It has been nearly 4 and 1/2 decades now since Brian Piccolo succumbed to cancer. Shortly after his death( in June of 1970) all of us got to know the story of Pic's friendship with Gale Sayers and the battle he lost with embryonal cell carcinoma. It came via the made for television movie "Brian's Song".
Now, each year the Chicago Bears present the Brian Piccolo Award to one rookie and one veteran who best portray the former running back's courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, and sense of humor. They've been giving out the award since the 1970 season. It is one of his enduring legacies.
It is not, however his only one. As far as his sports legacies, you can go back at least to 1963. It was during that year the University of Maryland football team recruited the first black player to ever play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The player's name is Darryl Hill, and he is regarded as the "Jackie Robinson" of football in the south.
The assistant coach given the most credit for his recruitment to UM is none other than Lee Corso. After Hill made the team he endured much of the same hatred and verbal atrocities that Robinson had sixteen years earlier. At one point Corso was asked about this and he said that Wake Forest was the campus that would have the "worst atmosphere" for Hill to play in.
It just so happened that Brian Piccolo was on his way to becoming Wake's biggest star (in 1964 he led the nation in rushing and scoring). So when Darryl Hill and Maryland came down to North Carolina for a game that year Pic decided to make a gesture.
Before the game Piccolo walked over to the Maryland bench and shook Hill's hand. Then to quiet the fans in the student section he walked with Hill over by the stands and put his arm around him, much like Pee Wee Reese did with Jackie Robinson years before. He wanted his fans to know what he thought of racism.
There are other legacies that Pic left behind too. I'll name a few of them here. In 1970 Brian's widow Joy Murrath Piccolo established the Brian Piccolo Research Fund. She has been it's President ever since. To date the organization has raised around ten million dollars for cancer research. Joy continues to this day to monitor golf tournaments and runs bearing Brian's name.
Lori Piccolo Bruno, Brian and Joy's eldest daughter, was once quoted: "I feel she relives it all the time and I don't know many people who could do that. I don't know how she does it." Joy remarried three years after Brian's death and she and her husband Rick O'Connell both continue to work tirelessly for the fund.
In 1980 Wake Forest University established the Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund Drive. It is still recognized as the premier charity event on WFU's campus. All monies raised are donated to the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
Due in part to this funding, medicos can now boast an 80% success rate for curing embryonal cell carcinoma. Many of the students involved go on to volunteer in the University's research labs or in outreach programs.
In 1972 a middle school opened in Queens, New York. The students there were given the task of naming the new school. After watching "Brian's Song" the students voted to name their school the Brian Piccolo Middle School.
Each season since 1972 the ACC has given the Brian Piccolo award to it's most courageous player.
The Italian-American organization UNICO gives a Brian Piccolo award each year to outstanding Italian-American athletes who also display Pic's courage.
St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida had their high school football field named after their famous alum, although the school was named Central Catholic High School when Piccolo attended. After every game played on Brian Piccolo Field the band plays the now famous theme to "Brian's Song".
Cooper City, Florida has a Brian Piccolo Park. It is just outside of Ft. Lauderdale, where Pic spent his youth. When Joy visited it for the first time she said it was a wonderful place.
All of these legacies would make Pic very proud, I'm sure. But one stands far and away as his most important. His most enduring legacy.
That of course is his friends and family. It is in each person he called friend, whose lives were so greatly affected by knowing him.
Mostly it is in his family. It is still in Joy, and his three daughters, Lori, Traci, and Kristi. It will be in his grandchildren and great grandchildren for all the generations to come. That's what would make him proudest. That is his greatest legacy.
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