Former Clemson, Steelers’ star still battling for his life

Former Clemson, Steelers’ star still battling for his life

Football

Former Clemson, Steelers’ star still battling for his life

Cunningham sends an encouraging message to Tiger fans

Former Clemson tight end, and two-time Super Bowl Champion, Bennie Cunningham is still in a Cleveland area hospital and will undergo a procedure Thursday to help with the cancer he is battling.

Cunningham asks for everyone’s continued prayers.

Cunningham, who was Clemson’s first ever Consensus All-American in 1974, told The Clemson Insider last week that he was in the Cleveland Clinic fighting for his life after being diagnosed with cancer. He did not say what kind of cancer he is fighting.

In the message, he asked for prayers, which got a great response from the Clemson community as well as from Pittsburgh, where he played in the NFL for 11 seasons. Cunningham reached out to TCI again Thursday morning and reported he is still fighting hard for his life. However, he wants all the Clemson fans and Steelers Nation to know that he appreciates all the prayers and support he has received in the last week.

“I have surgery today. I am in pain right now,” Cunningham said in a text message. “But I am going to smile for your prayers. I believe there is power in prayer.”

Cunningham became Clemson’s first Consensus All-American in history as he led the Tigers to a 7-4 overall record and to a second place finish in the ACC in 1974. That year, Cunningham caught a then school-record for touchdown receptions in a season with 7. He finished the year with 24 catches for 391 yards (16.3 ypc.).

In 1975, Cunningham became Clemson’s first-ever two-time All-American after earning First-Team honors for a second straight year. He averaged 17.3 yards per catch and scored 2 touchdowns that season.

Cunningham was later drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 28th overall pick in the 1976 NFL Draft. At the time, he was just the fourth former Tiger selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and the first one since offensive tackle Lou Cordileone was taken with the 12th pick in the 1960 NFL Draft.

At Pittsburgh, Cunningham became the Steelers’ all-time leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns by a tight end, marks he held until just recently when former Steelers’ tight end Heath Miller passed him on all three lists.

During his career with the Steelers, Cunningham played in 118 games and caught 202 passes for 2,879 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Cunningham was a part of two Super Bowl teams in Pittsburgh and in 2007 he was named to the Steelers’ 75th Anniversary Team.

A standout at nearby Seneca (S.C.) High School, Cunningham is also a member of the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame and was named to Clemson’s Centennial Team in 1996 and in 1999 was named one of Clemson’s 25 greatest players ever.

Recently, Cunningham, now 63, was named to the Seneca High School inaugural Hall of Fame Class. After his football career was over, Cunningham returned to the Seneca-Clemson area where he became a career-guidance counselor at West-Oak High School in Westminster, S.C., until he retired there a few years back.

–Photo courtesy Clemson Athletic Communications Department

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