In the 1971 TV classic “Brian’s Song,” Piccolo and Bears teammate Gale Sayers’ relationship and their struggle against cancer are dramatised. Also originally published in 1971, Jeannie Morris’s “Brian Piccolo: A Brief Season” looks even further into Piccolo’s career and character in a new edition set for release this year.
Piccolo’s impact on the world has not diminished in the half century after his death. More than $10 million has been contributed to a cancer research fund in his name since 1970.
As an added bonus, the Bears’ most loyal veteran and most promising rookie are honoured each year for embodying Piccolo’s bravery, devotion, teamwork, dedication, and sense of humour, and honours are given to the team’s most daring college football player with in Atlantic Coast Conference.
Early In The Footsteps Of A Hero
The date of Piccolo’s birth is October 31, 1943, and he was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He is the youngest of three boys to Joseph and Irene Piccolo. While Brian was three years old, though, his family relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
A standout defensive back at Central Catholic High Institution in Fort Lauderdale, Piccolo graduated in May 1961, just before the school was renamed St. Thomas Aquinas.
Several current and past NFL stars, including as Geno Atkins, Joey Bosa, and Nick Bosa, as well as Bears Jeremy Cain, Stefan Humphries, and Major Wright, are alumni of the university.
Piccolo was a terrific baseball player in high school as well, with a 375 batting average as a senior in centre field.
Despite receiving a football scholarship to Wake Forest, Piccolo was forced to work in the shadows as a freshman and junior on winless 0-10 and 1-9 squads in 1962 and 1963, respectively.
However, as a senior in 1964, Piccolo exploded into the scene, setting an ACC record with 1,044 yards rushing and scoring 111 points (17 TDs, 9 PATs). He was selected ACC player of the year and second-team All-America after breaking nine academic records & six conference marks.
In Wake Forest’s 20-7 victory over Duke, Piccolo accounted for all of the Demon Deacons’ points by himself, with two rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown, and two point after attempts. After losing 15 pounds playing in 93 degree heat, he rushed for 113 yards on a career-high 36 carries, setting an ACC record.
Piccolo’s contributions led to a 5-5 record for the Demon Deacons, the only winning season for Wake Forest in the 1960s.
He came up at number ten in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, behind only the quarterback of the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide, Joe Namath, and his future teammate, Bears running back and All-American, Sayers. In 1971, after his death, Piccolo was posthumously inducted into the Wake Forest Hall of Fame for Sports as a charter member.
Success In One’s Professional Life
Piccolo spent his rookie year with the Bears’ “taxi squad,” now called the practise squad, where he participated in team practises but did not play in any games.
Although he participated in all 14 games that year, he mostly contributed on special teams and had only three carries for 12 yards. In 1967, Piccolo’s offensive role grew. His stats as Sayers’ backup were impressive: 87 carries for 317 yards and 13 receptions for 103 yards.
Piccolo had his best season in 1968, when he rushed for 450 yard and two scores on 123 carries and caught 28 passes for 291 yards. After Sayers went down with a thanksgiving knee surgery against the 49ers, he was asked to pick up the slack and finish the season strong.
On December 1, 1968, Piccolo ran for 112 yards on 21 attempts in a 23-17 win well over Saints in New Orleans. This was the only 100-yard performance of his career. The next week, in a 17-16 win over the Rams in Los Angeles, he rushed for 62 yards on 22 tries, scoring once.
Piccolo returned to his backup role at running back and fullback in 1969 when Sayers recovered from an injury. Piccolo started at fullback opposite Sayers in the backfield in a defeat to the Vikings on the road after Bull was wounded in the sixth game of the campaign (a home loss to the Rams).
Because of his persistent cough, Piccolo left the game against by the Falcons at Atlanta on November 16, 1969. He had never played in the NFL before, and this game would be his last.
Following a chest x-ray at Illinois Masonic Hospital a few days later, Piccolo was detected with embryonal cell cancer.
The procedure that removed a cancerous tumour the scale of a grapefruit from Piccolo’s chest took four and a half hours and occurred in November of 1969. In New York City, he went to the Memorial Medical center for Cancer and Allied Disease, which became the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital in 1980, for the operation.
Even though Piccolo was hopeful of making a comeback to the Bears, he admitted that his attitude on life had altered since being diagnosed with cancer, particularly in regards to his wife Joy and their three young children Lori, Kristi, and Traci.
Piccolo returned to New York City after discovering a lump on his breast in February and spent the following month undergoing chemotherapy. His condition did not react to treatment, so in March doctors removed lymph nodes and his mastectomy.
Piccolo’s left lung was removed during his third operation in April. However, the disease quickly metastasized throughout his body, and he passed away on June 16, 1970.
A national cancer fund and Bears and ACC prizes have been established in Piccolo’s honour, as was noted at the beginning of this article. His jersey number, 41, is one of 14 that the Bears have honoured with a retirement ceremony.