Former Husky Honored With Piccolo Award

April 26, 2007

By Larry Mayer
ChicagoBears.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. - Given the fact that Olin Kreutz wears a tie about as often as he misses a block, his formal attire Thursday at Halas Hall spoke volumes about the honor he received.

The All-Pro center and teammate Devin Hester were presented as 2006 Brian Piccolo Award winners, a prestigious honor that has been given to a Bears rookie since 1970 and was expanded in 1992 to include a veteran recipient.

Center Olin Kreutz is the Bears' longest tenured player, having arrived in 1998 as a third-round draft pick.

Bears players vote for the rookie and veteran who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo.

The only player in team history to receive the Piccolo Award more than once as a veteran, Kreutz also won the award in 2003 and 2004.

'For me to put a suit on and come out and talk in front of people is pretty hard for me to do,' he said. 'But because it's this award and it's for the organization and it's the Brian Piccolo Fund, it's pretty easy to do.

'This means a lot, not only because your teammates vote for you but the man it's named after. Anybody who wears the uniform knows about Brian Piccolo, so it's a huge award to win and I'm excited to win it.'

While Brian Urlacher is the face of the franchise, Kreutz is clearly the heart and soul of the Bears. The nine-year veteran anchors a veteran offensive line and has started 70 straight regular-season games and 99 of the Bears' last 100 contests, including the post-season.

'In my 27 years in coaching, I've never been around a better leader that's a player than Olin Kreutz, and I don't throw out things like that lightly,' said coach Lovie Smith. 'It's just a privilege for us to have him on our football team.'

One of just nine players in franchise history to be voted to six Pro Bowls, Kreutz has helped pave the way for five 1,000-yard rushers in his career. Only Walter Payton (9), Jay Hilgenberg (7) and Stan Jones (7) have received more Pro Bowl selections among Bears offensive players.

'After being around him for two years, it's pretty easy to see why he won the award,' said Ron Turner, who began his second stint as Bears offensive coordinator in 2005.

'Lovie talked about his leadership, and I don't know if everyone knows what a great leader he is. He's not only a leader for the offense and the offensive line, he is a leader for the entire team.'

Offensive tackle John Tait is the only Bears veteran other than Kreutz to win the Piccolo Award since 2002, something that is not lost on Turner.

'The fact that an offensive lineman has won the award each of the last four years speaks volumes and shows the influence that the offensive line has on this football team and the impact that these guys have on this team, and Olin is obviously the leader of that group,' Turner said.

Hester was unable to attend Thursday's event because he was out of town taping a Campbell's Soup commercial. He accepted the award via a pre-recorded video, graciously thanking members of the McCaskey and Piccolo families as well as veteran receiver Muhsin Muhammad and equipment manager Tony Medlin for providing guidance.

Hester set an NFL record with six combined kick return touchdowns during the regular season. He then became the first player in league history to return the opening kickoff in the Super Bowl for a TD, dashing 92 yards to give the Bears a 7-0 lead over the Indianapolis Colts.

Devin Hester, shown here getting a lift from Rashied Davis, was the NFL's only rookie to be selected to the Pro Bowl.Hester became just the sixth player in NFL history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in a Dec. 11 Monday night win at St. Louis. He also set team marks for punt return yards and TDs in a season and punt return and kickoff return yards in a game.

'Not since Gale Sayers--the NFL player most closely associated with the namesake of today's awards--has a player had such an explosive first chapter of his career,' said special teams coordinator Dave Toub.

Virginia McCaskey attended Thursday's awards ceremony in the Halas Hall auditorium along with Piccolo's widow, Joy, and one of three Piccolo daughters, Traci.

Brian Piccolo joined the Bears in 1965 as an undrafted free agent after leading the nation with 111 points and 1,044 yards rushing as a senior at Wake Forest.

He was in his fourth NFL season when a chest x-ray revealed a malignancy. Several months later, Piccolo died from embryonal cell carcinoma on June 16, 1970 at age 26.. His courageous battle was later portrayed in the classic movie 'Brian's Song.'

When Piccolo died, the disease was 100 percent fatal, but the cure rate today is 95 percent.

Proceeds from the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund benefit breast cancer research at Rush Medical Center and the Clearbrook Center for the developmentally disabled in Arlington Heights. The fund has raised more than $5 million since 1991.

That figure will grow thanks to the NFL, which made a $100,000 donation Thursday, the fourth installment of a five-year, $500,000 pledge.

'As you can see, Brian is still making a difference being a good teammate in the work that's being done in his name right now for cancer research,' Smith said. 'I never got a chance to actually meet Brian, but I think it's safe to say that he would definitely approve of the two award winners today.'

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