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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Brian's Song

Forty years ago this week, ABC aired the made-for-TV movie, Brian's Song for the first time.  The movie is about the friendship of Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, two young running backs who joined the Chicago Bears as rookies in 1965.  In the first few moments of the film, the narrator proclaims, "All true stories end in death.  This is a true story."  If you are reading this blog, you probably already know enough about NFL history to know which character dies.

Prior to tonight, I'd never seen the film.  But, after hearing Mike Wilbon say yesterday on PTI that Brian's Song is the greatest sports movie of all time, I decided that the anniversary was a perfect time for me to watch it.  Earlier in the day, I told a group of co-workers that I was going to be watching the movie tonight.  The two who were old enough to remember the release of the film got misty-eyed and nostalgic.  Part way through the movie, my father called.  When I told him what I was watching, he said, "That is a great movie."

Well, from an artistic point of view Brian's Song is not a great movie.  It is certainly not the greatest sports movie ever made.  After all, it was made for TV.  On a network budget with a network timeline.  Forty years ago.  But, all that is if you are analyzing the movie in a vacuum.  And that is not the proper way to analyze this film.  Brian's Song first aired in the fall of 1971.  The movie dealt with a friendship between two men.  One black.  One white.  It dealt with cancer in an era when there were few realistic treatments.  And it dealt with men openly showing affection and emotion toward each other.  And all of these things happened in the living rooms of middle America when families gathered on a Tuesday night for the ABC Movie of the Week.  At my age and from 2011, it's hard to fully appreciate the importance of any of this.  In fact, I didn't really understand the cultural impact of Brian's Song until I read this article by Steve Rushin on SI.com.

So, if you haven't seen Brian's Song, I'm not going to tell you to drop everything and see it immediately.  I will not even guarantee that it will be compelling to a modern-day viewer who is seeing it for the first time.  But, if the movie is viewed as a slice of history and thought about in the proper context, the 90-minute investment of time is well worth the while.