POSTING BY JB MADDAWG
The qualifications for one to call themselves a true Chicago sports fan is very simple. One must:
- Root for the Chicago Bears. This is non negotiable. So non negotiable that if you are a transplant from Wisconsin and think you can still root for the Green Bay Packers in any way, you cannot.
- Love Brian Piccolo.
I realize many younger fans won’t understand the latter point. I didn’t either, being that Brian Piccolo passed away in 1970, a couple of years before I was born. The story had to be passed to me through the elder Bears fans, and of course, through the wrenching 1971 made for television movie that was so popular they moved it to the big screen. Brian’s Song was loosely based on Chicago Bear’s running back Gale Sayers autobiography and documented Sayer’s relationship with fellow player Brian Piccolo. The film stars Billy Dee Williams as Sayers, and James Caan as Piccolo. Several of actual Chicago Bears players also appear on film.
Sayers and Piccolo were fast friends in a time when black and white didn’t mix so well together. It was a racially charged time when even in the National Football League, roommates were usually segregated by color. During most of their time together, Sayers and Piccolo despite both being in the running backs category, were the only mixed roommates on the team. Not even Sayers’ status as a “premiere” running back to Piccolo’s back up could separate the two friends. Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Any real Bears fan says it like peanut butter and jelly.
Brian Piccolo was never drafted by the NFL as a player, he was undersized for a running back and as a result Piccolo had to make the Chicago Bears football team as a walk on, then assigned to the practice squad. That meant suiting up, playing just as hard, if not harder, and preparing the team for the upcoming opponent, yet never being able to suit up for game day. So determined was Piccolo, he eventually made his way to a full squad member and although there was never any question that Sayers was the number one running back on the team, Piccolo would eventually be the starting fullback, blocking and picking up ground in short yardage situations.
Piccolo’s work ethic was superb which is why on November 16th, 1969, when Piccolo pulled himself voluntarily from the game, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Upon examination, Piccolo was diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma. Surgery would only prolong the inevitable, and Piccolo would pass away six months later at the age of 26, leaving behind a wife and three daughters. He would also leave behind a legacy that would pass down to fans that never watched Piccolo play, thanks in part to Sayers.
Gale Sayers was selected in 1970 as the NFL’s Most Courageous Player, where he would give one of the sporting world’s greatest speeches, telling the crowd that they had chosen the wrong man, and he would only accept it on Brian Piccolo’s behalf. So famous and dear to the city of Chicago’s sports fans is Sayer’s speech, that on many talk radio sports shows in the city it is completely acceptable to start a comment with “I love Brian Piccolo”, the cornerstone line from the night Sayer’s accepted the award.
Brian Piccolo’s memory lives on within the Chicago Bears organization, and since 1970, the Bears have handed out the Brian Piccolo Award to a rookie that best embodies Piccolo’s resolve, spirit and sense of humor. Piccolo’s best friend, Gale Sayers still has many charitable projects he is tied to in the city of Chicago, although in 2009, he returned to be a special fundraiser for his alma mater, the University of Kansas.
Together, Sayers and Piccolo accomplished many things as teammates. Their friendship surpassed racial boundaries, status and success. They
were are best friends. That’s all anyone really needs to know. I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him, too.