom Brady called Patten “a great man on and off the field.”

USC coach Clay Helton tweeted about Cunningham’s death on Tuesday.

“Extremely saddened by the loss of a college football legend,” Helton wrote. “As good a man as he was a player. Thank you Sam for being the example of what a Trojan should be. You will be missed but never forgotten.”

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