From the Patriots PR Department:
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots announced that the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, affectionately known as Sam “Bam” Cunningham, will be the 2010 inductee into the team’s hall of fame. A public ceremony will be held outside The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon on Thursday, Aug. 12, prior to the team’s 2010 preseason debut against the New Orleans Saints. The event is free and Patriots fans are encouraged to attend.
“As a fan, I loved Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. “He was an old school fullback who would punish would-be tacklers, yet his signature carry was the one where he would leap over the line of scrimmage at the goal line to score a touchdown. Last year, when we honored him for his selection to the 50th Anniversary Team, was the first time he had returned to New England in 27 years. I look forward to welcoming him back again this year to honor him as one of the greatest players in franchise history.”
Thirteen players earned Patriots Hall of Fame induction before Jim Nance became the team’s first running back to be selected to the hall of fame last year. Now, the run on running backs continues with the second consecutive selection at the position. Cunningham is the 15th player to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
A consensus All-America running back who helped Southern Cal win a national championship in 1972, Cunningham was drafted 11th overall by the Patriots in 1973, the second of three first round picks joining John Hannah (4th overall) and Darryl Stingley (19th). The 6-foot-2, 233-pound fullback led the team and set a rookie rushing record for the Patriots that year with 516 yards and four touchdowns. The following year, he was averaging 4.9 yards per carry and over 80 yards per game before a broken leg abruptly ended his season after just 10 games. Despite missing the final four games of the season, Cunningham was still selected as the team’s MVP. He finished the year with 811 yards on 166 carries with 9 touchdowns, just 14 yards shy of the team lead. It marked the only season in his first seven seasons with the Patriots that he didn’t lead the team in rushing. In 1976, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry to lead the Patriots to one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history, as the Patriots rebounded from a 3-11 finish in 1975 to qualify for the playoffs with an 11-3 record the following year. Cunningham had his best statistical season in 1977 when he became just the second player in franchise history to rush for over 1,000 yards (1,015). He also led the team in receiving that season with 42 receptions for a career-high 370 yards. While 1977 was his best statistical season individually, the following year’s contributions are the ones that remain in the NFL record book 31 years later. That was when Cunningham led a quartet of rushers who powered the Patriots to a combined team rushing record of 3,165 yards, an NFL record that still stands today.
Cunningham surpassed last year’s hall of fame inductee, Jim Nance, as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher in 1981 and completed his 9-year career the next year. Twenty-eight years later, he remains the franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 5,543 yards on 1,385 carries and ranks second with 43 career rushing touchdowns. He rushed for over 100 yards 11 times during his career.
Beginning in 2007, the Patriots started a new hall of fame tradition, inducting one player or head coach into The Hall at Patriot Place each year. The process for induction now involves a panel of media, alumni and staff who collectively nominate the candidates they feel are the most deserving of induction. After the nominations are made and discussed, the committee votes and the top three tallies become that year’s finalists. The Patriots then give their fans the opportunity to vote online to select each year’s winner.
Earlier this year, a 22-person nomination committee met at The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon to discuss this year’s candidates for induction. Those votes were tallied and the three finalists were Houston Antwine, Sam Cunningham and Jon Morris. Fans had the opportunity to vote from mid April through May 31.
About The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon
The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon is the crown jewel of Patriot Place and the only sports and education experience of its kind. Through a dazzling array of interactive multimedia exhibits and artifacts never before viewable by the public, The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon showcases the tradition of the New England Patriots, explores the history of football in New England, and promotes math and science education for thousands of schoolchildren each year. In 2009, The Hall received a Gold MUSE Award from the American Association of Museums and The Hall’s signature film, “Patriots Way,” won a CINE Golden Eagle Award. The Hall was named to Boston Globe Magazine’s Best of the New, and was a Yankee magazine Editor’s Choice recommendation. For more information, please visit www.thehallatpatriotplace.com.
About the Patriots Hall of Fame
The Patriots Hall of Fame was officially formed in 1991 after John Hannah became the first Patriots player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Prior to 1991, the only honor bestowed a former player was to retire the player’s number. With the hall of fame, the Patriots created a new way of honoring their greatest players. But it wasn’t until 2008, with the opening of The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon, that Patriots players, past and present, truly had a place to call home that they could share with their fans. Now, enshrinement into The Hall is an honor befitting of the franchise’s greatest players, with 30-foot video pylons displaying each enshrinee.
Beginning in 2007, fans became part of the hall of fame tradition and active participants in the selection process. In the first year of the new hall of fame voting process, a nomination committee presented Ron Burton, Ben Coates and Stanley Morgan as finalists. That year, the fans selected Morgan for induction. In 2008, the committee nominated Ben Coates, Jon Morris and Jim Nance and Coates became the 13th player to be inducted in the Patriots Hall of Fame. Last year, Jim Nance was selected over Jon Morris and Houston Antwine.
Cunningham joins 14 other Patriots greats and one contributor as a member of the New England Patriots Hall of Fame (listed in alphabetical order below with year of induction):
PATRIOTS HALL OF FAME
Players are listed in order of their induction
Player Pos. Years Enshrined
John Hannah* G 1973-1985 1991
Nick Buoniconti* LB 1962-1968 1992
Gino Cappelletti WR/K 1960-1970 1992
Bob Dee DE 1960-1967 1993
Jim Lee Hunt DT 1960-1971 1993
Steve Nelson LB 1974-1987 1993
Vito “Babe” Parilli QB 1961-1967 1993
Mike Haynes* CB 1976-1982 1994
Steve Grogan QB 1975-1990 1995
Andre Tippett* LB 1982-1993 1999
Bruce Armstrong T 1987-2000 2001
Stanley Morgan WR 1977-1989 2007
Ben Coates TE 1991-1999 2008
Jim Nance FB 1965-1971 2009
Sam Cunningham FB 1973-79, 81-82 2010
William H. “Billy” Sullivan, Jr. 2009
* indicates Pro Football Hall of Famers