Brian's Song

Brian's Song is a 1971 ABC Movie of the Week that recounts the details of the life of Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan), a Chicago Bears football player stricken with terminal cancer after turning pro in 1965, told through his friendship with Bears teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams). Piccolo's and Sayers's sharply differing temperaments and racial backgrounds made them unlikely to become as close friends as they did, including becoming the first interracial roommates in the history of the National Football League, and the film chronicles the evolution of their friendship, ending with Piccolo's death in 1970.[2] The production was such a success on ABC that it was later shown in theaters by Columbia Pictures[3] with a major premiere in Chicago; however, it was soon withdrawn due to a lack of business.[1] Critics have called the movie one of the finest telefilms ever made.[1][4] A 2005 readers poll taken by Entertainment Weekly ranked 'Brian's Song' seventh in its list of the top "guy-cry" films ever made.

The movie is based on Sayers' account of his friendship with Piccolo and coping with Piccolo's illness in Sayers' autobiography, I Am Third.[5] The film was written by veteran screenwriter William Blinn,[6] whose script, one Dallas television critic called, "highly restrained, steering clear of any overt sentimentality [yet conveying] the genuine affection the two men felt so deeply for each other."[4]

Although based on a true story, the film did include some fictional scenes. One example was when George Halas (played by Jack Warden) told Gale Sayers that he wanted to bench Brian Piccolo when he suspected that there may be a problem affecting his performance. He later learned of Brian's cancer. In reality, Jim Dooley was the head coach at that time, as Halas had retired from the position following the 1967 season.

Brian's Song
Brians song tv guide 1971 premiere
Premiere advertisement from TV Guide
Based onI Am Third
by Gale Sayers
Al Silverman
Written byWilliam Blinn
Directed byBuzz Kulik
StarringJames Caan
Billy Dee Williams
Music byMichel Legrand
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Paul Junger Witt
CinematographyJoseph F. Biroc
Editor(s)Bud S. Isaacs
Running time74 minutes
Production company(s)Screen Gems
DistributorColumbia Pictures
Sony Pictures Television
Original networkABC
Original release
  • November 30, 1971


The movie begins as Chicago Bears rookie running back Gale Sayers (Williams) arrives at team practice as an errant punt is sent to Sayers. Fellow rookie running Brian Piccolo (Caan) goes to retrieve the ball, and Sayers flips it to him. Before Sayers meets with coach George Halas (Jack Warden) in his office, Piccolo tells him – as a prank – that Halas has a hearing problem, and Sayers acts strangely at the meeting. Sayers pranks him back by placing mashed potatoes on his seat while Piccolo is singing his alma mater's fight song.

During practice, Piccolo struggles while Sayers shines. Sayers and Piccolo are placed as roommates, a rarity during the racial strife at the time. Their friendship flourishes, in football and in life, quickly extending to their wives, Joy Piccolo and Linda Sayers. Sayers quickly becomes a standout player, but he injures his knee in a game against the San Francisco 49ers. To aid in Sayers' recovery, Piccolo brings a weight machine to his house. In Sayers' place, Piccolo rushes for 160 yards in a 17–16 win over the Los Angeles Rams and is given the game ball. Piccolo challenges Sayers to a race across the park, where Sayers stumbles but wins. Piccolo wins the starting fullback position, meaning both he and Sayers will now be on the field together, and both excel in their roles.

Piccolo starts to lose weight and his performance declines, so he is sent to a hospital for a diagnosis. Soon after, Halas tells Sayers that Piccolo has cancer and will have part of a lung removed. In an emotional speech to his teammates, Sayers states that they will win the game for Piccolo and give him the game ball. When the players later visit the hospital, Piccolo teases them about losing the game, laughing that the line in the old movie wasn’t "let’s lose one for the Gipper."

After a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sayers visits Joy, who reveals that Piccolo has to have another surgery for his tumor. After he is awarded the "George S. Halas Most Courageous Player Award", Sayers dedicates his award to Piccolo, telling the crowd that they had selected the wrong person for the prize and saying, "I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him, too. And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him." In a call, Sayers mentions that he gave Piccolo a pint of blood while he was in critical condition. Piccolo dies with his wife by his side. The movie ends with a flashback of Piccolo and Sayers running through the park, while the narrator says that Piccolo died at age 26 and is remembered not for how he died but for how he lived.



