The Bears on Tuesday announced that running back David Montgomery and defensive tackle Nick Williams are the 2019 rookie and veteran winners, respectively, of the prestigious Brian Piccolo Award.
The honor has been given to a Bears rookie since 1970 and was expanded in 1992 to include a veteran. Bears players vote for teammates who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of Brian Piccolo, a Bears running back who died from embryonal cell carcinoma on June 16, 1970—50 years ago Tuesday—at the age of 26.
The Piccolo Awards are typically presented at Halas Hall on the Tuesday before the NFL Draft in late April. But this year's ceremony was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bears traded up in the third round of last year's draft to pick Montgomery, and he responded with a solid rookie season. The Iowa State product rushed for 889 yards and six touchdowns on 242 carries and caught 25 passes for 185 yards and one TD. His 889 yards ranked 19th in the NFL and were second among rookies, behind Raiders first-round pick Josh Jacobs' 1,150 yards.
Montgomery had two 100-yard performances in 2019, rushing for a career-high 135 yards and one TD on 27 carries in a Week 8 loss to the Chargers and 113 yards and one touchdown on 23 attempts in a Week 17 win over the Vikings. His 55-yard run against the Chargers was the longest run by the Bears since Jordan Howard's 69-yarder on Oct. 31, 2016 in a 20-10 victory over the Vikings at Soldier Field.
"It's a blessing to receive the Piccolo Award," Montgomery said. "I'd like to thank the Bears organization, the Piccolo family and my teammates for making this possible. Being linked to Brian Piccolo and his legacy with the Bears is very humbling. Anytime your teammates or peers vote for you for anything, it's a huge honor. Being a running back for the Bears with the rich history at that position makes this especially unique and I'm just very grateful."
Williams, who left the Bears in March to sign with the Lions in free agency, made the most of expanded playing time last season. He stepped in after Akiem Hicks was injured and led Bears defensive linemen with 42 tackles, six sacks and five tackles-for-loss.
It was quite an accomplishment given that Williams had entered the year without having recorded a sack in 38 career NFL games over four seasons. Out of football as recently as 2017, he signed with the Bears in 2018 after participating in a minicamp on a tryout basis.
"When I found out I was receiving the Brian Piccolo Award, it was a huge honor," Williams said. "It exemplifies teamwork, courage, loyalty, dedication and just a sense of humor. Having a sense of humor is something that stuck with me throughout the locker room. I've always cracked jokes with guys and tried to look on the bright side of things. When things may not have been going our way, I tried to lift them up, especially the defensive line room. I think being a locker room guy exemplifies the award and it's a huge honor for me to even join this list of guys. Even one of the most recent winners, Akiem Hicks, one of my good friends. I know what type of player and teammate he was. It's just a huge honor."
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. Piccolo passed away several months later. Survivors included his wife, Joy, and their young daughters Lori, Kristi and Traci.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of Piccolo's passing, Bears Care is launching the "All Four One" campaign, which will ultimately benefit the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund and help establish a systematic approach to breast cancer screening that determines the type, frequency and follow-up necessary to improve early detection, especially for young women at high risk for the disease. Donors who contribute at a $60 level or above will receive a limited-edition reprint of the book "A Short Season" that Chicago sportscaster Jeannie Morris wrote about Piccolo in 1971 shortly after his death.
Additionally, the NFL Foundation has made a $50,000 donation to the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund.
Following Piccolo's death, the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund was established; over the years, the Fund provided nearly $3 million to the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for research on embryonal cell carcinoma. At the time Piccolo died, the disease was 100 percent fatal, but now the cure rate is more than 95 percent.
Today, endowed funds at the Center support medical oncology fellowships in Piccolo's memory. After significant advances were made against embryonal cell carcinoma in the 1970s and '80s, proceeds from the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund were re-directed in 1991 to benefit breast cancer research at Rush Medical Center in Chicago and to provide support to the Clearbrook Center for the developmentally disabled in Arlington Heights.
Since then, the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund and its supporters, including Bears Care and the NFL Foundation, have raised more than $7 million for local research and established an endowed professorship in Piccolo's name at Rush. Students at Wake Forest University have also raised nearly $4 million in Piccolo's name since 1980 to benefit local cancer research bringing the total raised in his honor over the last 50 years to more than $13 million.
"We've been so lucky and really blessed that we've been able to raise millions of dollars for cancer research in the hopes that we can help other people so that they don't go through what we had to go through at such a young age," Traci Dolby, one of Piccolo's three daughters, said during a video call with the media Tuesday. "It's been an amazing 50 years, the things that we've helped to accomplish for cancer research. But that fight's far from over and we're going to keep fighting until nobody has to suffer anymore like we did."