Cross Training Athletics

Training the Heart of a Champion From the Inside Out

Brian Piccolo – Real Love

Brian Piccolo played football at Wake Forest from 1961-1964.  In his senior year Piccolo led the nation in both rushing and scoring, setting an ACC record.  Piccolo set his sights on the NFL, only to be greatly disappointed and embarrassed when he was totally overlooked in the 1965 draft.  He later tried out with the Chicago Bears and only made the practice squad due to an injury.   That year the Bears first-round pick was, legendary Gale Sayers, who set an NFL record with 22 touchdowns and won Rookie of the Year.

The following year, Piccolo made the team and competed with Sayers for the starting half back position.  For a friendship to form between Piccolo and Sayers, they had to overcome several factors.  First of all they were from a different race (Piccolo being white and Sayers being African-American).  At this time in history racial tensions were high, Piccolo and Sayers were the first in the NFL to be forced into interracial rooming.  Both received criticism for this.  Secondly, they were competing for the same job.  For the most part in professional sport, athletes are competitors first, teammates second, and maybe friends third.  This proved to be the opposite for Piccolo and Sayers.

In 1968, Sayers suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury, which gave the starting job to Piccolo.  Piccolo did not want to win the starting position for “all the wrong reasons” and out of friendship; he helped Sayer’s rehabilitate his injured knee back to playing shape.  The following year, Sayers returned to the starting lineup to lead the league in rushing.  During this time, Piccolo contracted a rare form of cancer and with the support of Sayers fought it until his death…. one year later.

After returning from his knee injury, Sayers was honored with the George Halas Award as "the most courageous player in professional football." Listen to the following excerpt from his acceptance speech, "You flatter me by giving me this award, but I can tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas award. Mine is 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."


WORKOUT: Have the team answer the following Questions:  

  • Could you do something like what Brian Piccolo did, help out someone vying for your position?
  • What kind of person does it take to do what Brian did?
  • What order would you put these terms to describe our team? (teammates, friends, competitors)
  • Think of something you can do to better serve this team.