The musical theme to Brian's Song, "The Hands of Time", was a popular tune during the early 1970s and has become a standard.[1] The music for the film was by Michel Legrand, with lyrics to the song by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Legrand's instrumental version of the theme song charted for eight weeks in 1972, peaking at No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100.[7] Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer performed a popular version of "The Hands of Time".


The film received acclaim and is often cited as one of the greatest television films ever made, as well as one of the greatest sports films. It holds a 92% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 12 critics, with a consensus stating "Buoyed by standout performances from James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, Brian's Song is a touching tale of friendship whose central relationship transcendeds its standard sports movie moments."

Television critic Matt Zoller Seitz in his 2016 book co-written with Alan Sepinwall titled TV (The Book) named Brian's Song as the fifth greatest American TV-movie of all time, stating that the film was "The dramatic and emotional template for a good number of sports films and male weepies (categories which tend to overlap a bit)", as well as "an influential early example of the interracial buddy movie."[8]


The film won an Emmy Award for Best Dramatic Program (1971–72). William Blinn won an Emmy for his teleplay, and Jack Warden won for his performance as Coach Halas. Caan and Williams were both nominated for best leading actor.[1]

Award Category Winner/Nominee Result Ref
Eddie Awards Best Edited Television Program Brian's Song Nominated [9]
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television Buzz Kulik Won
Emmy Award Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming – For a Special or Feature Length Program Made for Television Brian's Song Won
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Drama Jack Warden Won
Outstanding Single Program – Drama or Comedy Brian's Song Won
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama – Adaptation Brian's Song Won
Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing Brian's Song Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition – For a Special Program Brian's Song Nominated
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama – A Single Program Buzz Kulik Nominated
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role James Caan
Billy Dee Williams
Golden Globe Award Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film Brian's Song Nominated
PGA Awards PGA Hall of Fame – Television Programs Brian's Song Won
Peabody Award Peabody Award ABC Television
William Blinn
TV Land Award Blockbuster Movie of the Week James Caan
Billy Dee Williams


Thirty years after its original airing, a remake was aired in 2001 on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney starring Mekhi Phifer as Sayers and Sean Maher as Piccolo.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e Marill, Alvin H. (1987). Movies Made For Television: The Telefeature and the Mini-series, 1964–1986. New York: Baseline/New York Zoetrope. pp. 53–4. ISBN 0-918432-85-5.
  2. ^ Lerner, Barron H. (November 29, 2011). ""Brian's Song": What Really Happened". History News Network. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  3. ^ Thomas, Bob (then-parent and future corporate sibling of the movie's production company, Screen Gems). "TV 'Brian's Song' on movie screens", The Dallas Morning News, April 29, 1972, page 2.
  4. ^ a b Harry Bowman. "Broadcast Beat [TV column]: 'Brian's Song' superior film", The Dallas Morning News, November 27, 1971, page 7A.
  5. ^ Sayers, Gayle; Silverman, Al (1970). I am Third. New York City: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0670389773.
  6. ^ "Brian's Song". Turner Classic Movies. United States: Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2000). Top Pop Singles 1955–1999. Record Research (Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin). p.371. ISBN 0-89820-139-X
  8. ^ Sepinwall, Alan; Seitz, Matt Zoller (September 2016). TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time (1st ed.). New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing. p. 375. ISBN 9781455588190.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Bud Talley (2 December 2001). "Brian's Song (TV Movie 2001)". IMDb. Retrieved 24 September 2015.

External links

24th Primetime Emmy Awards

The 24th Emmy Awards, later known as the 24th Primetime Emmy Awards, were handed out on May 6, 1972. The ceremony was hosted by Johnny Carson. Winners are listed in bold and series' networks are in parentheses.

The top shows of the night were All in the Family and Elizabeth R. All in the Family set numerous records during the night, it became the first show to win six major awards, (although one came in a tie, this record would be broken by other shows that won six major awards outright). It also became the first non-anthology drama to receive at least ten major nominations.

