Doug Cunningham
1945 - 2015
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Doug Cunningham

Jackson

Doug Cunningham, an Ole Miss and NFL football great and Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, died Tuesday, Jan. 13. Cunningham, a native of Louisville and resident of Jackson, was 69. Over the last five years, he suffered complications from dementia.

After his football career Cunningham was a popular Jackson restaurateur, known for his graciousness, charm and wit, operating both Gridley's and Swensons.

As a halfback, wingback and kick returner at Ole Miss, Cunningham averaged nine yards per time he touched the ball over three varsity seasons. In 1966, he led Ole Miss to an 8-3 record and was named All-Southeastern Conference.

His combination of pure speed and elusiveness made him one of the most dangerous open field runners in Mississippi football annals. You would never know it from talking to Cunningham, who was as modest as he was quick and fast.

In 1966, Ole Miss trailed Southern Miss 7-0 in the fourth quarter. USM had never beaten Ole Miss but seemed well on its way. Then, USM made the mistake of punting to Cunningham. Years later, John Grisham, the famous author, wrote about Cunningham's return: …The Rebel Return Man, Doug Cunningham, No. 22, sprang from nowhere, took the ball, and was immediately surrounded by white jerseys. He was hit, broke a tackle, hit again, shook himself free, darted one way then the other, and suddenly emerged from a pile of humanity with his legs pumping, his knees high in the air, his hips twisting, and two blockers in front of him. The crowd erupted. Cunningham cut to the sideline… and hit the afterburners. For a few brief seconds, time that is still frozen in my memory, Doug Cunningham galloped toward the north end zone with unmatched speed, and crossed the goal line all alone. He circled by a fence, long since removed, and nonchalantly flipped the ball to the official. No bodily gyrations. No ripping off his helmet so the world could see him. No showy prayer. No struggling or somersaults. Just a casual little lateral of the ball, as if he had been in the end zone before.

Cunningham and famed football coach Steve Spurrier were rookie teammates together with the San Francisco 49ers. Said Spurrier, "When we all first saw Doug run, nobody on the team could believe how fast he was." Spurrier said.

He was a sixth round draft choice of the 49ers, and, as a rookie, was nicknamed "Goober" because his teammates thought he sounded like Goober in the Andy Griffith TV show.

Sports Illustrated's Ron Fimrite, then a young San Francisco sports writer, described Cunningham's performance in a game against the Minnesota Vikings in which Cunningham had a 64-yard run from scrimmage and a 57-yard punt return. Wrote Fimrite:

It was not just the length of these runs but the manner in which they were accomplished that endeared the little man to us all. Both were fraught with danger along the way. Cunningham spun, dodged, bounced off tacklers, then fled for his life… It was just damned good drama…

Cunningham was as popular off the field as on it. He was elected Colonel Rebel, the equivalent of Mr. Ole Miss, as a senior.

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.

Cunningham was preceded in death by his parents, Margaret and Julian Cunningham and brother, Stanley Cunningham.

He is survived by his wife, Allen Townes Cunningham and sisters, Sherry (Tim) Byrne of Flowood, Madalyn (Steve) Hindman of Jackson, Janice (Bobby) Adkinson of Starkville and Lisa Speier of Denver.

Funeral services will be at noon Friday at Covenant Presbyterian, preceded by a 10 a.m. visitation. A graveside service will be held at Memorial Park Cemetery in Louisville at 3:30 p.m.






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Published in Clarion Ledger on Jan. 15, 2015.
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Memories & Condolences
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40 entries
April 17, 2015
Allen,

So sorry to hear of the loss of your husband!!

