Clemson University

Former Clemson, Steelers great Bennie Cunningham dies from cancer

Bennie Cunningham
Bennie Cunningham

Former Clemson All-American and Steelers Super Bowl winner Bennie Cunningham has lost his battle with cancer.

Cunningham died Monday morning at the age of 63, Clemson announced in a release.

Cunningham died at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. He had been fighting cancer and was in the Cleveland Clinic since early January.

The Seneca native played for the Tigers from 1972-75, earning All-American honors for the Tigers in 1974 and 1975.

Cunningham is arguably the greatest tight end in ACC history as he was the only tight end chosen to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Team in 2003, which named the top 50 players in league history. He completed his Clemson career with 64 receptions for 1,044 yards and 17 touchdowns. His seven touchdown receptions in 1974 stood as a Clemson record for a tight end until 2011 when Dwayne Allen had eight.

“Bennie Cunningham was one of our greatest players, arguably the greatest tight end in our history and ACC history,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said in a release. “He set the standard for players at that position. But, more importantly was the way he represented Clemson as a professional athlete and in his life after football. With his passing, the Clemson football program remembers him and his family with highest regard today."

Cunningham was drafted in the first round of the 1976 NFL draft by the Steelers and went on to play for Pittsburgh from 1976-85.

He won a pair of Super Bowl titles during his time with the Steelers and finished with 202 catches for 2,879 yards and 20 touchdowns during his NFL career.

Cunningham returned to the Clemson area after his playing days and earned an undergraduate degree and a masters degree in secondary education. He had a long career as a guidance counselor at West Oak High School in Westminster.

Clemson ranked Cunningham No. 13 on its "25 Greatest Players Of The 20th Century" list published in 1999. Here's what Clemson said about him in that published report:

"Bennie Cunningham remains the most decorated tight end in Clemson history. A native of nearby Seneca, SC, Cunningham was a two-time first-team All-American at Clemson in 1974 and 1975, one of just 12 multi-year All-Americans in school history."

Cunningham was a pro scouts dream. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, he could run like a deer, yet run over the opposition in heavy traffic. In addition to his great hands and quickness, he was a devastating blocker. Cunningham first came on the scene in 1973 when he started all 11 games and caught 22 passes for 341 yards. He also averaged 6.6 yards a rush on 11 carries as a runner.

In 1974, Clemson's season long slogan was "Excitement Galore in '74". Cunningham did his part in the 7-4 season that included a perfect 6-0 home record, with seven touchdown receptions among his 24 catches, the most touchdown receptions ever by a Clemson tight end and one of the top five totals nationally that season for tight ends. Cunningham was named a first-team AP All-American that season.

The Tigers stumbled a bit in 1975 with a young offense, but Cunningham still averaged 17-yards a catch, an incredible average for a tight end. After the season he was named a first-team All-American by Sporting News for the second straight year, then was a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, still the only Clemson tight end in history be a first-round draft choice.

Cunningham might have had an even better NFL career. He caught over 200 passes for the Steelers in his 10-year NFL career and was a starter on two Super Bowl Championship teams."

Watch the Clemson football team run down the hill into Memorial Stadium in this 360 video.