Immortalized in “Brian’s Song,” he showed as much fight on the field as off in his short life.
Brian Piccolo was born on October 31, 1943 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and was immortalized in the film “Brian’s Song” after losing his battle with cancer at the age of 26.
At Central Catholic High School, Piccolo played offensive tackle and halfback. He took a scholarship to Wake Forest University where, in his senior year, he led the nation in rushing with 1,044 yards on 252 carries (a 4.1-yard average.)
Despite being named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, he was not drafted by the NFL in 1964. Many felt that at 5’11″ and 190 pounds, Piccolo simply wasn’t large or fast enough.
The Chicago Bears signed him as a free agent, and Piccolo toiled on the team’s taxi squad before entering the game. From 1966-1969, he scored four touchdowns, rushed 258 times for 927 yards and caught 58 passes for 537 yards.
Piccolo also fought hard to emerge from the shadow of running back Gale Sayers, who was also his best friend. The relationship between the white Piccolo and African-American Sayers made waves and broke boundaries at the height of the civil rights movement when the best friends became the first interracial roommates in the NFL.
In 1969, Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer and, despite a valiant fight, he lost his battle on June 16, 1970 at age 26. He was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.