A milestone was set when All in the Family and Columbo each received every nomination in a major category, both for writing. This feat has become extremely rare as the field of nominees expanded to five and later six.

Glenda Jackson also made history by receiving three acting nominations for the same performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth R. Rule changes have made this impossible in later ceremonies. In addition, by beating the Big Three TV networks, this was PBS' first win for Outstanding Drama. (Though the N.E.T. network was the first to win this award, against the Big Three, in 1969, NET would eventually dissolve, but would become the direct predecessor to PBS.) This show was also the first non-American made show to win this award.

Al Silverman

Elwyn Harmon Silverman (12 April 1926 – 10 March 2019), known as Al Silverman, was a noted sports writer, the author of 10 books and numerous essays published in, among other publications, Playboy, Saga, and Sport magazine. Among his publications is I Am Third, written with Gale Sayers, which was adapted for the 1971 television movie Brian's Song.

In addition to his writing, Silverman also worked as an editor and publisher. He was editor of Sport Magazine from 1951 to 1963 and was CEO and chairman of Book of the Month Club from 1972 to 1988. Most recently, Silverman served as editor and publisher at Viking Press from 1989 to 1997.

Billy Dee Williams

William December "Billy Dee" Williams Jr. (born April 6, 1937) is an American actor, artist, and singer. Williams is best known for his role as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars film franchise, first appearing in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Williams has also appeared in critically acclaimed films like Brian's Song (1971), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Mahogany (1975), Nighthawks (1981), and Batman (1989), in which he portrayed Harvey Dent.

Blue Saints Drum and Bugle Corps

The Blue Saints Drum and Bugle Corps is an Open Class competitive junior drum and bugle corps. Based in Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, the Blue Saints perform in Drum Corps International (DCI) competitions.

Brian's Song (2001 film)

Brian's Song is the 2001 remake of the 1971 television film Brian's Song, telling the story of Brian Piccolo (Sean Maher), a white running back who meets, clashes with and befriends fellow Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers (Mekhi Phifer). The movie was adapted from Sayers' own words in his autobiography, I am Third. The television movie, produced by Columbia TriStar Television, was first broadcast in the US on The Wonderful World of Disney on ABC.

In the movie, Piccolo is a brash rookie with the Bears. Initially thinking Sayers is arrogant – when he is only quiet and a slight bit anti-social – they rub each other the wrong way from the moment they meet. The movie, taking place from 1965 to 1970, as the Civil Rights Movement grows, places great emphasis on integration, bringing up the conflict of when Brian and Gale room together for their first football season.

Brian Piccolo

Louis Brian Piccolo (October 31, 1943 – June 16, 1970) was a professional American football player, a running back for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) for four years. He died at age 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of germ cell testicular cancer, first diagnosed after it had spread to his chest cavity.

Piccolo was the subject of the 1971 TV movie Brian's Song, with a remake (of the same title) TV movie filmed in 2001. He was portrayed in the original film by James Caan and by Sean Maher in the 2001 remake.

Ed O'Bradovich

Edward O'Bradovich (born May 21, 1940, in Melrose Park, Illinois) is a former American football defensive end in the NFL that was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the seventh round (91st pick) of the 1962 NFL Draft; he spent his entire ten-year career with the Bears. He attended Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois and the University of Illinois.

O'Bradovich has the rare distinction of an athlete that within the same state grew up, attended college, and enjoyed a long professional career. "OB", as he was known throughout his career, grew up in Hillside, IL, attended the University of Illinois and played his entire career for the Bears. Perhaps the singular professional career distinction was when he intercepted a short pass in the 1963 NFL Championship game and rumbled down the field on a key play for a Bears victory. Before joining the Bears, he played in the CFL for the B.C. Lions and the Calgary Stampeders.He started (year) co-hosting the Suburban Tire Post Game Show after Bears games, alongside former Bear Doug Buffone on WSCR in Chicago and lives in Palatine, IL. In May 2009, O'Bradovich and Buffone left WSCR-AM and joined Chicago Sports Webio. However, in June 2009, the founder of Chicago Sports Webio was charged with operating a Ponzi scheme, and the site was shut down. O'Bradovich and Buffone re-signed with the Score in late August 2009. O'Bradovich began broadcasting Chicago Rush Arena Football League games for Comcast SportsNet and WGN in 2010. Following his retirement, O'Bradovich has closely followed the Bears, giving the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speeches for both Dan Hampton and Mike Ditka.O'Bradovich played himself in the television movies Brian's Song, starring James Caan as Brian Piccolo, and Coach of the Year, starring Robert Conrad as former Chicago Bears player Jim Brandon.

