If you were to ask any critic what is the greatest television movie of all time is, there is a good chance they will say Brian’s Song. Premiering on ABC in their Movie of the Week specials in 1971, this true story film received widespread acclaim by critics and viewers alike, calling it not only a fantastic TV film, but one of the best sports movies of all time. I finally watched it about a year ago, and despite knowing what was going to happen I still shed tears. Spoilers ahead as always (and only because it is unavoidable.) I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.
The new Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) arrives to team practice and quickly gets into a friendly rivalry with a fellow player and running back Brian Piccolo (James Caan). The two become roommates, which back then was unheard of, and eventually become friends. Sayers helps Piccolo with his game when he struggles and when Sayers goes down with an injury Piccolo helps him out with a weight machine. The two soon become more like brothers than friends as they play football and have families. However when Piccolo becomes a fullback and his performance on the field begins to falter, it is obvious that something is wrong. It is soon revealed by Coach George Halas (Jack Warden) that Brian has terminal cancer, specifically embryonal cell carcinoma. Sayers does what he can to make Brian feel better, but sadly Brian passes away at the age of 26. Sayers encourages their teammates and families to remember Brian not for how he died, but for how he lived.
Ok I know I gave away the ending, but don’t say I did not warn you in the beginning. Watching the friendship between Gale and Brian is still beautiful to watch. The two started off as rivals, it wasn’t forced that the two would become brothers by outside parties and even in the end Gale kept Brian alive in his heart. Billy Dee Williams and James Caan were perfect together, as was the rest of the cast, writing, cinematography and direction of the film. I can honestly say watching the scene were Gale first hears about Brian’s diagnosis as well as the speech is absolutely heartbreaking, I had seen that scene before I watched the movie and the look on Gale’s face gets me every time. The final moments of the film where we watch what may have been Gale’s final moments with Brian, as well as the narrator telling the audience what happened after Brian’s death, are some of the finest moments in an already amazing film. Brian’s Song won four out of the eight Emmys it was nominated for, including best supporting actor for Warden, single program, cinematography and the writing while Caan and Williams were nominated for their parts, as well as a nomination for best miniseries or television film at the Golden Globes. It was remade in 2001 with Sean Maher and Mekhi Phiffer as Brian and Sayers, but that is for another day (a very long wait on Netflix DVD so I’m hoping I can catch this stream wise soon). If you can find the original Brian;s song, whether it is DVD, streaming or on TV, I HIGHLY recommend watching it. Be prepared to have your heart broken, tears flowing and a ox or two of tissues gone by the end of the film.