Related Biography: Football Player Brian Piccolo
Brian Piccolo, one of Sayers's closest friends and the subject of the made-for-television movie Brian's Song, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on October 21, 1943. As a young child, he moved with his family to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he attended high school, participating in a number of sports. But football was his first love, and after high school, he attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina on a football scholarship. As a senior at Wake Forest, he led the nation in rushing but nevertheless failed to get picked at the NFL's 1965 draft. Legendary Chicago Bears owner and coach George Halas stepped in and signed Piccolo as a free agent.
Although he now wore a Bears uniform, Piccolo spent the 1965 football season on the team's practice squad and saw no real action. Although he played in all 14 games of the 1966 season, he rushed for only 12 yards on three carries. The following year, Piccolo gained a total of 317 yards. His big break came in 1968 when Sayers, already a close friend of Piccolo's, injured his knee in the ninth game of the season, putting him out of commission for the rest of the year. For the 1968 season as a whole, Piccolo rushed for 450 yards and scored his first two touchdowns in the NFL.
Just as his football career appeared ready to take off in a big way, a physical exam and follow-up tests in 1969 revealed that Piccolo had a rare form of lung cancer. In the months that followed, Sayers grew even closer to Piccolo, providing all the support he could during this difficult period. Piccolo died on June 16, 1970.