Jump to content

Brian's Song

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Brian's Song
Premiere advertisement from TV Guide
Based onI Am Third
by Gale Sayers
Al Silverman
Written byWilliam Blinn
Directed byBuzz Kulik
StarringJames Caan
Billy Dee Williams
Music byMichel Legrand
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
ProducerPaul Junger Witt
CinematographyJoseph F. Biroc
EditorBud S. Isaacs
Running time74 minutes
Production companyScreen Gems
Original release
ReleaseNovember 30, 1971 (1971-11-30)[1]

Brian's Song is a 1971 ABC Movie of the Week that recounts the life of Brian Piccolo (James Caan), a Chicago Bears football player stricken with terminal cancer, focusing on his friendship with teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams). Piccolo's and Sayers's sharply differing temperaments and racial backgrounds made them unlikely to become friends but they did, becoming the first interracial roommates in the history of the National Football League. The film chronicles the evolution of their friendship, ending with Piccolo's death in 1970.[2] The production was such a success on ABC that it was later shown in theaters by Columbia Pictures[3] with a major premiere in Chicago; however, it was soon withdrawn for lack of business.[1] Critics have called the movie one of the finest television movies ever made.[1][4] A 2005 readers' poll taken by Entertainment Weekly ranked Brian's Song seventh in its list of the top "guy-cry" films.[5]

The movie is based on Sayers's account of his friendship with Piccolo and coping with Piccolo's illness in Sayers's 1970 autobiography, I Am Third.[6] The film was written by William Blinn,[7] whose script one Dallas television critic called "highly restrained, steering clear of any overt sentimentality [yet conveying] the genuine affection the two men felt so deeply for each other."[4]


The movie begins as Chicago Bears rookie running back Gale Sayers arrives at team practice as an errant punt lands near him. Fellow rookie running back Brian Piccolo goes to retrieve the ball, and Sayers flips it to him. Before Sayers meets with coach George Halas in his office, Piccolo tells him – as a prank – that Halas has a hearing problem, and Sayers acts strangely at the meeting. Sayers pranks him back by placing mashed potatoes on his seat while Piccolo is singing his alma mater's fight song.

During practice, Piccolo struggles while Sayers shines. Sayers and Piccolo are placed as roommates, a rarity during the racial strife at the time. Piccolo is afraid that he did not make the team, but Sayers makes the point that "if you didn't make the team, we wouldn't be placed together as roommates." Their friendship flourishes, in football and in life, quickly extending to their wives, Joy Piccolo and Linda Sayers. Sayers quickly becomes a standout player, but he injures his knee in a game against the San Francisco 49ers. To aid in Sayers's recovery, Piccolo brings a weight machine to his house. In Sayers' place, Piccolo rushes for 160 yards in a 17–16 win over the Los Angeles Rams and is given the game ball. Piccolo challenges Sayers to a race across the park, where Sayers stumbles but wins. Piccolo wins the starting fullback position, meaning both he and Sayers will now be on the field together, and both excel in their roles.

Piccolo starts to lose weight and his performance declines, so he is sent to a hospital for a diagnosis. Soon after, Halas tells Sayers that Piccolo has cancer and will have part of a lung removed. In an emotional speech to his teammates, Sayers states that they will win the game for Piccolo and give him the game ball. When the players later visit the hospital, Piccolo teases them about losing the game, laughing that the line in the old movie wasn't "let’s blow one for the Gipper."

After a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sayers visits Joy, who reveals that Piccolo has to have another surgery for his tumor. After he is awarded the "George S. Halas Most Courageous Player Award", Sayers dedicates his award to Piccolo, telling the crowd that they had selected the wrong person for the prize and saying, "I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him, too. And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him." In a call, Sayers mentions that he gave Piccolo a pint of blood while he was in critical condition. Piccolo dies with his wife by his side. The movie ends with a flashback of Piccolo and Sayers running through the park, while Halas narrates that Piccolo died at age 26 and is remembered not for how he died but for how he lived.



The musical theme to Brian's Song, "The Hands of Time", was a popular tune during the early 1970s and has become a standard.[1] The music for the film was by Michel Legrand, with lyrics to the song by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

Legrand's instrumental version of the theme song charted for eight weeks in 1972, peaking at No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100.[8] It also won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition.[9]


The film received acclaim and is often cited as one of the greatest television films ever made, as well as one of the greatest sports films.[10]

The film was the most watched movie on U.S. television during 1971 and the most watched made-for-TV movie ever with a Nielsen rating of 32.9 and an audience share of 48% until it was surpassed by The Night Stalker in January 1972.[11][12][13]

Beginning in Fall 1972, the film was made available to schools all over the United States by the Learning Corporation of America.[13]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 92% of 12 critics have given the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7.70/10. The site's consensus is that "Buoyed by standout performances from James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, Brian's Song is a touching tale of friendship whose central relationship transcends its standard sports movie moments."[14]

