The Bears on Tuesday honored linebacker Jack Sanborn and running back David Montgomery as the 2022 winners of the prestigious Brian Piccolo Award during a ceremony at Halas Hall.
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, at the age of 26.
Sanborn signed with the Bears last year as an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin. The Lake Zurich, Ill., native excelled after becoming a starter following the midseason trade of linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens. Before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury in a Week 15 loss to the Eagles, Sanborn made six consecutive starts and recorded 59 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks and one fumble recovery.
In presenting the award to Sanborn, defensive coordinator Alan Williams described the young linebacker as consistent, dedicated, loyal and inspiring.
"If you look at him, you would go, 'you know what, he's a throwback from the '50s, the '60s, the '70s and the '80s,'" Williams said. "You look at that thick neck, you look at the jaw, you look at that body, he's a stout body, and you go, 'you know what, Jack Sanborn is a Bear.'"
Sanborn was especially honored to receive the award because it was voted on by teammates.
"It's incredibly special," he said. "Any award that is voted on by your teammates holds a little more weight."
Sanborn is the Bears' first undrafted rookie to win the Piccolo award since Mickey Pruitt in 1988. Asked about his journey, Sanborn said: "When I look back on it, it's very humbling, very humbling to be here and at the same time I know there's still a lot of work to be done. But it's definitely rewarding and it's definitely kind of just extra confidence and extra kind of hunger and motivation to continue to improve and continue to help this team, help this organization become a winning team for this city, because that's what everyone around here deserves."
Montgomery, who signed with the Detroit Lions last month, did not attend Tuesday's event. But he sent a message for running backs coach David Walker to relay.
"I spoke to him in the last couple days and he wanted me to share this with you guys," Walker said. "This is from David: 'I enjoyed my time in Chicago playing for this great organization and this great fanbase. I humbly accept this award and appreciate my teammates for allowing me to be mentioned in the same breath as Brian Piccolo, one of the greatest Bears of all.'"
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 fifth NFL season when a chest x-ray revealed a malignancy. Piccolo passed away several months later.
Following his death, the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund was established. Proceeds were sent to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York until 1991 when the Piccolo Fund (with the mentorship of Edward McCaskey) focused its support on cancer research at Rush University Medical Center here in Chicago.
The fund initially supported research into improved detection and treatment for embryonal cell carcinoma, the rare cancer that took Brian's life. After early success led to remarkable improvements in survival rates (now up to 95%) for those with this disease, the fund shifted its focus to breast cancer, which strikes hundreds of thousands of women each year. The Fund also provides support to the Clearbrook Center for the developmentally disabled in Arlington Heights.
The Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund, with the support of the Chicago Bears, the NFL Foundation, Wake Forest University (Brian's alma mater), the Gavers Community Cancer Foundation, and many other generous donors have raised nearly $16 million for cancer research since its inception. The fund remains active and welcomes contributions from others who share its commitment to breast cancer research and to the memory of Brian Piccolo.
Every season, the Brian Piccolo Award is given to one rookie and one veteran who best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Bears running back. Take a look at the winners of this award dating back to 1970.
Bears vice president Patrick McCaskey emceed Tuesday's ceremony. Coach Matt Eberflus introduced Williams and Walker.
Bears owner Virginia McCaskey, chairman George H. McCaskey and president/CEO Kevin Warren were in attendance.
Members of the Piccolo family on hand included Joy Piccolo O'Connell, Brian Piccolo's widow, and two of their three daughters, Traci and Kristi.
Previous winners of the Piccolo Award who also attended the event were Anthony Adams, Ted Albrecht, Brian Baschnagel, Roland Harper, Jim Osborne, James Thornton, Tom Waddle, James "Big Cat" Williams and Chris Zorich.