Bears name Robert Quinn, Khalil Herbert annual Brian Piccolo Award winners

Chicago Bears linebacker Robert Quinn (94) during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif.

LAKE FOREST – Bears pass rusher Robert Quinn and running back Khalil Herbert took home this year’s Brian Piccolo Award honors Tuesday at Halas Hall.

The Piccolo Award is voted on by Bears players, who select a teammate they feel best exemplified the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo. Each year one rookie and one veteran earns the award.

Piccolo signed with the Bears as a rookie free agent in 1965, the same year the Bears drafted Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers. The two rookies, one white and one Black, became roommates and close friends. Piccolo supported Sayers through a knee injury, and Sayers supported Piccolo when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1969. Piccolo died in 1970 at age 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma. Their friendship is depicted in the 1971 movie “Brian’s Song.”

After Piccolo’s death, the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund was established to fight the disease and has since turned its attention to fighting breast cancer. Members of the Piccolo family were on hand Tuesday to present the award in person after the pandemic had prevented a formal ceremony the past two years.

The award has been given to a Bears rookie since 1970 and expanded to include a veteran in 1992.

Quinn set the Bears’ single-season sack record with 18.5 during the 2021 season. He surpassed Hall of Fame pass rusher Richard Dent’s 17.5 sacks during the 1984 season. He earned his third Pro Bowl bid and second-team All-Pro honors.

Quinn noted that this award is special to him after doctors discovered a tumor in his brain while he was in high school. Doctors didn’t know at first if the tumor was malignant or benign, so they gave Quinn the worst-case scenario: He might have only a week to live.

“I remember looking at my mom for I don’t know how long in disbelief,” Quinn said. “More in shock. I mean, you try being 17 and they tell you you’ve got a week. After a couple days, I kind of came to grips with it. I was trying to go out as happy as possible.”

Thankfully, they later found the tumor to be benign. Quinn underwent a brain surgery but has been living with the tumor ever since.

Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) rushes the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Oct. 24th, 2021 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Don Montague)

Herbert, meanwhile, rushed for 433 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie last season. He appeared in all 17 games for the Bears, making two starts. The 2021 sixth-round draft pick emerged as the Bears’ No. 2 running back behind veteran David Montgomery. Herbert carried the ball 103 times and also caught 14 passes.

Herbert grew up near Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City, Florida, so he had some familiarity with Piccolo’s story. Piccolo went to high school in nearby Fort Lauderdale.

“I’ve got to go watch this movie,” Herbert said. “I haven’t seen it yet, so I’m excited to go watch it. ... It means a lot, just being with [my teammates] every day, building with them, being in the locker room. It coming from my teammates and them voting for me, it means the world to me.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.