‘Brian’s Song’ and ‘Wonderful Life’: Tupperware Tales, Chapter 4

Table scraps …

November 30 marked the 50-year anniversary of one of the most tear-filled nights in American history — at least for those who owned a television set.

That night in 1971 was the premier of Brian’s Song, a 90-minute TV movie about the real-life relationship between Gayle Sayers, a Chicago Bears football halfback draftee from Kansas and future NFL Hall of Famer, who was black, and fullback Brian Piccolo, a free agent who made Chicago’s team as a fullback free agent, who was white. The story is taken from Sayers’ 1970 book, I Am Third, one of my boyhood favorites.

The shy Sayers and the bubbling-over Piccolo ended up being roommates on the road in 1967, the first time Chicago players of different races had ever roomed together. The bromance grew in the four years they were teammates. Opposites attracted. The two young men and their wives became besties.

But then what happened would make a glass eye cry.

Piccolo took himself out of a game in Atlanta in 1969 and later learned he had cancer. It would kill him in 1970. The relationship between the two young men and their wives is the heart of the movie. A month before Piccolo died, Sayers received the George S. Halas Courage Award and gave the speech, recreated in the film, that made an 11-year-old boy in South Carolina (me and most others of all ages watching) cry:

“He has the mental attitude that makes me proud to have a friend who spells out the word ‘courage’ 24 hours a day, every day of his life. You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. It is mine tonight; it is Brian Piccolo’s tomorrow. I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him too.”

The casting was perfect timing for viewers. Billie Dee Williams as Sayers had not yet become a star. And James Caan as Piccolo was a year removed from his breakout role in The Godfather. So, they both were believable as football players.

As a football player, Sayers was almost unbelievable. There have been few more fun to watch than Sayers, who was poetry in motion. To see someone else run like a deer, watch him or Ruston’s Dub Jones, the 1950s Cleveland Browns star and Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer from Ruston. Those guys are two of only four players to ever score six touchdowns in an NFL game. Mercy.

If you can find Brian’s Song, watch it over the holidays. And count your blessings …

It’s the 75th anniversary of It’s a Wonderful Life, a semi-flop in post-war 1946 but a classic now. If you’ve never seen it, this Christmas is the perfect time to change that. You might just help an angel get his (or her) wings …

He coached in five different decades — multiple sports at multiple schools, including Woodlawn, Southwood, and Captain Shreve. Retired since 2009, Ken Ivy got a lot of what happened in that half century down on paper, and now those memories can be yours in an $11.99 paperback available online. That’s All Life Is, Is Stories, by Coach Ken Ivy (With Help From Some Old Friends) is 274 pages from Ivy, 83, and many of the players he coached during his winning, colorful career. It was published this month so it’s hot off the press, as they say …

Thank goodness that ball with full parks (mostly) came back last spring and that stadiums and gymnasiums with fans came back this fall. But more than that, community theater returned. Didn’t get to see many productions but was grateful for All Together Now from Ruston Community Theatre and Clue at East Bank in Bossier City. Also, at Shreveport Little Theatre, Boeing, Boeing in September and, last weekend, White Christmas, a huge production, what they in the biz call a ‘big show,’ lots and lots of scene changes and costumes and a huge cast. Thank you for all these shows to everyone because making it look easy ain’t easy. Best wishes in your artistic pursuits in 2022. Looking forward to it. Break a leg!, (but not literally) …

Oh, about White Christmas, and since it’s the season, here are some lyrics I wrote 25ish years ago, updated. Maybe it’s the Baptist version of the classic:

 I’m dreaming of a white cornbread,
Just like the ones I used to know.
One that melts the butter,
Makes taste buds flutter,
And makes you weep from head to toe.

I’m dreaming of a white cornbread,
In every skillet that’s in sight,
May the sides be crispy, to bite,
And may all your cornbreads be just right…

Gratefully, the Dad Jokes Calendar that was a 2020 Christmas present (that’s so 2020, right?) is almost no more. This is great news to those around me who’ve had to suffer these almost daily jabs for nearly 12 months; I’ve managed to get on my own nerves. Our final Dad Joke has a Christmas theme: What do elves post on Social Media? They post Elf-ies! (See? Instead of Selfies they pos … Well, never mind. But it’s almost like a joke. Almost.) …

Sincere Merry Christmas wishes to you. Hope this is your best one yet. If it’s Dad Joke-free, it’s got a chance.

 Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


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