Brian Piccolo lay in the hospital bed, motionless. The tubes in his arm were supplying the chemo that his body was not responding to. He looked to be frozen in pain, as frozen as his sterile room with its bare and cold antiseptic smell. His wife could barely stand seeing him, a football running back for the Chicago Bears now laying weakened and barely breathing and death at his doorstep.
Trying her best to steady her voice, she leaned over and whispered, “Brian, Gayle’s here.”
It seemed to me that Brian was waiting especially for him as he raised his right hand in anticipation for their brotherly grasp.
Through slitted eyes staring ahead, Brian agonized over each shallow breath, his sticky mouth opened in determination to speak though his body was trying to suck him into a vacuum and pull him into oblivion.
Even in his weakened state Brian never lost his good natured spirit. “Remember when you got me with those mashed potatoes?”
“You deserved it.” And after a pause he added, “…the way you sang that dumb fight song.”
As I shifted in the recliner, I saw tears gather in Gayle’s eyes. My own tears flowed as I recalled each of those particular moments portrayed in the movie. It amazed me that in the midst of the ridicule and cruelty they suffered from being the first black and white players to room together in the NFL, they fought together, not only to preserve their NFL record, but their steadfast friendship despite the critics.
Their last conversation ended with Brian persisting in cheerful optimism. “I’m gonna get you next training camp.”
Though Gayle must have felt very doubtful, he looked very sincere. “I’ll be waiting.”
It broke my heart to know that there would be no training camp for Brian at the end of that summer. If only they had some sort of treatment for his cancer! Even if he had some role on the team that would make him still be a part of the team or even the NFL, but I knew that beating cancer even in the 70’s was a daunting task—just about impossible.
I lay in bed with the movie scenes flashing through my head. How did his wife coped with the loss of her husband? How did she manage to raise her three little girls without him? What would she say to them? Bending over, I rewound the cassette tape. “I’m gonna get you next training camp.” Good. The recording came out. The library! Yes, I would go to the library tomorrow and search for the book or maybe an autobiography by Gayle Sayers. If not, then I would go to the Public Library. Maybe that would give more information about his experience with the death of Brian. Oh, maybe I could buy it! Yes, I’ll also check the bookstore.
I eventually bought the book, “Brian’s Song,” going over all the moments of the movie. I searched for Gayle Sayers’ book that he wrote in memory of Brian called “I Am Third.”
It inspired me to take out other autobiographies of other NFL players popular at that time so I could really know and understand their lives and the struggles they faced through their journey to the NFL, and it continues to this day.