Bears wear jerseys at minicamp to honor Piccolo

    Covered the 49ers, Raiders and Warriors for the San Jose Mercury News. She joined ESPN in 2017.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — On the final day of mandatory minicamp, all 90 Chicago Bears players wore No. 41 jerseys at practice to honor Brian Piccolo, who died 52 years ago Thursday from cancer.

Piccolo, who played for the Bears from 1966 to ’69, was 26 years old at the time of his death in 1970. His close relationship with Bears Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers was the subject of the movie “Brian’s Song,” which chronicled their friendship as the first interracial roommates in the NFL.

The Bears initially planned to honor Piccolo on the 50th anniversary of his death, but the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated offseason practices in 2020.

“Just to honor the legacy and his family of Brian Piccolo, that to me was really the main message,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “Sometimes it’s hard 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, late ’60s there. I just think honoring his life. And I read the award to the players today and what that meant.

“He was a really 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.”

The team honors the former Bears running back yearly with the Brian Piccolo Award, which is given to one rookie and one veteran player who “best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor” of Piccolo. This year’s recipients were running back Khalil Herbert and linebacker Robert Quinn.

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