The Chicago Bears and the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund announced Stephen Paea and Nick Roach as the 2011 Brian Piccolo Award winners on Tuesday. The honor has been given to a Bears rookie since 1970 and was expanded in 1992 to include a veteran winner. Bears players vote for the rookie and veteran who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo.
Roach joins Myron Baker (1983), Mickey Pruitt (1988), Hall of Famer Mike Singletary (1981 and ‘92) and teammate Brian Urlacher (2000 and ’07) as Bears linebackers to be honored with the Piccolo Award. In 2011, Roach started 15 of 16 games played at SLB, recording 61 tackles, six tackles for losses, three pass break ups and two special teams stops.
Paea, the Bears 2011 second-round draft choice (53rd overall) appeared in the final 11 contests of the season, recording 18 tackles, two sacks – including a safety – and two tackles for losses. He is the first Bears rookie defensive tackle to be honored with the Piccolo Award since Tommie Harris in 2004.
In all, 56 different Bears have won the award including six others on the current roster: Matt Forté (2008), Devin Hester (2006), Johnny Knox (2009), Charles Tillman (2003 and 2008), Urlacher (2000 and ’07) and J’Marcus Webb (2010).
Brian Piccolo joined the Bears in 1965, following a senior season at Wake Forest during which he led the nation in scoring (111 points) and rushing (1,044 yards). Piccolo was not selected in the NFL draft, but he signed with the Bears as a free agent and made the club. He was in his fourth season when a chest x-ray revealed a malignancy. Several months later on June 16, 1970, he died at age 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma. At the time Piccolo died, the disease was 100% fatal, but today the cure rate is over 70%. He left behind his wife Joy, three daughters, and legions of friends.
Proceeds from the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund benefit breast cancer research at Rush Medical Center and the Clearbrook Center for the developmentally disabled in Arlington Heights.