Kirby Crain (Mobil) (214) 966-0052
February 10, 2015
Doug you were a great friend and boss. I worked for you in the ice cream sweat shop known as Swensons. May heaven have a cigar and Miller pony on your arrival. RIP.
Ken Richarson
January 26, 2015
Allen, Lisa, and Julie,
My prayers and sympathy are with you and the whole family. Doug was a great guy in every aspect of his life.
Louise Burney Tyner
January 19, 2015
My deepest condolances to the entire family. I grew up on the Ole Miss campus where my parents taught and have fond memories of a very kind football player who gave me his #22 jersey after the Memphis State game in 1965. I paraded that jersey for years. Both my brother Charles Getchell and I are saddened to learn of Doug's passing.
Ellen Getchell Bierlein
January 19, 2015
My heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family of Doug. I had the pleasure of helping him open Swensens while I was in high school. He was so humble and kind, I am so grateful my life was touched by a legend on and off the field. Rest in peace Doug.
Debbie Nader Mcmanus
January 16, 2015
Prayers for this sweet family. Doug was a real hero to us from Winston County. May he rest in sweet peace.
Jimmy Thompson
January 16, 2015
Allen, I am so sorry. I am thankful you have been blessed with a great husband and a wonderful guy. Doug could not have found a finer lady than you, Allen. Y'all are so special. I am glad I got to see Doug inducted into the Hall of Fame. What a special time for y'all. I am thinking about you and offer my sincerest love and support.
Jack Harris
January 16, 2015
It was an honor to have known Doug and I am grateful to him for giving me my very first job at Gridley's. He taught me lessons which I have passed down to my own child. I miss hearing him sing along with the oldies music and sure do miss the good times and laughter! Sending wishes for peace and comfort in the coming days and weeks ahead.
Kim Crawford Collins
January 16, 2015
To all the Cunningham's I am so sorry for your loss. I am very happy though that I was able to have a small sliver of Doug's big life be a part of mine. Any time a story is told involving Doug everyone gets to have a great laugh because he always made things fun! He was a really great guy and I enjoyed working for him and being his friend! The world isn't quite as happy a place without him!
Craig Cotton
January 16, 2015
Dear Allen,

Though we've never met, I've known Douglass and Madalyn since 1965, when Steve and I were on the OM freshman team. The last time I saw Doug was around 25 years ago at his restaurant. He was truly one of the nicest, most 'down-to-earth' guys I've ever known-much like Archie. My heart goes out to you, and Madalyn & Steve.

In Him,
Miller Hartzog, B.R.,LA (via Meridian & Oxford)[Jn.14:6]
January 16, 2015
I remember Doug's exploits on the football field at Louisville and Ole Miss and they were certainly many. However, I really remember the many ham and cheese poboys at Gridley's; the best ever. Plus you got to talk with Doug about Winston County. My thoughts and prayers are certainly with the family.
David Holloway
January 16, 2015
Our condolences to your family over the loss of Doug. He was a great person.
Jerry and Gale Marsicek Hill
January 16, 2015
Al gave me a call yesterday to tell me of your loss. So sorry. He was just plain "too young". But, God obviously thought not. Know that prayers are with you all. I think Doug might have been my first Jr. High crush! So handsome and the football star that he was! Just maybe he can be the punt returner on Heavens' team now!! Shirley Ray Turner. Olive Branch, Mississippi
January 15, 2015
Thank you dear man for your integrity, sincerity, joy of life, laughter, love of food, zest, precious spirit, humility, faith, and love for all. Douglas, you will be missed. I pray that God's peace and understanding encompasses Allen and the Cunningham family.
Sandra Williams
January 15, 2015
I had the pleasure of meeting Doug and interviewing him for the Mississippi college newspaper The Collegian. He was very humble and witty. I also enjoyed speaking to his wife. They were a very pleasant and kind couple. The NFL and Mississippi lost a great man!
Candice smith
January 15, 2015
Allen, I just want you to know I am so sorry for your loss. Wish I had been able to meet Doug. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.
Love you, Jeanette Guillory
Jeanette Guillory
January 15, 2015
I read all the guest book entries before writing mine.I did not play football with Doug, but we talked numerous times while in high school. Doug was a great athlete and a class person with a wonderful family that was well respected. I will always remember the football feats as well as his track accomplishments. Doug always had a smile and something nice to say to you.
My sincere condolences go to the entire family. He has scored on another long run. Kenny Holland, Gulfport, Ms.
Kenny Holland
January 15, 2015
My first 'real' job was working at Swensen's. I was so scared to meet Doug since I was not a good waitress and I knew it and knew it was only a matter of time before Doug had words with me about it.I had 2 brothers, James and Billy, who worked there as well and they told me if he ever yelled at me then I should cry. This is exactly what I did and I must say it worked! He was so nice to me after that!He was an important figure in my family's life for years. I am glad to have known him and very sorry for his family's loss.
Josie Saxton
January 15, 2015
My condolances to the Cunningham family. I met Doug at Ole Miss and always admired him. What a wonderful man.
Charles Caperton '67
January 15, 2015
One of my first Rebel heroes. Met him at Gridleys years later. We visited and I reminded him he ran the 100 yard dash in 9.7 seconds and I even remembered at the time how many yards he averaged on punt returns at Ole Miss. He was amazed that I remembered all that after some 40 years, especially for someone who grew up in Shreveport. Doug was very friendly and easy to visit with. Seeing this obituary made me stop my day. Very sad to see the end of this great Rebel. RIP
Mike Fulco
January 15, 2015
Allen, I was so sorry to hear of Doug's sudden passing. Anthony and I enjoyed so much the time we were all able to spend together and we have loved getting to know both of you. You're both such precious people. I know your heart is broken by the loss and I pray for peace and comfort for you in the coming days.
Sharon Smith
January 15, 2015
Doug was a guy that had a big heart. He gave many people breaks when they needed one. One of those people is me. I appreciate knowing him after he let me work for him at Gridley's. He will be missed. HT, Doug. God bless your family.
greg miles
January 15, 2015
Thank you for hiring me and all the lessons of life I will never forget!
January 15, 2015
God Blessed Doug and will continue to Bless his family. Our Prayers are with all of you. A great man among all.
Travis Vance
January 15, 2015
Got to train and help doug during his many years here in jackson when he worked out at the courthouse fitness centers. Great guy,frequented his restaurants alot and we had alot of great times talking about ole miss football. A great rebel legend will be missed but not forgotten.
gordon weir
January 15, 2015
Sorry for your loss prayers for the family.
Diane Kirk-hicks
January 15, 2015
Last goal line Douglas. God bless you.
Teammate and Friend
Lee Castle, '63
Lee Castle
January 15, 2015
Doug it was a joy to know you and to see your smiling face when l came through your door you will always be dear to my heart l will miss you, Love Deborah Hawkins
Deborah Hawkins
January 15, 2015
Doug Cunningham was so modest. All of the years I knew him, I knew he was a long time football player but never knew until now how great and what a legend he actually was. I met Doug when he opened Gridley's BBQ and it soon became one of my favorite restaurants. Doug always mingled around being sure his customers we enjoying their meals. The Friday prime rib special soon became a staple with me and my friends. Doug you will be missed as a friend to me and a great football hero. May God Bless you and your family.
Warren Wright, Jr.
January 15, 2015
God bless you and give you peace, Allen and all of the family. Doug is at peace now. Sonny and I adored him.
jane jones
January 15, 2015