In his 2016 book co-written with Alan Sepinwall titled TV (The Book), television critic Matt Zoller Seitz named Brian's Song as the fifth greatest American TV-movie of all time, stating that the film was "The dramatic and emotional template for a good number of sports films and male weepies (categories which tend to overlap a bit)", as well as "an influential early example of the interracial buddy movie."[15] Filmink magazine said the film "has a deserved reputation for the definitive guy cry movie – cancer, race, football, stoicism."[16]


Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Television Program Bud S. Isaacs Nominated [17]
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television Buzz Kulik Won [18]
Golden Globe Awards Best Television Film Nominated [19]
Peabody Awards Entertainment ABC Television and William Blinn Won [20]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Single Program – Drama or Comedy Paul Junger Witt Won [21]
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role James Caan Nominated
Billy Dee Williams Nominated
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama Jack Warden Won
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama – A Single Program Buzz Kulik Nominated
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama – Adaptation William Blinn Won
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming –
For a Special or Feature Length Program Made for Television
Joseph Biroc Won
Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Entertainment Programming –
For a Special or Feature Length Program Made for Television
Bud S. Isaacs Won
Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing George Emick, Wayne Fury, Ralph Hickey,
Marvin I. Kosberg, Paul Laune,
Monty Pearce, and Harold Wooley
Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Mixing William J. Montague and Alfred E. Overton Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition – For a Special Program Michel Legrand Nominated
Grammy Awards Best Instrumental Composition "Brian's Song" – Michel Legrand Won [22]
Producers Guild of America Awards Hall of Fame – Television Programs Paul Junger Witt Won [23]
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Television Programs Inducted [24]
TV Land Awards Blockbuster Movie of the Week James Caan and Billy Dee Williams Won


Thirty years after its original airing, a remake was aired in 2001 on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney starring Mekhi Phifer as Sayers and Sean Maher as Piccolo.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Marill, Alvin H. (1987). Movies Made For Television: The Telefeature and the Mini-series, 1964–1986. New York: Baseline/New York Zoetrope. pp. 53–4. ISBN 0-918432-85-5.
  2. ^ Lerner, Barron H. (November 29, 2011). ""Brian's Song": What Really Happened". History News Network. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  3. ^ Thomas, Bob ("TV 'Brian's Song' on movie screens", The Dallas Morning News, April 29, 1972, page 2
  4. ^ a b Harry Bowman. "Broadcast Beat [TV column]: 'Brian's Song' superior film", The Dallas Morning News, November 27, 1971, page 7A.
  5. ^ "A Guy Cry". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on March 19, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2023.
  6. ^ Sayers, Gayle; Silverman, Al (1970). I am Third. New York City: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0670389773.
  7. ^ "Brian's Song (1971)". Turner Classic Movie Database. United States: Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2000). Top Pop Singles 1955–1999. Record Research (Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin). p.371. ISBN 0-89820-139-X
  9. ^ "Grammy Award Nominees 1973 – Grammy Award Winners 1973". Awardsandshows.com. Archived from the original on June 11, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Higgins, Bill (August 3, 2019). "Hollywood Flashback: "Guy Cry" Flick 'Brian's Song' Won Emmys in 1971". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 7, 2023.
  11. ^ "Made-For-TV Movie Rankings". Variety. January 25, 1972. p. 81.
  12. ^ "Hit Movies on U.S. TV Since 1961". Variety. January 24, 1990. p. 160.
  13. ^ a b "Prize Film is Available to Schools". The Fresno Bee. November 19, 1972. p. 142. Retrieved March 26, 2024.
  14. ^ "Brian's Song (1971)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 11, 2024.
  15. ^ Sepinwall, Alan; Seitz, Matt Zoller (September 2016). TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time (1st ed.). New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing. p. 375. ISBN 9781455588190.
  16. ^ Vagg, Stephen (September 27, 2022). "The Stardom of James Caan". Filmink.
  17. ^ "Nominees/Winners". IMDb. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  18. ^ "24th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  19. ^ "Brian's Song – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  20. ^ "Brian's Song". Peabody Awards. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  21. ^ "Brian's Song: Movie of the Week". Emmys.com. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  22. ^ "1972 Grammy Award Winners". Grammy.com. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
  23. ^ Madigan, Nick (March 1, 1998). "PGA lauds Daly, Semel with its Golden Laurels". Variety. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  24. ^ "Television Hall of Fame Productions". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  25. ^ Talley, Bud (December 2, 2001). "Brian's Song (TV Movie 2001)". IMDb. Archived from the original on December 24, 2006. Retrieved September 24, 2015.

External links[edit]