Born: Dec. 16, 1962
Background/Significance: During his rookie season with the Chicago Bears, William Perry helped win
He was equally successful in his freshman year at Clemson University. The six-foot, two-inch “Fridge” was part of the Tiger team that won the 1981 national championship. He earned his nickname that same year when he and fellow defensive lineman Ray Brown, both carrying loads of laundry, squeezed into an elevator together. With barely enough room to breathe, his teammate announced, “Man, you’re about as big as a refrigerator.”
Although he was hand-picked in the first round of the 1985 NFL Draft by Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, the team’s defensive coordinator called him a “wasted draft pick” and refused to play him.
On a Monday night game against the Packers with the ball two yards from the goal, Ditka put Perry in as a fullback. As the entire nation watched, the Fridge plowed through the defensive line, leaving star running back Walter Payton a clear path to score.
Ditka followed the bold move by ordering the quarterback to hand Perry the ball the next time the Bears were near the goal line. He scored easily, celebrating with a dance in the end zone. He would go on that rookie season to rush for two touchdowns and catch a pass for another.
The loveable, gap-toothed football star’s popularity earned him the opportunity to run the ball during Super Bowl XX. He scored on the second attempt. The Super Bowl ring he received following the Bears’ victory over the New England Patriots was the largest ever given to a player.
Perry’s escapades on the gridiron made him a household name and landed him on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show,” a Bob Hope Christmas special, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola commercials and even a spot on Mr. T’s “A-Team.” He also had a solo in the Bears’ legendary music video, “Super Bowl Shuffle.”
Perry played in the NFL for 10 years, including one season for the Philadelphia Eagles, retiring after the 1994 season.
South Carolina connection: Perry was born in Aiken, the 10th of 12 children. “Even when I was little, I was big,” he once said. By the age of 11, he weighed 200 pounds. Although he was frequently ridiculed about his size, the good-humored athlete laughed it off and became a star on the Aiken High School football team, ranking among the top six fastest players.
He received a full scholarship to Clemson and went on to become the first three-time All-American Tiger and the first three-time selection to the All-ACC team. Perry also was Clemson’s all-time leader in sacks (25) until his younger brother, Michael Dean Perry, broke the record three years later.
Since his retirement from the NFL, he has lived in his hometown of Aiken.
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