EXIT of the DAY: I-95s Exit 22 in FL To: FL 848, Stirling Rd, to Cooper City, Florida
On Super Bowl Sunday and a week after the loss of Kobe Bryant, his little daughter, and other parents and children in a helicopter crash…
…we investigate a singular relationship between 2 Football Greats who did much to further diversity and Sport. We also honor an athlete whose family lost him far too soon.
In the 1950’s, Pro Football running back Brian Piccolo grew up nearby. There is the Brian Piccolo Sports Park & Velodrome, a Brian Piccolo Skatepark and even a Brian Piccolo Middle School. All are named for him. However, Brian Piccolo did not win many awards in his NFL Football career. In fact, playing for the Chicago Bears, Piccolo only scored 2 touchdowns. He was hardly any kid’s hero.
It is what he did in the era before racial integration that made him a hero.
Before the Bears, Piccolo played college football at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There, during his senior season in 1964, he led the nation in rushing and scoring and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.
In a game against rival University of Maryland, Piccolo's own fans were yelling racial epithets at Darryl Hill of the University of Maryland who was the first and only African-American football player in the entire ACC.
Piccolo went over to the Maryland bench and then walked Darryl Hill over to the area in front of the Wake Forest student section. Brian, their All Star player, put his arm around Darryl. This silenced the crowd.
Later Piccolo would play blocking back in for the Chicago Bears. He was no longer a star. The team’s offensive star was Chicago Bears halfback, Gayle Sayers — Piccolo’s African-American room-mate. Gayle Sayers would go on to become a Hall Of Famer.
In November 1969, midway through a game and just after he had scored his second career touchdown, Piccolo removed himself from the field. It turned out he could not breath. He was spitting up blood. Tests showed it was lung cancer.
After the season, Gayle Sayers was nominated that year for The George Halas Trophy for most Courageous Player. But he declined the honor. He said the honor belonged to his best friend.
Brian Piccolo died from cancer in 1970. A movie, “Brian's Song”, was made recalling his life. Major Movie Star, James Caan played the part of Brian Piccolo. The movie was rightfully a real tear jerker. And Brian Piccolo was rightfully a real star.
No wonder they honor him here.
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