When I got to Halas Hall on Tuesday, the first person I saw was Chuck Davidson, veteran cameraman for CBS and a long-time buddy from Platteville days. Chuck was wearing a top from a Brian Piccolo golf outing, and it was from 1994.
That was a quick reminder how long the Piccolo awards have been around and how much theyve meant, created by the Bears in the wake of Brians death from embryonal cell carcinoma in 1970 at age 26.
When Brian died, the cancer was 100 percent fatal. Because of the research and work funded by proceeds from the Piccolo-related endeavors -- 8.1 million since 1971 the cure rate now is more than 70 percent. Now the target of the proceeds and research is breast cancer at Rush Medical Center and the Clearbrook Center in Arlington Heights for the developmentally disabled.
Bears players have voted for one of their own rookies to receive the Piccolo Award since 1971. It was expanded in 1992 to include one veteran winner each year.
So Tuesday celebrated (choice of word intentional) the presentation of the awards for this year: linebacker Nick Roach as the veteran winner, defensive tackle Stephen Paea as the rookie winner.
Hard work, dedication, loyalty and commitment to teammates are the guidelines and the fact that the awards are the result of players voting probably is the best statement about Roach and Paea.
Piccolo was an undrafted free agent coming out of Wake Forest.. So it was maybe even a little more fitting that Roach was this years winner, because Roach was undrafted coming out of Northwestern.
Im just hoping we can be as lucky to have one of those undrafted free agents have the kind of impact on our football team that Brian Piccolo had, coach Lovie Smith said.
For defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the thing Paea plays it with, and that we look for, is the toughness of mind. Marinelli pointed out that Paea was a second-round draft choice but never complained or pouted while waiting five games before earning a chance on game day.
Paea has seen the movie Brians Song and the thing that he has taken away from it was the caring between roomates Piccolo and Gale Sayers. Paeas selection by his teammates gave him the same feeling, "and thats why were going to win the Super Bowl this year.
The award had a particular poignancy for Roach personally.
The story hit me hard because of a lot of the similarities, Roach said. Piccolo was an undrafted free agent; I was a free agent. Piccolo was 26 when he died; Im 26, Roach said.
And Piccolo died on June 16, which is my birthday.
Roach thanked Smith and the coaches but deadpanned. "The sad thing is that this is my first football trophy so I want to work on that second one for you."