Back in 1971, when I was just 16 years old, I was a big sports fan, as well as a participant, and, as is true today, my favorite sport is football. Also, back in 1971, being an avid TV watcher, the major television networks were just starting to try their hand at making their own movies. So, ABC-TV decided that maybe they should go a little stronger, and got a stellar cast, and picked one of the most inspiring stories, based on the book, “I Am Third”, by Gayle Sayers and Arthur Silverman, to produce for television. The movie, which was hence named “Brian’s Song”, became one of the biggest hits, in or out of theaters, of our time. Starring James Caan, in one of his first roles, as the main character, Brian Piccolo, the rest of the cast was just as impressive- Billy Dee Williams (Gayle Sayers), Shelly Fabares (Brian’s wife), Jack Warden (Bears coach), and more.
The story is basically about the bond of friendship, or more likely, brotherhood, between Chicago Bears’ veteran running back, one of the game’s best, Gayle Sayers, and an upstart rookie from Wake Forest by the name of Brian Piccolo. After Brian arrives at training camp, they become acquainted, and are eventually asked to be roomies, at a time when there would still be some controversy about racial integration anywhere, let alone in the world of sports. Jack Warden makes a very good head coach, and delivers a fine performance in that role. Finally, after Piccolo going through the grueling initiation process, and even tougher trials and tribulations of training camp and the fierce competition, he becomes a starting running back along with Sayers. But soon, Piccolo develops an annoying cough, and experiences some weakness, along with unusual weight loss. So, one day, with his wife there at his side, he recieves the bad news from his doctor- that he has terminal, inoperable cancer. Everyone is devastated, especially Sayers, who has come to see Brian as more of a brother than just a friend. As the movie ends, with the tragic passing of Brian Piccolo, as he succumbs to the cancer, the words still echo today, of the narrator stating- “its not how he died that Brian will be remembered for, but how he LIVED, and oh, how he lived!”….
I even get choked up today, as I write this review, thinking of how much that story impacted my young life at the time, almost 40 years ago. For anyone who has not yet seen this movie, I urge you to do so, as I know that you will find inspiration, as I did, in the message of courage and faith that are portrayed in this story. This is a true story, but even truer still, as it stands the test of time, and brings this inspiring message home.