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McClellin, Peppers, Tillman win Brian Piccolo awards
Soft-spoken Shea McClellin isn’t known for his rapier wit or gregarious sense of humor. But the Brian Piccolo Award seems to bring out the best in everybody.
”When I got dressed this morning, I realized I look like a college professor,” McClellin, a bit underdressed in a sportcoact, tie and blue jeans said to laughter at the Bears’ annual awards ceremonly at the Mugs Halas Auditorium. ”Sorry about that –I should have worn my slacks.”
McClellin was typically humble and understated in accepting the Piccolo award, along with veteran teammates Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman, on Tuesday.
The Brian Piccolo Award has been presented since 1970 to the Bears rookie who exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of Brian Piccolo, the Bears running back who died of cancer in 1970. The organization added a veteran winner in 1992.
Piccolo’s sense of humor in the face of his devastating illness is what many former teammate remember most — like when the Bears lost all five games they played after Piccolo was initially hospitalized in 1969.
”We were playing a game when he was in the hospital and we all got together and said, ‘Let’s get this one for Brian.’ And we lost the game,” former Bears linebacker Doug Buffone said. ”We go to the hospital and Brian said, ‘Where’s the win? Can’t you guys do anything right?’
”Not that we were a good team, but you would think you could rise to the occasion that one time. That’s why it was funny [at the hospital]. Brian took the edge off it. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Piccolo was an undrafted rookie from Wake Forest who worked his way onto the team and into the lineup. He replaced Gale Sayers when Sayers suffered his first knee injury in 1968.
McClellin was a first round draft pick, but has the same work ethic that turned Piccolo into a contributing player.
”Humility –He doesn’t sit there and bring a lot of attention to himself,” said Bears defensive line coach Mike Phair, who introduced McClellin at the ceremony. ”When we’re out doing drill work, holding bags, he’s the first guy helping us out. He still does that today.
”Courage and loyalty, those are two things I saw in him [when the Bears scouted him last year]. The first season is rough, but he battled through, keeps his nose down and keep working. And he never complains.
”He’s very observant and a great listener. He’s a guy that’s listening to everything you’re saying and watching everything the veterans are doing. He doesn’t say a whole lot.”
McClellin, the 19th overall pick of the 2012 draft, had 2 1/2 sacks and 14 quarterback pressures as a situational pass rusher as a rookie.
”[The Piccolo Award] means a lot,” he said. ”I’m very honored and blessed just to be in this position. To be up here with Julius and Charles and for our teammates to vote for us for this award, it means a lot.”
Like most Bears players, McClellin learned about Piccolo after joining the Bears. Though it has been 44 years since Piccolo last played for the Bears, McClellin said he has a fine appreciation for Piccolo and his legacy with the Bears.
”We know about him and he has that movie about him [Brian's Song],” McClellin said. ”You can learn a lot from the good old days.”
Peppers and Tillman tied for the veterans award. It was Tillman’s third time winning the award. He also won as a rookie in 2003 and as a veteran in 2008. Peppers, who joined the Bears in 2010, won for the first time.
Both players were most appreciative of the fact that the award is voted upon by their teammates.
”It’s humbling and a privilege to have my name added to the list of recipients who have won this award,” Peppers said. ”You look at this list and see a great group of football players, but more importantly a great group of people.
”As I learned about Mr. Piccolo –the teamwork, loyalty and dedication and friendship resonated with me. That’s something we all strive for in our career and our personal life. That along with his commitment to the people that were around him. One day I can only hope to be viewed in that same light and have the respect and integrity that he had.”
The Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund has provided $8.2 million for cancer research, according to Traci Piccolo Dolby, one of Brian Piccolo’s three daughters, who was present at the awards ceremony.
The Bears presented a check for $50,000 from National Football League Charities to Piccolo’s widow, Joy Piccolo O’Connell.
”This is wonderful. Congratulations to each of [the award winners],” Joy Piccolo O’Connell said. ”I’m very proud of this award. It means a great deal to all of us. I’m especially grateful to the Chicago Bears, the NFL and especially to Viriginia McCaskey and her family. They have made this continue for many, many years and we will always be totally committed to finding a cure for cancer.”