Legends come in different shapes and sizes. Different backgrounds and are of varying persuasions. So it is with William Perry.
He arrived on the Clemson campus in the summer of 1981, literally the “BMOC”, the Biggest Man on Campus. He was a larger than life figure that enjoyed life, football and laughed at anything, even himself. He and I were in the same major and shared many classes. Yes, we were friends of sorts. I was the only guy in class that rivaled his size and girth and we’d shared a common plight in dealing with our size. His was an attribute to his success, mine not so much.
He was delightfully ambivalent where academics were concerned. I was his note taker, his in class secretary, when he was disinterested with the subject matter. He was always kind, gentle and always smiling.
Perry was from Aiken and stated “even when I was little, I was big.” By the time he was 11 years old, he weighed 200 pounds. Frequently ridiculed for his weight while growing up, Perry took advantage of his athleticism to silence his critics.
He was a beast at Aiken High School, where he was a 295-pound nose guard on the football squad. He also ran on the track team. During an exercise in which his coach instructed all of his fastest players to line up for a 100-yard dash, Perry joined the group of running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs and was timed as the 6th fastest runner on the entire team, with a time of 11 seconds flat. He was also able to run the 100 meters in under 12 seconds. He was nothing short of amazing.
This next feat, I actually witnessed myself so I know it to be true. He could and did execute a 360-degree dunk on a regulation basketball goal. To see a person that large, yet nimble, hang in the air for so long, almost defying the laws of gravity, was mind boggling.
Perry played for Danny Ford’s Tigers from 1981 to 1984. He was a member of the 1981 national championship team and was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American as a junior in 1983. He was an imposing, unmovable figure. He was in the nightmares of many opposing offensives. He’d crush you, then help you up, he was just that way.
As a freshman in 1981, he earned his trademark nickname “The Refrigerator” when a fellow player could barely squeeze into an elevator with Perry and their laundry which they were taking to be washed. Ray Brown, said “Man, you’re about as big as a refrigerator.” It stuck. It fit him perfectly and only added to his legend and his smile.
In 1985, after a stellar career for the Tigers, he was selected in the first round of the 1985 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He had been hand-picked by coach Mike Ditka because he said he saw something remarkable in Perry. However, defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan who had a highly acrimonious relationship with Ditka, didn’t care for Perry, calling him “a wasted draft pick.” The Refrigerator would prove him wrong.
Perry’s “Refrigerator” nickname followed him into the NFL and he quickly became a favorite of the Chicago Bears fans. His Bears’ teammates called him “Biscuit,” as in “one biscuit shy of 350 pounds”. He just smiled between eating every biscuit.
While Ryan refused to play Perry, Ditka decided to use Perry as a fullback when the team was near the opponents’ goal line or in fourth and short situations, either as a ball carrier or a lead blocker for star Hall of Fame running back, Walter Payton. He had created the first “The Jumbo Package.” Being that jumbo, during his rookie season, he rushed for two touchdowns and caught a pass for another.
Later that season, Ryan would finally began to play Perry, who soon proved that he was a capable defensive lineman. Perry even had the opportunity to run the ball during Super Bowl XX.
Thanks in part to “The Fridge” they’d win that coveted Super Bowl ring. Speaking of rings, his Super Bowl ring size, 25, is the largest of any professional football player in the history of the event. As a point of comparison, the ring size for the average adult male is between 10 and 12. In many ways, he was no average adult male.
Perry played for ten seasons in the NFL and had a notable career. Unfortunately, life after football would prove to be difficult. Even through the difficulties, he continued to share that “Gap-Tooth” grin of his and shouldered on through.
In June 2007, Perry was diagnosed with Guilain-Barre Syndrome, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nerves. Over the years, despite being out of the spotlight of sports fame, he remains much the same. I was traveling through Aiken several years back and actually saw him riding in his big Hummer. Just like I remembered, there he was waving, laughing and smiling as he drove through the streets of his home town. He is still that gentle giant from our shared days at Clemson. He is today and will forever remain in the annals of Clemson Football, a unique, colorful, unpretentious, lovable Legend.
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