Former USC Fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham Reflects on Playing Against Alabama [Audio]
On a "Throwback Thursday" edition of The Game presented by Brion Hardin Construction, former USC Trojan fullback Sam Cunningham joined Ryan Fowler to look back at his playing days in Los Angeles and what it was like playing against the Crimson Tide during the hay day of Alabama football.
When Cunningham played for the Trojans in the early 1970s, it was a time of civil and racial unrest throughout the South and also in the rest of the country. This would be the first fully integrated football team to play a game in the state of Alabama. Many of the black players on USC's squad were leery of coming to Legion Field in Birmingham to play a football game, but he was confident and comfortable that the Alabama head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant would make sure they could play the game and be welcomed with respect.
"I figured if they scheduled a game in the Deep South, that they were going to watch out for us and take care of us because those times in that era was pretty dicey. But I figured everything would be squared away, that was just because I was so young and possibly naive, but nothing ever happened and I believe that was because of the greatness of Coach Bryant."
Coach Bryant's greatness transcended well past the gridiron, but even still, there was the possibility of an incident occurring. Tensions were high in the state of Alabama, but everyone was able to enjoy two of college football's blue blood programs do battle on the field.
"The game was two years after Dr. King was assassinated, it was in the middle of the Vietnam War, it was civil rights stuff going on all the time... but it turned out, nothing happened except a great football game that left its mark on college football."
Cunningham is now a USC legend, but early in his career in L.A., he wasn't a starter for John McKay's team. In the 1970 game versus the Crimson Tide, he didn't start that game, but he was an integral part of the Trojans' 42-21 victory over the Crimson Tide, running for 135 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries.
"I didn't start, that's what was so crazy about it, I was like the backup fullback and normally in our offense, the fullbacks didn't carry the ball very often, and for some unknown reason that evening, Charlie Evans, who was the starter, myself and Bill Holland, we were able to carry the ball a lot more than we normally did as fullbacks."
Playing for USC at that time was similar to playing for Alabama now, in that competition ran rampant in the program, and that increased the quality of football that fans saw on the field, but also pushed those players to be the best players that they could be.
"I didn't want to make any mistakes because we were so competitive in our program, if you made mistakes, you probably didn't get a chance to play very much anymore. So, in my short time in being a Trojan, I understood that philosophy so therefore, my mindset was if I got a chance to play was to play well, not make any mistakes, so I could get a chance to play the following Saturday."
You can listen to Cunningham talking more about playing against the Tide below, and you can head over to the podcast center to hear the interview in its entirety.