Sports Q: Who is the best running back in Patriots history?

Sam Cunningham and Jim Nance both represent good options, but could there be another answer?

ops photo by  Frank O'Brien b&w December 2, 1973
Sam Cunningham breaks Leon Gray (70) ready to assist
Sam Cunningham breaks off a run with Leon Gray ready to assist –photo by Frank O'Brien

Welcome to Boston.com’s Sports Q, our daily conversation, initiated by you and moderated by Chad Finn, about a compelling topic in Boston sports. Here’s how it works: You submit questions to Chad through TwitterFacebook, and email. He’ll pick one each weekday to answer, then we’ll take the discussion to the comments. Chad will stop by several times per day to navigate. But you drive the conversation. 

Who is the best running back in Patriots history? It’s kind of a tough question because they haven’t had that guy who ran for a 1,000 yards a season for 10 years and would be an obvious choice. I think you have to go with Corey Dillon, who was a monster for the 2004 Super Bowl team. But he was here just three years. Who is your choice? – Charles T.

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Well, if you’re just going by the numbers, I suppose it has to be either Sam Cunningham or Jim Nance. Sam Bam, who played for the Pats from 1973-79 and ’81-’82 (he sat out 1980 in a contract dispute), is the all-time leading rusher with 5,453 yards, which even given the depth they had at running back in those days really isn’t a lot over nine seasons.

Nance is the second-leading rusher (5,323 yards) and all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (45, two more than Cunningham). He played for the Patriots from 1965-71.

My pick is another short-timer, and one who should have been here much longer: Curtis Martin. He played just three seasons (1995-’97)  as a Patriot before Bill Parcells pilfered him away to the Jets, where he went on to shatter all of their rushing records (the Hall of Famer ran for 10,302 yards and 58 touchdowns in the green-and-white).

Despite playing just 45 games as a Patriot – the same number as Danny Woodhead, Laurence Maroney, and Antowain Smith – he ranks fourth in yardage (3,799, behind Cunningham, Nance, and Tony Collins), but first in yards per game (84.4, 10.4 more than Dillon, who is second).

The Patriots haven’t had a back that was more fun to watch, and man was he a big-game player. Had Parcells remembered to give him the ball a little more in the Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Packers, that might not have been a loss.

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Curtis Martin was a Patriot for far too brief a period. But he remains the best back they’ve ever had.

What does everyone else think? Who is the best running back in Patriots history? I’ll hear you in the comments.