Forte, Tillman Win Piccolo for 2008

The Chicago Bears handed out one of their highest honors Thursday, awarding running back Matt Forte and cornerback Charles Tillman with the 2008 Brian Piccolo Award. Given every year to one rookie and one veteran, Forte and Tillman were chosen for their work both on and off the football field.

Courtesy of the Chicago Bears Football Club:

The Chicago Bears and the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund announced Matt Forte and Charles Tillman as the 2008 Brian Piccolo Award winners. The honor has been given to a Bears rookie since 1970 and was expanded in 1992 to include a veteran winner. Bears players vote for the rookie and veteran who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo.

Tillman becomes the seventh player in team history to be honored with the Piccolo Award multiple times and the sixth to be honored as a rookie and a veteran. In 2003, Tillman was voted the rookie recipient of the Piccolo Award. Tillman is entering his seventh season with the Bears as the active team leader with 20 career interceptions. Starting 15 games in 2008, Tillman recorded 91 tackles, three interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown) 16 pass break-ups and four forced fumbles.

Forte, the Bears' 2008 second-round draft choice (44th overall), set franchise rookie records in rushing yards (1,238; surpassing Anthony Thomas), scrimmage yards (1,715; surpassing Hall of Famer Gale Sayers) and receptions (63; surpassing Hall of Famer Mike Ditka). Forte's 1,238 rushing yards were seventh most in the NFL last season and second most among rookies. His 1,715 yards from scrimmage were third most in the league last year, and his 63 receptions were most among running backs. The Tulane University product also tied for the NFL lead with 86 total first downs. Forte became one of just eight NFL rookies all time to finish with 1,000-plus rushing yards and 50-plus receptions.

In all, 51 different Bears have won the award, including six others on the current roster: Alex Brown (2002), Tommie Harris (2004), Devin Hester (2006), Olin Kreutz (2003, '04 and ‘06), Greg Olsen (2007) and Brian Urlacher (2000 and '07).

Brian Piccolo joined the Bears in 1965, following a senior season at Wake Forest during which he led the nation in scoring (111 points) and rushing (1,044 yards). Piccolo was not selected in the NFL Draft, but he signed with the Bears as a free agent and made the club. He was in his fourth season when a chest x-ray revealed a malignancy. Several months later, on June 16, 1970, he died at age 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma. At the time Piccolo died, the disease was 100 percent fatal. But today, the cure rate is 95 percent. He left behind his wife Joy, three daughters and legions of friends.

Proceeds from the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund benefit breast cancer research at Rush Medical Center and the Clearbrook Center for the developmentally disabled in Arlington Heights.

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