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Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges To Reading
      Links to the Internet

      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

Helpful Background:

Gale Sayers was one of the greatest running backs in the history of professional football. He set a record for six touchdowns in one game. It was clear from the beginning of training camp that Sayers would make the team. Piccolo was not nearly as gifted as Sayers but had tremendous drive and determination. It was a newspaper headline when they were assigned to be roommates in 1966. This had not happened before in professional football. Despite the fact that Piccolo and Sayers were both vying to be the starting halfback and despite their racial differences, they became good friends.

In 1968 Sayers suffered a knee injury, and Piccolo took his position as starting halfback. But Piccolo wasn't happy winning the position "for all the wrong reasons." Out of friendship and to prove that he wasn't going to take advantage of another man's adversity, Piccolo worked hard with Sayers helping him rehabilitate his knee. Partly as a result of Piccolo's efforts, Sayers was able to make a full recovery and get his old job back.

In 1970 Piccolo was diagnosed with lung cancer. It had metastasized and spread through his body. Sayers helped Piccolo fight the disease, but there was nothing anyone could do. Brian Piccolo died of lung cancer at the age of 26. He left behind a wife, three children, and many friends.

The ongoing process of racial integration in American society involves many pioneers breaking many different barriers. Sayers and Piccolo were the first racially mixed roommates on the Bears professional football team.

Hazing is a process by which new members of a team, a fraternity, or any other group are put through a test or made to suffer some indignity as a ritual of admission to the group. Hazing is considered by some to be fun, and if the hazing is harmless and mild, it can build group solidarity. However, many people have been injured and some have died in ill-considered and risky hazings. As a result hazing is generally not permitted by colleges or other organizations.


Additional Discussion Questions:

Continued from the Learning Guide...

1.  Why was the fact that two men of different races could room together and become friends so important that it was a major theme in this true-to-life film? What does that say about race relations in the United States in the late 1960s, the time of the events described in this movie? Suggested Response: In the 1960s, it was very unusual for men of different races to room together or to become friends. Apparently, this was the first time that professional football players of different races had roomed together. This shows how poor race relations in the U.S. were at that time.

2.   How can people get in trouble by hazing newcomers to their team, sorority or fraternity? Suggested Response: Hazing often involves dangerous activity. People can get hurt and sometimes they die.

Additional Assignments

Continued from the Learning Guide...

See Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction and Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories and Plays. The month of January, during the buildup to the Super Bowl, is an excellent time to have students read the teleplay or the book. Note that certain portions of the book may not be suitable for classroom use.

Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions


1.   What is the real reason that Piccolo helped Sayers recover from his knee injury? Suggested Response: Piccolo wasn't happy about being promoted to the position of starting halfback "for all the wrong reasons." He helped Sayers recover from the knee injury out of friendship and to prove that he wasn't going to take advantage of another man's adversity. It wasn't in his definition of friendship to benefit from a friend's injury. It wasn't in his definition of sportsmanship to compete against an injured opponent.

2.   Should Sayers have allowed Piccolo to be his friend after Piccolo had lied to him about the state of the coach's hearing? Suggested Response: Everyone deserves a second chance. It's not a good idea to hold grudges.


3.   What is one of the major ways that Sayers dealt with his grief over the death of Piccolo? You saw a movie of it. Is this a good way to grieve the death of a good friend? Suggested Response: Sayers wrote a book about Piccolo and their friendship. In the book, entitled I am Third, Sayers pays homage to his friend. The book was, in a sense, his song about Brian Piccolo. That's how the movie got its name. Creating something good or beautiful is an excellent way to deal with the death of a loved one.


4.   For these men, football was a job. Does the concept of sportsmanship have any application when people are playing a game for their livelihood? Suggested Response: Yes. The job is playing a sport and sportsmanship is part of sports. It's what makes sports fun and interesting.

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
(TeachWithMovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner"
and  uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)

1.   What was admirable about the character of Piccolo as shown in the film? Suggested Response: Piccolo was very determined and he worked very hard (responsibility). He was loyal to the team and his friendship (trustworthiness). When Sayers was sidelined with a knee injury, and Piccolo was promoted to Sayers' position as starting halfback, Piccolo didn't take advantage of Sayers' adversity. To the contrary, Piccolo helped Sayers make a full recovery from his knee injury and get his old job back (fairness). One of the major components of Piccolo's character was that he respected his friend despite the prevailing climate of racism in America at that time. Finally, Piccolo showed that he cared by his constant friendship and by being helpful when Sayers was injured.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

2.   Sometimes it is difficult to show that you care for people who are very ill. Why is that? How do you overcome it? Suggested Response: Many people are scared of serious illnesses because it reminds them that they too are mortal and could become seriously ill. The way to deal with this is to understand the basis for your feelings and to focus on the humanity of the person who is ill. People who are seriously ill are in special need of love and affection. If you love them or are their friend, this is the time to express that love and take care of them.

3.   How did Piccolo and Sayers honor this Pillar of Character? Suggested Response: They truly cared for each other and when one was hurt, the other would help take care his friend.

Bridges to Reading:

I Am Third by Gale Sayers and Al Silverman. A middle school level English teacher has reported good results reading the teleplay of the film in class and suggesting to students that they check out the book and read it. He reports that certain parts of the book may not be suited to classroom use. We have not read the book.

Links to the Internet:

Common Core State Standards that can be Served by this Learning Guide
(Anchor Standards only)

Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.") CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards:   1972 Golden Globe Awards: Best Film Made for Television; 1972; Directors Guild of America: Outstanding Directorial Achievement (Kulik).

Featured Actors:  James Caan, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Warden, Shelley Fabares, Judy Pace.

Director:  Buzz Kulik.

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