Monday, June 20, 2016

The PFWA's George S. Halas Courage Award

By John Turney 

On December 18, 1970, United Press International reported that Gale Sayers, in his speech accepting the second annual George S. Halas Courage Award, said, “You flatter me by giving me this award but I tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man who should receive the George S. Halas Courage Award. It’s mine tonight, but tomorrow it’s Brian Piccolo’s. I love Brian Piccolo and I'd like all of you to love him, too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.” 

Sayers had overcome knee injuries to continue his career, which was the basis for his winning the award, but he was desirous that his teammate, suffering from cancer and undergoing cobalt treatments, be recognized for his courage. 

The moment was dramatized by the film “Brian’s Song,” and it gave national recognition to the Halas Courage Award, which was relatively new at the time.

However, over the years, it has not been widely publicized, and the Pro Football Writers of America award had been known mostly by members of the association and hardcore football fans and researchers.

So much so, that in 2010, I wrote and article for the PFRA's Coffin Corner. Since then the PFWA has done an excellent job in listing its own awards on its revamped webpage, including  Halas Courage Awards and as such the award is still alive and well and has honored some of the toughest players and coaches who have dealt with extraordinary difficulties. 

According to the PFWA the award goes “To the player or coach who has performed with abandon despite injury or personal problems off the field,” and over the years has gone to players for what seems to be career recognition (Dan Hampton or Dick Butkus) or over a specific incident (Mike Utley’s paralysis, Sam Mills' and Mark Fields' cancer battles, Tony Dungy’s loss of a son to suicide).

Tom Dempsey was awarded for his perseverance over being born with serious birth defects. Many of the others were for overcoming serious, even career-threatening injuries or illnesses like Rolf Benirschke and Bryant Young, for example.

The 2016 winner for his 2015 performance is Eric Berry of the Chiefs for excellent play after overcoming Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was an outstanding choice, as are the others and there are likely many others who have won similar awards like Comeback Player of the Year awards that could easily been honored here.

Below is a complete list of awardees and it should be noted that the year listed of the award and is for the previous year's performance by the player or coach. 

List of George S. Halas Courage Award Winners

1970 - Joe Namath, New York Jets
1971 - Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears
1972 - Tom Dempsey, New Orleans Saints
1973 - Jimmy Johnson, San Francisco 49ers
1974 - Mike Tilleman, Atlanta Falcons
1975 - Dick Butkus, Chicago Bears
1976 - Billy Kilmer, Washington Redskins
1977 - Tom DeLeone, Cleveland Browns
1978 - Pat Fischer, Washington Redskins
1979 - Bert Jones, Baltimore Colts
1980 - Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys
1981 - Rolf Benirschke, San Diego Chargers
1982 - Joe Klecko, New York Jets
1983 - Eddie Lee Ivery, Green Bay Packers
1984 - Ted Hendricks, Los Angeles Raiders
1985 - John Stallworth, Pittsburgh Steelers
1986 - Gary Jeter, Los Angeles Rams
1987 - William Andrews, Atlanta Falcons
1988 - Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers
1989 - Karl Nelson, New York Giants
1990 - Tim Krumrie, Cincinnati Bengals
1991 - Dan Hampton, Chicago Bears
1992 - Mike Utley, Detroit Lions
1993 - Mark Bavaro, Cleveland Browns
1994 - Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers
1995 - Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins
1996 - Larry Brown, Oakland Raiders
1997 - Jim Harbaugh, Indianapolis Colts
1998 - Mark Schlereth, Denver Broncos
1999 - Dan Reeves, Atlanta Falcons
2000 - Bryant Young, San Francisco 49ers
2001 - Kerry Collins, New York Giants
2002 - Garrison Hearst, San Francisco 49ers
2003 - Robert Edwards, Miami Dolphins
2004 - Sam Mills, Carolina Panthers
2005 - Mark Fields, Carolina Panthers
2006 - Tony Dungy, Indianapolis Colts
2007 - Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
2008 – Kevin Everett, Buffalo Bills
2009 – Matt Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2010 – Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati Bengals
2011 – Mike Heimerdinger Tennessee Titans 
2012 – Robert Kraft, New England Patriots 
2013 – Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts 
2014 – O.J. Brigance, Baltimore Ravens
2015 – Steve Gleason, New Orleans Saints
2016 – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

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