Monday, June 3, 2019

The PFWA's George S. Halas Courage Award

By John Turney 
On May 27, 1970, the New York Daily News 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 an article for the PFRA's Coffin Corner. Since then the PFWA has done an excellent job in listing its own awards on its webpage, including the 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 have easily been honored here.

This year's winner is Ryan Shazier who continues to make progress after a spinal injury he sustained late in the 2017 season.

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
1969 – Joe Namath (New York Jets)
1970 – Gale Sayers (Chicago Bears)
1971 – Tom Dempsey (New Orleans Saints)
1972 – Jimmy Johnson (San Francisco 49ers)
1973 – Mike Tilleman (Atlanta Falcons)
1974 – Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears)
1975 – Rocky Bleier (Pittsburgh Steelers)
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)
2017 – David Quessenberry (Houston Texans)
2018 – Marquise Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers)
2019 – Ryan Shazier (Pittsburgh Steelers)

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