SPORTS MOVIES

Best sports movies: 'Brian's Song' is about more than football - it's about friendship

(Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems)
(Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems)

Editor’s note: The Gazette sports staff has compiled lists of its top 15 favorite sports movies. Each day, a different staffer will share some insight into one of their favorites. Some of them are classics, watched and re-watched time and time again. But for a few, maybe we’ll be able to convince some of you to check it out for the very first time.

How could it not be “Brian’s Song?”

A Chicago Bears fan for as long as I can remember, this movie still chokes me up today. I watched the movie speech — given by Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers — again this week and, well, I felt like a 11-year-old watching it for the first time.

The movie speech was what Sayers actually said on May 25, 1970, while receiving the 1969 George S. Halas Courage Award.

“... He has the heart of a giant and that rare form of courage that allows him to kid himself and his opponent — cancer,” Sayers/Williams said. “He has the mental attitude that makes me proud to have a friend who spells out the word ‘courage’ 24 hours a day, every day of his life.

“You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. It is mine tonight, it is Brian Piccolo’s tomorrow ... I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him, too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.”

Picollo died less than a month later at the age of 26.

The original “Brian’s Song” movie was released in 1971. A remake was made in 2001, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. The original is a classic.

Truth be told. I don’t remember the story as it unfolded. I was 4 years old when the Chicago Bears drafted Sayers out of Kansas in 1965. I was 11 when he played his final season. I’ve seen the highlights of his career, however, and am convinced he is one of the all-time great running backs in the NFL. He played only six seasons and averaged 5.0 yards per carry.

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The movie — starring a very young Williams, James Caan as Piccolo and Jack Warden as Halas — was based on Sayers’ book “I Am Third.” Their friendship was controversial in the 1960s — a black man and a white man not only becoming great friends, but rooming together on the road. The movie tells that story, as well as Piccolo’s relentless prodding to get Sayers back in shape after a knee injury.

That 1970 speech was after the ’69 season when Sayers won the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

But mostly, this movie is a story about friendship, about the love two teammates can share.

This movie not only appealed to fans of the Chicago Bears and football fans all around the world, it was the most-watched movie on U.S. television in 1971 and, at the time, the most watched made-for-TV movie ever.

The theme song — “The Hands of Time” — also was one of the most popular of the time and still rings in peoples ears. Listen to it and it will bring back fond memories — and maybe even a few tears.

My Top 15 sports movies

1. Brian’s Song

2. Hoosiers

3. Rocky

4. The Legend of Bagger Vance

5. Bad News Bears

6. Without Limits

7. Caddyshack

8. A League of Their Own

9. Major League

10. Field of Dreams

11. North Dallas Forty

12. The Blind Side

13. The Longest Yard (original)

14. Remember the Titans

15. Foxcatcher

Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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