Gale Sayers paid tribute to Brian Piccolo 50 years ago tonight

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In the early ’70s, Brian’s Song became must-see TV for millions. The speech that provides the film’s most powerful moment happened 50 years ago tonight.

As explained by Mike Vaccaro the New York Post, Bears running back Gale Sayers paid tribute to teammate Brian Piccolo during the Pro Football Writers Awards Dinner, at what is now the Sheraton Times Square in Manhattan. Sayers, who recovered from a serious knee injury to lead the league in rushing in 1969, won the George S. Halas Most Courageous Player award.

Typically awarded in August, Sayers asked for the presentation to be included with the May dinner. And for good reason. Piccolo was seriously ill from cancer that was diagnosed in November, and he’d live only 22 more days.

“Compare his courage with the kind I’m supposed to possess,” Sayers said. “There was never any doubt that I’d return, knee injury or no. But think of Brian and his fortitude in the months since last November, in and out of hospitals, hoping to play football again, but not too sure at any time what the score was or might be. He has the heart of a giant. He has the mental attitude that makes me proud to have a friend who spells out the word ‘courage’ 24 hours a day, every day of his life. . . .

“You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas Award. It is mine tonight, it is Brian Piccolo’s tomorrow.

“I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him, too. And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.”

The following year, Brian’s Song debuted on ABC, starting Billy Dee Williams as Sayers and James Caan as Piccolo. When it first aired, Brian’s Song was the most-watched made-for-TV movie in history.

17 responses to “Gale Sayers paid tribute to Brian Piccolo 50 years ago tonight

  1. I’m 38 years old and never been nothing but a Bears fan. I know the stories of Sayers and Piccolo very well, but I’ve never seen the movie. During these trying times, it’s important that we show a little compassion for one another, regardless of which team you root for.

    Bear Down

  2. You could never play that movie now because of the use of the “n” word but it’s truly one of the most touching and influential sports film’s of all time. The two men motivated each other in a way that’s not that common today and that film showcased what teamwork was all about. Well worth the watch if you’re younger and haven’t seen it.

  3. Back then, testicular cancer had a 5% cure rate. Today that number is 98%. In my mind, I hope this movie prompted more research because my son recently was diagnosed with it…..and he will be just fine!

  4. Brian’s song if you havent watched it go get a copy ! Excellent movie from this true story.

  5. I watched the movie in Pensacola FL while in flight school. The TV was in the common room of a suite I shared with another guy. We had about 10 guys scattered throughout the room. All of us were balling during that final speech. After the movie we were all laughing at each other for crying because we were all imitating macho guys most of the time in flight school.

  6. My autographed Gale Sayers jersey is my favorite thing I own from the Bears. What a talent.

  7. Lifetime Packer fan who never got to see enough of Gale Sayers. A lot of history in the NFCC but the entire Sayers/Piccolo story transends football and goes to the very meaning of life.
    That story would be as just meaningful in any venue.

  8. Sayers and Piccolo had a very special relationship as it was depicted in the movie. The movie was devastating from an emotional standpoint. I didn’t watch the first “airing” but I watched it in late 1971 at a very “down” moment in my life as I had orders to Vietnam and serious marriage problems. “Brian’s Song” made me bawl my eyes out and stayed with me for quite some time. Within days, I turned away from my personal pity party and changed my focus because the Piccolo movie helped me realize others had far worse problems than I did.

  9. I’d love to get my kids to watch this movie but they aren’t into “old” movies. Maybe if I told them it starred Lando Calrissian and Buddy’s father from Elf, I could get them to sit down for it.

  10. To shemp63, I believe he had lung cancer, not testicular, but nonetheless, he died way to young. I love that movie, been looking for it to buy. if you need a good cry, this one will do it to you

  11. To mikayla19, I read where it started in his testicular and spread to his lungs. This is why several testicular cancer patients end up having their lymph nodes removed from their intestines up to their lungs.

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