American Football Database
Brian Piccolo
Date of birth: October 31, 1943
Place of birth: Pittsfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Date of death: June 16, 1970(1970-06-16) (aged 26)
Career information
Position(s): Running back
Height: 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
College: Wake Forest
 As player:
1965-1969 Chicago Bears
Career highlights and awards
Retired #s: Chicago Bears #41
Playing stats at

Louis Brian Piccolo (October 31, 1943 – June 16, 1970) was a professional football player for the Chicago Bears for four years. He died from embryonal cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of germ cell testicular cancer, first diagnosed after it had spread to his chest cavity. He was the subject of the 1971 TV movie Brian's Song, with a remake (of the same title) TV movie filmed in 2001. Piccolo was portrayed in the original film by James Caan and by Sean Maher in the 2001 remake.


Early life

Brian Piccolo – the youngest of three sons – was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to Joseph and Irene (1909-2011) Piccolo. The family moved south to Fort Lauderdale, Florida when Piccolo was twelve, due to his parents' concerns for his brother Don's health. Piccolo and his brothers were athletes and Brian Piccolo was a star running back on his high school football team, but considered baseball his primary sport.[citation needed] He graduated from the former Central Catholic High School (now St. Thomas Aquinas High School) in Fort Lauderdale in 1961.

Piccolo played college football at Wake Forest; his only other scholarship offer was from Wichita State. He led the nation in rushing and scoring during his senior season in 1964 and was named the ACC Player of the Year, yet went unselected in the 1965 NFL Draft.

In 1963 Darryl Hill of the University of Maryland was the first and only African-American football player in the Atlantic Coast Conference. According to Lee Corso, who was an assistant coach at Maryland at that time, Wake Forest had the "worst atmosphere" of any place the Maryland football team played. Piccolo went over to the Maryland bench, walked Hill over to the area in front of the student section, and put his arm around him, silencing the crowd.[1]

Following his senior season, Brian Piccolo married his high school sweetheart, Joy Murrath, on December 26, 1964. They had three daughters: Lori, Traci, and Kristi Piccolo.

NFL career

Because he was not selected in the 1965 NFL Draft, Piccolo tried out for the Chicago Bears as a free agent. He made the team for the 1965 season, but only earned a spot on the taxi squad, better known today as the practice squad, meaning he could practice but not suit up for games. In 1966, Piccolo was on the main roster but played primarily on special teams. By 1967, his playing time increased as a back-up to starting tailback Gale Sayers, and in 1969, he was moved up to starting fullback, with Sayers as the tailback.

At the time, the players were segregated by race for hotel room assignments. At the suggestion of the team's captain, the policy was changed and each of the players were re-assigned based on position, such that wide receivers would room together, quarterbacks would room together, etc. The running back position was the only one where one player was black (Sayers) and one player was white (Piccolo).

Death and legacy

In 1969, the Chicago Bears were in the midst of a 1-13 season, which was the worst record in the history of the Bears.[2] Piccolo had finally earned a place in the starting lineup as an undersized fullback. During the ninth game in Atlanta on November 16, he voluntarily removed himself from the game, something he had never done, which raised great concern among his teammates and coaches. He had extreme difficulty breathing on the field, so when the team returned to Chicago he was promptly sent for a medical examination, and was diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma.[3]

Soon after Piccolo had surgery at Sloan-Kettering in New York City to remove the tumor, he had another surgery in April 1970 to remove his left lung and pectoral muscle. After being bothered by chest pain, Piccolo was re-admitted to the hospital in early June, and doctors determined the cancer had spread to other organs, most notably his liver. Brian Piccolo died on June 16, 1970, at the age of 26. A month prior to his death, Sayers said: "I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him. When you hit your knees to pray tonight; please ask God to love him too." Bears running back Gale Sayers uttered these famous words in May 1970, as he accepted the NFL's Most Courageous Player award. Sayers told the crowd they had selected the wrong person for the honor, and would accept it only on Piccolo's behalf.


  • In 1972, Intermediate School 53 Brian Piccolo opened in Queens, New York on Nameoke Street in Far Rockaway. The school name was chosen by students after the first airing of Brian's Song. There is a football jersey belonging to Brian Piccolo on display in the lobby.
  • In 1980, students at Wake Forest, Piccolo's alma mater, began the Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund Drive in his memory.[4] They raised money for the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Bowman Gray Medical Center of Wake Forest University. In addition, the Brian Piccolo Student Volunteer Program was established to provide undergraduates with an opportunity to work at the Cancer Center as volunteers. A dorm at Wake Forest University is also named in his honor.
  • In memory of Piccolo's accomplishments, the St. Thomas Aquinas High School football stadium in Fort Lauderdale is named after him. At the end of every football game, the school's marching band plays "The Hands of Time", the theme from Brian's Song.
  • Brian Piccolo Park in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Cooper City, Florida, is named after Piccolo.
  • In 2006, Brian Piccolo's second cousin, also named Brian Piccolo, was a sophomore linebacker on the Plant High School, Tampa, Florida, football team which won the state championship in December.
  • Comcast SportsNet profiled Piccolo's legacy and the lasting impression he left in the June 2007 episode of 'net Impact.
  • Each season since 1972, the Atlantic Coast Conference has awarded the Brian Piccolo Award to the conference's "Most Courageous Player". In 2007, the recipient was Matt Robinson of Wake Forest, the fourth player from Piccolo's alma mater to be given the award. Since 1970, the Chicago Bears have also handed out an award by the same name to a rookie and (since 1992) a veteran who "best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor" of Piccolo. The winners are chosen by the Bears' veteran players. The 2007 recipients were Brian Urlacher and Greg Olsen.
  • An Italian-American organization, UNICO (an acronym for Unity, Neighborliness, Integrity, Charity, and Opportunity), honors his memory each year by awarding the Brian Piccolo Award to courageous and outstanding athletes of Italian-American heritage. In 2009 Brian's brother Don attended his first UNICO award ceremony in Rivervale, New Jersey, where he delivered a speech.

Brian's Song

The film Brian's Song, loosely based on Gale Sayers' autobiography, tells the story of the friendship between Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers and their time during football with the Chicago Bears up until Brian Piccolo's death. It first aired on ABC in 1971, starring James Caan as Brian Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers, and was such a success on television that it was later shown in theaters. A remake was filmed in 2001 for ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney starring Mekhi Phifer and Sean Maher.


Piccolo's biography, Brian Piccolo: A Short Season, was written by Jeanne Morris (the wife of Chicago Bear teammate Johnny Morris) and featured passages written by Piccolo himself for a planned autobiography.


  1. Recounted on the ESPN College GameDay broadcast November 15, 2008
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund Drive

External links

This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Brian Piccolo.
The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with American Football Database, the text of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.