When Chicago Bears teammates Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo turned roommates in 1967, the 1st time NFL gamers of unique hues shared accommodations on the road, it rarely appeared like a very good in good shape.
Sayers, 24 at the time, was by now an recognized star, a comfortable-spoken Black gentleman who usually raised his voice only when issues of social justice were reviewed. Piccolo, the exact age, was white, an inveterate talker and joker who was competing with Sayers for participating in time in the backfield right after getting undrafted and clambering from the taxi squad on to the recreation-working day roster.
But the enduring friendship that formed involving the two became the subject matter of “Brian’s Song,” a 1971 built-for-Tv film that continues to be one of the most popular sporting activities motion pictures of all time. It rarely resonated extra than it did Wednesday, following the announcement of Sayers’ loss of life at age seventy seven.
“It just amazes me,” Joy Piccolo O’Connell claimed in an interview from her Wisconsin household. “It was 50 several years back.”
The two grew close in 1968, when Piccolo unselfishly supported Sayers’ endeavor to come again from the very first of quite a few knee injuries that at some point shortened his job. When Piccolo acquired a analysis of late-stage testicular most cancers the next year, Sayers unfailingly remained by his facet.
Piccolo missing his battle with the disease in 1970, a lot less than a thirty day period soon after Sayers been given the league’s George S. Halas Braveness Award and gave the speech that became the centerpiece of the movie:
“He has the heart of a giant and that unusual type of braveness that lets him to kid himself and his opponent — cancer,” Sayers explained at the awards supper, a scene reprised in the ABC film by actor Billy Dee Williams.
“He has the mental angle that will make me proud to have a good friend who spells out the term ‘courage’ 24 several hours a day, every working day of his lifestyle. You flatter me by providing me this award, but I tell you that I acknowledge it for Brian Piccolo. It is mine tonight, it is Brian Piccolo’s tomorrow. … I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to appreciate him as well. Tonight, when you hit your knees,” Sayers concluded, “please request God to like him.”
Williams tweeted Wednesday that “my heart is damaged about the loss of my expensive friend, Gale Sayers. Portraying Gale in Brian’s Tune was a genuine honor and just one of the nightlights of my job. He was an extraordinary human remaining with the the kindest heart.”
In 1967, hotel-space assignments were generally accomplished by posture and functioning back was the only slot on the Bears group where by gamers of different hues would be thrown collectively. But then-normal manager Ed McCaskey, a Halas loved ones member who was functioning the club, gave the move his blessing — and with superior reason.
As a senior at Wake Forest, in a 1963 activity versus Maryland, Piccolo walked to the Terrapins sideline and introduced Maryland operating again Darryl Hill — the only Black player in the league at the time — with him to the entrance of the university student section. Then he threw an arm across Hill’s shoulders, silencing the crowd.
But Joy Piccolo O’Connell, who has remarried, thinks the greatest obstacle to the friendship in between Piccolo and Sayers had to more to do with identity than color.
“Brian beloved currently being with individuals, liked to talk and couldn’t do more than enough general public speaking,” she reported, “and Gale was so incredibly peaceful.”
Certainly, Sayers stated in a 2001 job interview that Piccolo’s consistent joking put him off at initially. Piccolo, likewise, advised biographer Jeannie Morris that he thought Sayers was “arrogant … I didn’t see him discuss to a soul the complete 7 days we had been jointly.”
From that rocky starting, Sayers and Piccolo forged a bond sturdy plenty of to climate personal injury and ailment and push back against the lazy assumption that adult males of diverse hues, from various backgrounds, couldn’t care about — and for — each individual other like brothers.
“They showed the film the other evening,” Piccolo O’Connell explained, “and we’ll get inquiries as a result of the (Piccolo) basis …
“But it’s amazing,” she concluded “how the story carries on and carries on.”
AP Writer Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.