Montgomery recognizes relevance of Piccolo Award
During the peak of the civil rights revolution in America, the Bears stumbled onto a feel-good story appropriate for the era.
Running backs Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo were believed to be the NFL's first set of black and white roommates. On the 50th anniversary of Piccolo's death from cancer, running back David Montgomery was named the winner of the Brian Piccolo Award, given annually by the Bears to the team's best rookie.
There is also a veteran's version of the Piccolo Award, which went to defensive tackle Nick Williams, who is now with the Lions.
Sayers and Piccolo's relationship was immortalized in the 1971 movie, "Brian's Song." Times have changed, but the problems gripping the country have not, as Montgomery noted Tuesday.
"As I got here, I started to learn more about it, him and Gale's relationship," Montgomery said. "It's amazing and it's humbling to know that little old me from Cincinnati, Ohio, a kid that struggled in poverty situations and didn't have everything and his family didn't have a lot of stuff; kind of just made it happen.
"To have my name in the same sentence as Mr. Piccolo, I kind of sit back and reminisce over it, because it's definitely a great honor and achievement."
Montgomery joined a Zoom call with reporters from his car, while he prepared for a throwing session with quarterback Mitch Trubisky and other skill players.
Last fall, expectations were high for Montgomery, a third-round pick from Iowa State. His rookie season wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. He ran for 889 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. As a team, the Bears ranked 27th in the league in rushing yards.
Obviously, a better running game might take some pressure off whoever starts at quarterback between Trubisky and Nick Foles.
"I've thought about it a lot as far as being sure that I take care of my mind and my body and myself first, so I can be the best me every day," Montgomery said. "The chemistry between me and the O-line, the other running backs and the quarterbacks have been good, just trying to figure everything out, get closer and learn each other's cues.
"We need it to be better this year and it's going to be better this year. I'm going to be better this year. I'm going to come as prepared as ever to lead that running back room to be who I need to be for this offense and this team."
Piccolo's widow, Joy Piccolo O'Connell, and two of his three daughters also joined Tuesday's call. They were all thankful Brian Piccolo is still remembered and relevant 50 years after he died at 26.
"He loved people," Joy said. "He was a unifier. He was very, very comfortable when Ed McCaskey suggested that he would be Gale's roommate. It wasn't an issue. I think we need more of that today, we really do."
Piccolo's example wasn't lost on Montgomery.
"As you look into the stuff that's happening today through the police brutality and the racial accusations all over, we've just got to look back and understand there's good people out there," he said. "Two opposites can attract. Diversity is nothing but a mirror image.
"There's nothing color-based that should be controlled by the pigment of your skin. To be able to see that Mr. Gale and Mr. Piccolo were great roommates and beyond that great friends and great human beings -- I want to be able to tell my kids I was like that."