Every Bears player wore Brian Piccolo's retired No. 41 jersey during practice on 52nd anniversary of his death

Robert Zeglinski
For The Win

This week 52 years ago, former Bears running back Brian Piccolo died of embryonal cell carcinoma — a rare testicular cancer. Because of his extended battle with the terminal disease (which doctors first revealed in November 1969), Piccolo has lived on as a franchise legend ever since.

In the aftermath, ABC produced "Brian’s Song" in 1971, a TV movie that chronicled Piccolo’s (James Caan) close relationship with Hall of Famer Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), especially as Piccolo fought cancer. Their interracial friendship was considered groundbreaking in American culture at the time in the late 1960s.

Sayers famously said in an award speech given roughly a month before Piccolo’s death, “I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him, too.” The film documented and used that quote for effect. Sayers passed away in September 2020.

With the anniversary of Piccolo’s death falling on the same day as the 2022 Bears broke for the summer, the organization decided to honor him by having every rostered player wear his retired No. 41 jersey during practice:

Amazing. What a touching moment.

Running back David Montgomery recorded a personal video for Piccolo:

Before the Bears actually conducted their practice, Matt Eberflus spoke about Piccolo’s place in team history and why the organization wanted to honor him once more.

Via the Chicago Bears:

“That to me was really the main message,” Eberflus said. “For people or anybody, you go back so far and it’s hard sometimes for them to see the impact of Brian Piccolo that he had in the late ’60s. He was really a good teammate and he liked to have fun with his teammates. He liked to play practical jokes on them and stuff like that. Just a real man and a real person and a Chicago Bear. So, I wanted to make sure they got that message.”

In an interview about the gesture also on the Bears’ website, Piccolo’s widow, Joy Piccolo O’Connell, could not express enough happiness at honoring her late husband:

“It just blew me away, it really did,” she said. “It means a great deal to all of us. It’s just a very special tribute, it really is.”

Since Piccolo’s death in 1970, the Bears have awarded an annual “Brian Piccolo Award” to a rookie and veteran (starting in 1992) who best exemplifies the “courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, and sense of humor” of the late running back.

This latest heartwarming tribute seems to be another in a long line of remembrance for a team luminary.