Brian’s Song (1971)

DailyView: Day 291, Movie 411

Next up on Super Bowl Sunday DailyView is the true story of the friendship between Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers as they played together on the Chicago Bears. Brian’s Song was a 1971 TV movie that won a bunch of Primetime Emmy Awards for the tearjerker that it was.

The Bears drafted Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) number one and he came to camp with lofty expectations. Meanwhile, Brian Piccolo (James Caan), who played the same position, had to battle every second to keep his place on the team.

In a symbol to the world, the Bears, led by coach George Halas (Jack Warden), placed the two men, one white and one black, as roommates. This was not something that was done in the NFL and the breaking of this racial tradition sent some shockwaves across the sport.

Despite some early problems, Gale and Brian became close friends. Brian was there when Gale injured his knee and he helped Gale to work his way back.

Unfortunately, Brian was becoming sick and he wound up being diagnosed with lung cancer. This took their friendship into a different direction.

The racial issues were touched upon, but they were not the main focus of this movie. The focus was the relationship between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, and in that area, this movie does a fantastic job. You believe that these two men had built up a connection as teammates on the Bears and that they would do anything for each other.

Billy Dee Williams does a good job as Gale, but James Caan was a huge standout as Brian. Brian Piccolo was more of an outgoing and loud personality and Caan fit that perfectly.

Shelley Fabares, who I knew from the TV series Coach as Christine, appeared as Brian’s wife, Joy. I would not have recognized her if I did not know it was her. Joy also formed a bond with Gale and his wife Linda (Judy Pace). Fabares’ performance was very understated, and real.

The film started with this quote from the narrator: “Ernest Hemingway once said ‘Every true story ends in death.’ Well, this is a true story.” It foreshadowed the sadness that would be coming, but it did not show how much life and hope the film was able to reveal.

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