“The Lord is first, my friends are second and I am third.”
These words provided guidance and direction for Mr. Gale Sayers. He passed away in September after living his last years with dementia.
Sayers played football for the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1971. My parents and brothers are huge football fans, especially of the Bears. Growing up, if there was a game on, they would be watching. I had zero interest in football or anything related to the Chicago Bears until 1971, when our family sat down to watch a movie of the week called “Brian’s Song.”
An hour later, I was a sobbing mess.
“Brian’s Song” tells the story of the friendship between two Chicago Bears players, Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Based on Sayers’ autobiography, “I Am Third,” football laid the foundation for love, loyalty and loss.
Piccolo and Sayers were strangers vying for a starting spot on the team when they became the NFL’s first interracial roommates in 1967. Opposite in personalities, the men became best friends nonetheless. Brian helped Gale with rehabilitation after an injury. Gale was by Brian’s side through his devastating cancer diagnosis in November 1969 until he passed away in 1970.
I’ve been thinking about that whole “I Am Third” thing a lot lately. Faith in a higher being leads to an unselfish love for others, which then floats downward to you.
We want to be noble, but sometimes, being third isn’t easy.
Putting others ahead of ourselves can be difficult. Showing up every day and doing the hard stuff can feel overwhelming. The past seven months have challenged us in ways we never expected, and I suspect that most of us have felt as if we have fallen further down the list, ending up in some obscure and lost place.
Prioritizing others doesn’t mean ignoring or neglecting our own health and well-being. You can’t pour anything out of an empty pitcher.
Sometimes, we need a Gale and a Brian in our lives. When we sincerely look at others and find a way to be there, it ends up that we care for ourselves, too. It becomes a mindset of listening and looking for opportunities to be invested in someone else.
The friendship and dedication that Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo shared shows us this truth: love and loyalty can elevate everyone involved to a higher realization. Then we understand the value of being third.
Sticking around when someone is going through a tough time is hard. It hurts. And we pull back.
But in the long run, we lose out. The most meaningful moments in life come through the darkness. The lessons shine when we least expect it.
I am grateful for the example of those who love me; the ones who stayed when I felt lost; who listened and encouraged. I appreciate them for opening their hearts to share the good and bad times. They made me a better person, and I try to reciprocate that love.
We can create lasting bonds. Here and throughout eternity.
Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, Black and white men, best friends who became chosen family so long ago, are together again.
I’m still not a football fan.
But I am a fan of true friendship.
• Karen Roth is a semi-retired librarian/educator living in Ottawa. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.