May your household find peace and comfort in knowing sickness, pain and death will one day be gone for this has been promised. With my deepest condolences for your loss and.
January 15, 2015
Doug was a true Rebel great.He was a superb athlete and even better man. I will cherish the memories of sitting at Gridley's and asking him to tell me about his days as a Rebel, a 49er, and his friendship with Spurrier. Good times, but none better than when he was blessed with Allen (whose friends are thinking of her).So here's a respectful “Hotty Toddy” to a stellar individual for a life well lived.
Raphael Semmes
January 15, 2015
My condolences to the Cunningham family. Growing up in Louisville was great fun because of folks like Doug. He was a great friend to my Dad who passed away in June of 2014.
Brewer Pearson
January 15, 2015
We are San Franciscans who remember Mr. Cunningham's days with the 49ers. May he rest in peace and may the Lord comfort his family.
Susan and Albert Alioto
January 15, 2015
May you find comfort from God at this time
January 14, 2015
My condolences to the Cunningham family over the loss of Doug. I will always remember those exciting football years. May God be with you in your sorrow.
Carol Wilson Kramer
January 14, 2015
A great teammate and a great friend
George Aycock
January 14, 2015
I have loved him practically all my life. He was a precious soul, who will forever be missed.
Gail King
January 14, 2015
I loved Doug so much. He was there for me when I was young and figuring out life. My wife Cindy has passed away so soon. Doug loved us and we loved him! The Gridleys days!!
Tom Fetzer
January 14, 2015
I was fortunate to have been a teammate of Doug's at Ole Miss and I am very saddened to hear of his death.

In addition to his outstanding athletic ability, I remember Doug for his great sense of humor and practical jokes. As an example, one Thursday afternoon before a Saturday game he walked in the training room while we were being taped for practice and grabbed another teammate from behind in a bearhug not realizing that the teammate he grabbed had a razor blade in his hand. This resulted in Doug severely cutting one of his hands. Since one of Doug's specialties was to return punts, for the game his hand had to be taped and wrapped with a large piece of foam rubber for protection, making it about the size of a football. Although he took a lot of kidding from his teammates over his large hand, he had no problem returning punts on Saturday. Doug will be missed and always remembered for his great attitude and winning spirit.
Joe Blount
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