Ole Miss lost another football legend Tuesday morning with the passing of Doug Cunningham, 69, of Jackson, Mississippi. Arrangements are incomplete.
Cunningham, who was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame last July and the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, earned three varsity letters in football (1964-66), while helping the Rebels participate in three bowl games, including a 13-7 win over Auburn in the Liberty Bowl. He also lettered in track at Ole Miss as a member of 440-yard relay unit in 1965.
“What impressed me about Doug Cunningham so much was how humble he was,” said former Ole Miss running back Deuce McAllister, who was also inducted with Cunningham into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame last July. “I saw his statistics at Ole Miss and in the NFL. I saw the film of him running. He was one of those guys who played decades ago who could still play today. He was that fast, that good. My condolences to his family. He was a special guy.”
During his career at Ole Miss, Cunningham played tailback as a sophomore and senior and wingback as a junior. He was an Associated Press first-team All-SEC selection in 1966 when he was co-captain of Coach John Vaught’s team that finished 8-3, including an appearance in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
Cunningham was an explosive player, known for his ability to change the complexion of games as he averaged 8.8 yards every time he touched the football.
Playing in an era when bowl games didn’t count and teams scheduled only 10 regular- season games, Cunningham still capped his Ole Miss career with 2,928 yards on 333 attempts (including kickoff and punt returns, rushes and pass receptions) and 13 touchdowns.
Although an outstanding back on offense, Cunningham made his mark as a kick returner and ranks third in school history for career punt return yards with 941 on 81 returns, with three TDs, as he averaged 11.6 yards per return while leading the Rebs in that category all three years. His eight punt returns against Southern Mississippi in 1966 was a school record until Marshay Green returned nine against Mississippi State in 2008.
Vaught wanted to keep Cunningham at wingback where he was a major threat as a runner, pass target and decoy, but his switch to tailback gave the Rebels a tremendous running threat, which was primarily responsible for the 17-0 win over a good Kentucky defense in 1966. His 57-yard TD punt return and his one-yard TD rush brought Ole Miss from behind to post a 14-7 victory over upset-minded Southern Mississippi in 1966.
During his Ole Miss career, Cunningham rushed for 840 yards and eight TDs and had 39 receptions for 259 yards and one TD.
At one time, Cunningham held the Rebel single-game record for most kickoff return yards with 134 on three returns against Mississippi State in 1964, an average of 44.7 yards per return. His 44.7 yards per return average for three or more returns in a game still ranks second best all-time behind Deuce McAllister’s 52.7 against Arkansas in 1999.
He ranks 13th in career kickoff returns with 35 for 888 yards, an average of 25.4 yards per return, and his 25.4 yards per kickoff return average ranks third all-time at Ole Miss.
After playing in the 1967 Senior Bowl, Cunningham was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round of 1967 National Football League draft. He then played eight years in the NFL, seven years (1967-73) with the 49ers and one year (1974) with the Washington Redskins.
During his eight years in the NFL, Cunningham played in 84 games, had 1,515 rushing yards on 406 carries and scored 10 TDs. He also caught 137 passes for another 1,171 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per reception, had 30 punt returns for 272 yards and 68 kickoff returns for 1,613 yards, averaging 23.7 yards per kickoff return.
Born on September 14, 1945 in Louisville, Mississippi, Cunningham graduated from Louisville High School in 1963 after earning All-Southern, All-State and All-Conference honors during his senior season in 1962. Coached in high school by Fred Morris, he was selected Most Valuable Player in the Choctaw Conference in 1962 when Louisville High won the league championship.
Courtesy of Ole Miss Sports Information