LAKE FOREST – One of the biggest awards the Bears give every year is in tribute to the man who passed away 50 years ago on Tuesday.
Brian Piccolo was a young and energetic player for the team from 1965-1969 before dying of cancer at the age of 26 on June 16, 1970. Since then, the team has honored the way he lived his life by awarding current members of the Bears who do the same.
Defensive tackle Nick Williams won the Piccolo Award for a veteran player while running back David Montgomery got the honor for rookies for the 2019 season. Voted on by the Bears’ players, the award is given to the athlete that exemplifies “the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, and sense of humor” which Piccolo carried during his time with the team.
The Rookie award has been given out since the year of Piccolo’s death, with the veteran award established in 1992. Traditionally given at an in-person ceremony, the award presented virtually in 2020 with Halas Hall and other venues closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a blessing to receive the Piccolo Award,” said Montgomery in a statement released by the team. “I’d like to thank the Bears organization, the Piccolo family and my teammates for making this possible. Being linked to Brian Piccolo and his legacy with the Bears is very humbling. Anytime your teammates or peers vote for you for anything, it’s a huge honor.
“Being a running back for the Bears with the rich history at that position makes this especially unique and I’m just very grateful.”
Montgomery gained 889 yards in 16 games during his first season with the Bears with six touchdowns as he took on a majority of the team’s carries. Williams, who signed with the Lions this offseason, emerged as a strong pass rusher up the middle as he collected a career-high six sacks in 14 games.
“When I found out I was receiving the Brian Piccolo Award, it was a huge honor,” said Williams in a statement released by the team.. “It exemplifies teamwork, courage, loyalty, dedication and just a sense of humor. Having a sense of humor is something that stuck with me throughout the locker room. I’ve always cracked jokes with guys and tried to look on the bright side of things. When things may not have been going our way, I tried to lift them up, especially the defensive line room.
“I think being a locker room guy exemplifies the award and it’s a huge honor for me to even join this list of guys. Even one of the most recent winners, Akiem Hicks, one of my good friends. I know what type of player and teammate he was. It’s just a huge honor.”
Piccolo joined the Bears in 1965 as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest, spending his five seasons in Chicago. He was on the practice squad his first year but was on the main roster for the next four, rushing for 927 yards and four touchdowns while also catching 58 passes with a score.
Diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma during the 1969 season, Piccolo would fight the disease at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. After two surgeries, he would eventually succumb to it 50 years ago Tuesday.
But Piccolo’s legacy continue to live on with the Bears, and does so through two new athletes this year.