Gale Sayers

Gale Eugene Sayers (born May 30, 1943) is a former professional American football player who earned acclaim both as a halfback and return specialist in the National Football League (NFL). In a brief but highly productive NFL career, Sayers spent seven seasons with the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1971, though multiple injuries effectively limited him to five seasons of play. He was known for his elusiveness and agility, and was regarded by his peers as one of the most difficult players to tackle.

Nicknamed the "Kansas Comet", Sayers played college football for the Kansas Jayhawks football team of the University of Kansas, where he compiled 4,020 all-purpose yards over three seasons and was twice recognized as a consensus All-American. In his rookie NFL season, he set a league record by scoring 22 touchdowns—including a record-tying six in one game—and gained 2,272 all-purpose yards en route to being named the NFL's Rookie of the Year. He continued this production through his first five seasons, earning four Pro Bowl appearances and five first-team All-Pro selections. A right knee injury forced Sayers to miss the final five games of the 1968 season, but he returned in 1969 to lead the NFL in rushing yards and be named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. An injury to his left knee in the 1970 preseason as well as subsequent injuries kept him sidelined for most of his final two seasons.

His friendship with Bears teammate Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer in 1970, inspired Sayers to write his autobiography, I Am Third, which in turn was the basis for the 1971 made-for-TV movie Brian's Song. Sayers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 at age 34, and remains the youngest person to receive the honor. He was named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team as a halfback and kick returner, the only player to occupy two positions on the team. For his achievements in college, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame the same year. His jersey number is retired by both the Bears and the University of Kansas. Following his NFL career, Sayers began a career in sports administration and business, and served as the athletic director of Southern Illinois University from 1976 to 1981.

Jack Warden

Jack Warden (born John Warden Lebzelter Jr., September 18, 1920 – July 19, 2006) was an American character actor of film and television. He was twice nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor—for Shampoo (1975), and Heaven Can Wait (1978). He received a BAFTA nomination for the former movie, and won an Emmy for his performance in Brian's Song (1971).

James Caan

James Edmund Caan (born March 26, 1940) is an American actor. After early roles in The Glory Guys (1965), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, El Dorado (1967), and The Rain People (1969), he came to prominence in the 1970s with significant roles in films such as Brian's Song (1971), Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Gambler (1974), Freebie and the Bean (1974), Rollerball (1975), Funny Lady (1975), A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Chapter Two (1979). For his signature role in The Godfather (1972), that of hot-tempered Sonny Corleone, Caan was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe.

Caan's subsequent notable performances include roles in Thief (1981), Misery (1990), For the Boys (1991), Eraser (1996), Bottle Rocket (1996) and Elf (2003), as well as the role of "Big Ed" Deline in the television series Las Vegas (2003–08). He also prominently lent his voice to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013) as Tim Lockwood, father of Bill Hader's protagonist Flint Lockwood.

For his contributions to the film industry, Caan was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1978 with a motion pictures star located at 6648 Hollywood Boulevard.

Kojo Aidoo

Kojo Aidoo (born November 27, 1978) is a former Canadian football fullback and special teams specialist who played for the Edmonton Eskimos, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League (CFL) from 2003 to 2007.

Originally from Ghana, Aidoo played college football for the McMaster Marauders from 1998 to 2002. Aidoo was most successful during the 2000 season, when he broke conference records for rushing yards and touchdowns. His performance earned him the Hec Crighton Trophy as the most outstanding university football player in Canada, and he was honored with numerous other accolades. After breaking his right leg while filming Brian's Song, Aidoo missed most of his final two seasons with the Marauders.

The Edmonton Eskimos selected Aidoo in the second round of the 2003 CFL Draft. He went on to play for four CFL teams, spending the most time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. With the Tiger-Cats, Aidoo primarily played on special teams. He also occasionally started at fullback and served as a back-up for other players in the backfield. He retired from the CFL after playing in 60 regular season games and recording 20 special team tackles.

