One of the most iconic football movies of all time is the 1971 movie, “Brian’s Song.” I’d heard about this movie for years, but for whatever reason (probably because it came out five years before I was born), I’d never watched it, which is why I put it on my “bucket list” several years ago.
Yesterday (Sunday), thanks to NetFlix, I finally took the time to watch this movie from start to finish, and I can now see why it was so popular. Not only did I enjoy the movie, but I also enjoyed scratching another item off my “bucket list.”
For those of you unfamiliar with “Brian’s Song,” it originally debuted on television as an ABC Movie of the Week on Nov. 30, 1971. Starring James Caan as Brian Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers, this movie describes how these two men became good friends during their rookie seasons with the Chicago Bears. At first they find themselves in competition with each other, but then they eventually end up in the same backfield.
Sayers later injures his knee, and Piccolo goes out of his way to help his friend recover from knee surgery. Sayers eventually returns to the team, at full strength, but then Piccolo’s performance begins to take a downturn for unexplained reasons. It’s later determined that he has terminal cancer.
In real life, Piccolo passed away at the age of 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma. He’d played four seasons for the Chicago Bears.
If you’ve never seen this movie, be forewarned. It’s a tearjerker. Just about everyone who has ever seen it will tell you that it’s one of the saddest movies they've ever seen. In fact, “Brian’s Song” was ranked No. 7 in a 2005 Entertainment Weekly poll of the top “guy-cry” movies of all time.
As you might have imagined, you’ll find this movie on more than a few “best-of” lists. In 2003, Sports Illustrated ranked “Brian’s Song” at No. 17 on its list of 50 “Greatest Sports Movies.” It also won an Emmy for Best Dramatic Program and a Peabody Award.
I was interested to learn that the “Brian’s Song” movie was based on portions a book called “I Am Third” by Sayers and Al Silverman. Published in 1970, this book is actually an autobiography of Sayers, but much of the book deals with Piccolo’s illness and the friendship between Sayers and Piccolo. Using “I Am Third” as a guide, William Blinn wrote the screenplay for “Brian’s Song.”
I was also interested to learn that the original 1971 “Brian’s Song” movie was remade 30 years after the original and was first shown on ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney on Dec. 2, 2001. At 88 minutes, the remake is a little longer than the original movie, which was 74 minutes long. In the remake, Sean Maher plays Piccolo and Mekhi Phifer plays Sayers.
In the end, how many of you have watched “Brian’s Song”? How many of you have read “I Am Third”? What did you think about them? Let us know in the comments section below.