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One was white, one was black. One was from the south and one was from the mid-west. One was a first round draft pick the other was signed as a free agent; both had open hearts. Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers were star running backs for the Chicago Bears in the late 1960s. They had once competed for the national rushing title while in collage, now they were roommates. "Brian had a gay effusive personality; inside he was cool and introspective. Gale appears distant to some people, shy to others; privately he is warm and affectionate. But Sayers and Pic had two things in common: open minds and open hearts," (133).
Brian Piccolo attended Wake Forest University, in Winston Salem NC and had a break out performance his senior season. He was competing for such honors as the national rushing title, Offensive Player of the Year, and a spot on the All American Team. Unknowingly, he was competing with one of his future teammates on the Chicago Bears, Gale Sayers. The "Kansas Comet," (Gale Sayers) attended Kansas State University, in Kansas City KA. They were neck and neck throughout the season, until Piccolo edged Sayers out by less than 100 yards to take the title.
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"Jeannie Morris's Brian Piccolo: A Short Season." 123HelpMe.com. 21 Aug 2019
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Piccolo thought with his outstanding senior season, he was a sure first round pick in the upcoming football draft. But for unknown reasons, he was not drafted at all and was finally signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears.
Nothing for Brian Piccolo had ever come easy; he worked hard for everything he had, and was very proud of that. Pic had to work his way to playing on Sundays by first making it through rookie training camp. He was put on the taxi squad and eventually worked all the way up to starting. However for Sayers, he was drafted in the first round by the Bears and was starting his rookie season at running back.
In 1967 the Bears decided to integrate roommates. Gale was going to room with Ronnie Bull but insisted on rooming with Brian. He later said that he it was just instinct that made him say "Piccolo." "He didn't know Brian real well except that he was a kidder, as lighthearted as he was light-skinned," (140). Brian was not thrilled with the decision; after all he was a southern boy, but his dominate goodwill toward people seemed to negate any prejudice. Gale soon discovered that he had made a good choice.
After being forced to spend more time together they began to grow closer. They would go everywhere together and talk about everything: the game, individuals, their families, and their troubles. "We'd talk a lot. I guess you could say we had something to learn from each other," Brian Piccolo (132).
There should have been competition between the two; however there was none. Brian realized that he could not fight Gale for the spot. There was no doubt that Sayers was the "Big Star" on the team but Brian did not let that stop him from telling Gale when he did something wrong. This was something that the coaches usually did not do. This shows how close friends they were and how honest they were to each other. When Brian would call him out for not doing his responsibilities on the field Gale would simply agree.
Brian and Gale were brought closer together by two horrible events, Gale's knee injury and Brian's illness. Halfway through the '68 season Gale injured his knee and was out the rest of the season. This gave Brian his first chance to start. Gale said while the fans and the press were skeptical in his ability to comeback after such a devastating injury, Brian was the one person that never lost confidence in him. Pic consistently encouraged him, whether it was during his off-season rehabilitation, at film sessions, or on the field.
In November of 1969 Brian was diagnosed with a then fatal disease known as embryonal cell carcinoma, a form of cancer. Brian underwent two major surgeries, many weeks of testing, chemotherapy, and radiation. All of this was very hard on Brian and his wife Joy. There were many friends there for them but Gale and his wife Linda were always there for the Piccolos. Every time Gale would stop by to see Brian in the hospital Brian would always be in a better mood. Brian never gave up on his battle with cancer; he would always say he would "lick this" and be back on the field with Gale. But on June 16, 1970, Brian Piccolo lost his battle with cancer.
"He was just a tremendous individual, and a good football player. He kept you laughing." -Gale Sayers. This true story shows that even the most different of people can become the best of friends to the very end.
"It's not an easy fight, and it's not a short fight. It'll take time-but hell, I've got lots of time"-Brian Piccolo May, 1970
Jeannie Morris's Brian Piccolo: A Short Season