Making the Grades
SACRILEGE! HOW DARE THEY MESS with the football movie that made men cry? Such was my mindset when asked to review the remake of 1971's Emmy Award-winning Brian's Song. In my books, this new version was behind by four touchdowns before the game even started...
Like its predecessor, Brian's Song (2001) is based on actual events and begins back in 1965 -- the year Gale Sayers (Mekhi Phifer), a shy but gifted African-American rookie running back, arrived at the Chicago Bears training camp. Trying out for the same position was an impetuous Caucasian extrovert named Brian Piccolo (Sean Maher). Both players made the team, with Sayers assigned a starting role and Piccolo warming the bench. For lesser men the same scenario might result in discord, but when these two polar opposites became the first racially integrated roommates in NFL history, seeds of friendship took root.
Down on the field, Sayers moved the ball like no other -- until a knee injury sustained during the '68 season threatened his career, leaving him depressed and disabled in a hospital bed. Encouraged by Piccolo -- "I'm gonna beat you, but it won't mean a thing unless you are at your best" -- Sayers embarked on the long and winding road to rehab.
Piccolo filled in admirably, and his friend returned to the lineup in 1969. But something wasn't quite right -- Piccolo was losing weight. And when a persistent cough affected his ability to play, team officials insisted on medical attention. No one was prepared for the news that followed: Brian Piccolo had cancer. Now the support role belonged to Sayers.
When comparing the two made-for-TV dramas, one could long debate over which actor best portrays "Pick," who's a more convincing Coach Halas, and which version boasts better football sequences -- but that would be nitpicking. What matters is the message, and Brian's Song (2001) evokes the same powerful emotions as the original. It also allows a new generation to discover this moving story of friendship, dedication, courage, and bonds inseparable by death.
Upon further review, I've decided the Battle of the Brian's should end in a tie.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Brian’s Song.
Brian’s Song has much to say about rising up to meet life’s challenges. What does it tell you about racial barriers? Competition? Determination? Courage? The important things in life?
People on their deathbed seldom, if ever, give thought to their material acquisitions. What is most likely to be on their minds? Why?
Shortly after his death, the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund was established. You can visit the official website at www.brianpiccolo.org
Jack Warden played Owner/Coach George “Papa Bear” Halas in the 1971 original, and Ben Gazzara tackled the role in 2001. While Warden bears some physical resemblance, Gazzara nails Halas’ voice perfectly. You can hear the late George Halas present Gail Sayers at his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by following this link: www.profootballhof.com/players/enshrinees/gsayers.cfm ...See if you can hear any difference.
If you’re wondering what Brian Piccolo was like in real life, see what Gale Sayers has to say in this short interview: www.profootballhof.com/players/mainpage.cfm?cont_id=85733
Interested in books related to these athletes? Gale Sayers wrote I Am Third (which inspired the first movie) and Jeannie Morris authored Brian Piccolo: A Short Season. (Both books contain instances of stronger language than that found in either movie).