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Tillman wins third Brian Piccolo Award
April 24th, 2013

Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, prolanthropyBears Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman was presented with a 2012 Brian Piccolo Award during a ceremony Tuesday in the George “Mugs” Halas Auditorium at Halas Hall. 

The prestigious 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 26.

Tillman previously won the award in 2003 as a rookie and again in 2008. Among those who attended Tuesday’s event were Bears owner Virginia McCaskey and chairman George McCaskey.

“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to the Bears organization, the McCaskeys and the Piccolo family,” Tillman said. “It’s even better the third time to win the award because it’s not an award that the Associated Press votes on. It’s something that my peers, my teammates, my players voted on, and for them to think that I deserved this award, it really means a lot to me.”

Tillman and defensive end Julius Peppers were selected as co-winners of the veteran award, while defensive end Shea McClellin claimed the rookie honor.

In 2012, Tillman was selected to his second straight Pro Bowl after returning all three of his interceptions for touchdowns and forcing a career-high 10 fumbles, tying for the most by any player since the NFL started tracking the statistic in 1991. He now has 39 career forced fumbles, the most by an NFL player since he entered the league in 2003. 

Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke presented the award to Tillman.

“To really know Charles Tillman is to watch him work as a player, watch him be there for his teammates, watch him be a father to his children and watch him be a husband to his wife,” Hoke said. “It’s been my privilege to observe all these things in my four years in Chicago.”

In receiving the award, Tillman thanked former Bears head coach Lovie Smith and former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli as well as Hoke, his position coach since 2009. 

Referring to what he has accomplished in 10 seasons with the Bears, Tillman said: “I don’t think any of that is possible without those three men pushing me to my maximum capacity as a player.

“I don’t feel like this is a job for me. I just go out there and I try to have fun at a sport I love, and I seem to get this award. I just like the game of football. I really do think it’s fun. I love this team. I love my teammates. I love this organization. It’s been very generous to myself and my family.”

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. Piccolo passed away several months later. His story was later featured in the classic movie “Brian’s Song,” starring James Caan as Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Bears teammate Gale Sayers.

When Piccolo died, the disease was 100 percent fatal. But today, thanks in part to the millions of dollars raised by the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund, the cure rate is more than 90 percent. 

With those victories, the Piccolo Fund redirected its efforts to finding a cure for breast cancer. As a result, proceeds from the organization now benefit breast cancer research at Rush University Medical Center and the Clearbrook Center for the developmentally disabled in Rolling Meadows.