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Hall of Famer Cunningham recalls historic game vs. 'Bama

NEW YORK — It was years after Sam Cunningham ran roughshod over the last all-white Alabama football team that he understood the significance of the game between USC and Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide in 1970.

"I realized that it was something very, very special when I'd be around black men who grew up in the Deep South and grew up underneath the culture of the time and they would get to talking about it," he said Tuesday. "I'd see the sparkle and joy … in their eyes and their voices. That prompted me to understand how important it was and how historic it was."

Cunningham, a sophomore, ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries that day in Birmingham, and USC won 42-21. The next year, Bryant's team was integrated.

It was the first game of what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career for Cunningham, who was among 14 former players and coaches to be inducted in the college hall at the National Football Foundation's award banquet Tuesday night.

Among the other inductees were the late Pat Tillman of Arizona State, former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez and 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard of Michigan.

The story of Cunningham's game against Alabama has grown into the stuff of legends — not all of it verified.

Bryant had reportedly planned to start integrating his team, and he scheduled the game with USC to prove a point to the Alabama fans who were resistant to the idea.

Bryant had begun recruiting black players, and one of the first black players at Alabama, Wilbur Jackson, was at Legion Field that September day when the Trojans came in with coach John McKay, who later coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Little did I know so much was riding on this game, and little did I know I was going to get a chance to play," said Cunningham, 60. "My motivation that day was to play and play well just to get a chance to play another day, but it went way beyond that."

He added: "It has afforded a lot of black athletes the opportunity to play wherever they want to play."

Wannstedt out at Pitt: Coach Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure, three days after finishing a 7-5 season by beating Cincinnati 28-10. Wannstedt, who went 42-31 in six seasons, will remain as a special assistant to athletic director Steve Pederson. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. likely will coach against Kentucky in the Jan. 8 Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Paterno on Florida: In his younger days, Penn State coach Joe Paterno came to Florida for party-packed trips to Marco Island. "When I was single, I used to chase the girls," he said. The next trip for Paterno, 83, will be more serious: Penn State (7-5) faces Florida (7-5) in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Paterno hopes the Nittany Lions can keep up with the Gators. "The one thing that comes at you is the speed; I don't think we can match their speed," he said. " … We need it to rain, and the field will get nice and sloppy and maybe it won't be as prominent of a factor as it can be."

Awards: Texas A&M's Von Miller won the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker. … Texas defensive end Sam Acho won the William V. Campbell Trophy as the top scholar-athlete.

USC-UCLA brawl: Three more people were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder in a fan brawl before Saturday's USC-UCLA game at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena police said. Arthur Cisneros, 25, Anthony Cisneros, 22, and Akira Cisneros, 24 — children of Arturo Cisneros, 44, who was arrested then released — were taken into custody Monday evening. No charges have been filed. One of two men stabbed was still in the hospital.

Army: Coach Rich Ellerson received a two-year extension through 2015.

Indiana: The Hoosiers introduced Kevin Wilson as coach and gave him a seven-year, $8.4 million deal.

Iowa: Receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was suspended from team activities after his arrest on drug charges, coach Kirk Ferentz said.

.Fast facts

Hall of Fame class

Former players

• Dennis Byrd, N.C. State

• Ronnie Caveness, Arkansas

• Ray Childress, Texas A&M

• Randy Cross, UCLA

• Sam Cunningham, USC

• Mark Herrmann, Purdue

• Clarkston Hines, Duke

• Desmond Howard, Michigan

• Chet Moeller, Navy

• Jerry Stovall, LSU

• Pat Tillman, Arizona State

• Alfred Williams, Colorado

Former coaches

• Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin

• Gene Stallings, Texas A&M, Alabama

Hall of Famer Cunningham recalls historic game vs. 'Bama 12/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 11:54pm]
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