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Piccolo became symbol of courage

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Piccolo led Wake to '64 win over Duke
By Mike Puma
Special to

Signature Game
Nov. 7, 1964 -- Wake Forest hadn't beaten intra-state rival Duke in 13 years, but on this unusually hot autumn afternoon 93-degree day, Brian Piccolo rushed for 113 yards and scored all the Demon Deacons' points in a 20-7 victory. His 36 carries set an Atlantic Coast Conference record.

Piccolo ran for two touchdowns, caught a touchdown pass and kicked two extra points. "Oh, I have never been so tired in my life," Piccolo said. "But the thrill of winning makes me forget that I'm tired. After playing two years and winning only one game, I would have wondered a long time if somebody had told me in September that we would beat Duke this season."

Piccolo, who shed 15 pounds during the game, had to be carried off the field.

Both UPI and Sports Illustrated named him as their running back of the week.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Piccolo's father, Joseph, was born in Naples, Italy.

  • Piccolo played centerfield for his high school baseball team and hit .375 as a senior.

  • It was Piccolo's high school football coach, Jim Kurth, who convinced Wake Forest to recruit Piccolo. The Demon Deacons were interested in one of Piccolo's teammates.

  • At Wake Forest, Piccolo majored in speech.

  • One of Piccolo's college teammates was John Mackovic, who later became an NFL and college head coach.

  • Despite Piccolo's huge 1964 season, in which he led the nation in rushing and scoring, Wake Forest finished only 5-5.

  • Piccolo's 1,044 yards rushing that year broke the ACC record set by Wake Forest's Bill Barnes in 1956.

  • Chicago Bears owner-coach George Halas was so excited about getting Piccolo as a free agent that he held a news conference to announce the signing. "I don't know what made the Old Man do it," Piccolo said. "Naturally, the big question from all the writers was why hadn't I been drafted?"

  • Disappointed over his lack of playing time in his first two seasons with the Bears, Piccolo hoped to be traded. "I used to dream about what it would have been like to play for Vince Lombardi," he said. "I knew I was his kind of back, his kind of man."

  • In Piccolo's four seasons, the Bears had a winning record only in 1967, when they went 7-6-1.

  • Before the 1968 season, Halas retired from coaching, handing the reigns to Jim Dooley, who made Piccolo a starter when Gale Sayers tore ligaments in his knee in November.

  • In his first game as a starter, in 1968, Piccolo caught seven passes for 92 yards.

  • Piccolo had great admiration for teammate Dick Butkus, the dominant middle linebacker of the 1960s. "Dick is the most complete football player I have ever known," Piccolo said. "He has so much desire and likes to hit so much that he destroys ballcarriers."

  • Piccolo received his stockbroker's license in 1968.

  • The Chicago Bulls honored Piccolo with a night in February 1969.

  • Piccolo is buried in Evergreen Park, Ill.

  • Piccolo's No. 41 is retired by the Bears.

  • The ACC has a Brian Piccolo award, given annually to the league's most courageous football player.

  • In the 1971 movie "Brian's Song," which won five Emmys, Jack Warden played Halas.

  • Brian Piccolo Park opened in 1989 in Cooper City, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, where he was raised. It features a cycling track, basketball courts and softball fields.

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