List of Hemlock Grove episodes

Hemlock Grove is an American supernatural drama series developed by Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman, based on McGreevy's novel of the same name. The first season premiered exclusively via Netflix's web streaming service on April 19, 2013. The second season premiered on July 11, 2014. The third and final 10-episode season premiered on October 23, 2015.

Movin' Out (Brian's Song)

"Movin' Out (Brian's Song)" is the second episode of the sixth season of the American animated television series Family Guy. The 100th overall, it originally aired on Fox in the United States on September 30, 2007. It was written by John Viener and directed by Cyndi Tang. In the episode, Peter convinces Brian to move in with his girlfriend Jillian and Stewie tags along to help pay the rent. Meanwhile, Meg and Chris get jobs at the convenience store where Chris befriends the manager, prompting Meg to do all the hard work. The episode title is a reference to the Billy Joel song "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" and the film Brian's Song. This episode marks the end of Brian and Jillian's relationship, which started in season five.

"Movin' Out (Brian's Song)" was met with generally positive reviews from critics, who praised it for having a continuous storyline. Critics also praised Drew Barrymore's performance as Jillian and considered it sorrowful that her character was written out of the series. The episode was viewed by 7.95 million viewers in its original airing, according to Nielsen ratings. "Movin' Out (Brian's Song)" was released onto DVD along with five other episodes from the season on October 21, 2008.

Paul Junger Witt

Paul Junger Witt (March 20, 1941 – April 27, 2018) was an American film and television producer. He, with his partners Tony Thomas and Susan Harris (also his wife), produced such television shows as Here Come the Brides, The Partridge Family, The Golden Girls, Soap, Benson, Empty Nest and Blossom. The majority of their shows have been produced by their company, Witt/Thomas Productions (alternately Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions), founded in 1975. Witt also produced the films Dead Poets Society, Three Kings, Insomnia, and the made-for-TV movie Brian's Song. He was a graduate of the University of Virginia.

Primetime Emmy Award for Program of the Year

The Primetime Emmy Award for Program of the Year was an annual award presented as part of the Primetime Emmy Awards. It recognized the best single television program of the year. In early Emmy ceremonies, anthology series were more common than traditional sitcoms or dramas; this made Program of the Year the highest honor.Though traditional comedy and drama series were nominated, the majority of nominees and winners were: telefilms, variety specials, and documentaries. The award was last presented in 1973.

Shelley Fabares

Michele Ann Marie "Shelley" Fabares (; born January 19, 1944) is an American actress and singer. She is best known for her roles as Donna Reed's daughter Mary Stone on The Donna Reed Show (1958–63) and as Hayden Fox's love interest (and eventual wife) Christine Armstrong on the sitcom Coach (1989–97). She was Elvis Presley's co-star in three films. In 1962, her recording of "Johnny Angel" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face) (Johnny Mathis album)

The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face) is an album by American pop singer Johnny Mathis that was released on May 10, 1972, by Columbia Records and continues in the tradition set by his recent studio releases of covering mostly current chart hits. A trio of selections on side one ("Love Theme from 'The Godfather' (Speak Softly Love)", "Theme from 'Summer of 42' (The Summer Knows)", and "Brian's Song (The Hands of Time)") originated as film scores and had lyrics added later.

The album made its first appearance on Billboard magazine's Top LP's & Tapes chart in the issue dated June 10, 1972, and remained there for 15 weeks, peaking at number 71.This LP was released as a DTS Surround Sound CD on May 23, 2000. The reason for the selection of this particular album for DTS release is suggested in a message in the liner notes from the CD's producer, Patricia Miller: "I dedicate this to the memory of my loving Brad. Thank you for all the strength and passion you gave me during our time together and forever. These love songs tell a story of our everlasting love."

William Blinn

William Frederick Blinn (born July 21, 1937) is an American screenwriter and television producer.

Films directed by Buzz Kulik
Retired numbers
Key personnel
Division championships (21)
Conference championships (4)
League championships (9)
Current league affiliations
Seasons (100)

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