USC has had many outstanding players throughout the years.
We have been blessed to have had so many great players represent the program both during and after their time at USC.
We all have our favorites, regardless of era. But Sam Cunningham transcends eras because of the barriers he broke. The unassuming Cunningham had no idea how he would become one of the catalysts of change.
Given the state of affairs in the south back in the 1970's African-American athletes were a rarity.
When he suited up that night, USC's Sam Cunningham didn't think he'd touch the ball at all against the Tide. As a fullback in coach John McKay's tailback-focused offense—and a sophomore backup at that—carrying the ball was neither his job nor his station. And he sure wasn't thinking about the historical significance of the day: This was the first time a fully integrated team had come to play Alabama in the South.
"It wasn't the first time I'd played an all-white football team, so that didn't bother me at all," says Mr. Cunningham, who is black. "It was my first road trip, first varsity game. I was more concerned about getting a chance to play and not making any mistakes."
Great things tend to happen when you least expect it.
Cunningham certainly didn't suit up that expecting to seek change...as he said above, he didn't even expect to touch the ball much that night.
Cunnigham has proven to be humble through much of the mythology and lore of that night.
I would expect the following to make him wince a little bit...
Mr. Cunningham is famously said to have done more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King Jr. did in 20 years. Aside from whether he did or not, the quote is alternately attributed to Mr. Bryant and two former assistants. "I've been here 20 years," says Taylor Watson, curator of the Paul W. Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa, "and I've never been able to figure it out."
I am not sure that I completely agree, but I understand the message that above passage is trying to convey.
Some eyes were opened, some hearts were softened, but in the grand view of the American civil rights movement, as a whole, this is but a small aspect of it.
I would bet that Sam Cunningham would agree.
But if we are only talking about sports, this was a BIG deal. Cunningham has handled that historic night with grace and aplomb. He hasn't stood on a soapbox and milked it. Cunningham has shown his humbleness and is grateful for the opportunity that he was given at USC.
Cunningham has and continues to represent USC and his sport extremely well.
He is an awesome example of how to accept and handle delicate situations as they are presented.