Work in Sports
Monster Of The Midway
William (The Refrigerator) Perry, the Bears' favorite appliance, is one cool commodity in Chicago
By Rick Telander
Issue date: November 4, 1985
No. It can't be. A stove, a sink, a dishwasher -- but no fridge in Fridge's new house.
"It's all right," says William (The Refrigerator) Perry, the Chicago Bears' 6' 2", human kitchen appliance, who has ranged in weight from 370 pounds to his current 308 in the last year. "The builders bought the other stuff. I bought the refrigerator. It just ain't put in yet."
Phew. But the closing on this suburban Mundelein, Ill. home is just a few days off. Wife Sherry and 3-year-old daughter, Latavia, housed for the last two months in a hotel, are ready to resettle. Sherry and Latavia are tiny things, but they have to eat, too. So why isn't the critical object installed yet?
"The builders don't want to be responsible until we move in," says Fridge, also known as Biscuit ("A biscuit under 350," explains Bears tackle Dan Hampton).
So it's kind of a special fridge?
A big one?
William Perry has a 22-inch neck. Size 58 coat. A smile as wide and innocent as a kid's jack-o'-lantern. In a world that worships at the altar of lean, Fridge praises bulk.
"I was born to be big," he says proudly. "And I ain't disappointing nobody."
The dour old NFL needs this guy. Just consider what passes for novelty these days. The fake punt. Tight ends in motion. Bed sheets saying JOHN 3:16. Then comes the fridge, a gigantic load of mirth and girth, No. 72 in the backfield, a blob from the trenches running -- running -- the sacred ball. Scoring. High-fiving. Saying to folks: "Fat attack." Think of the possibilities.
Fridge lumbered more or less into America's consciousness as a 360-pound All-America nosetackle at Clemson and a 330-pound first-round draft choice, presumably as a defensive lineman, of the Chicago Bears last spring. But he roared into America's heart on Monday night Oct. 21 when, playing fullback, he became the heaviest man in NFL history to score a touchdown off a set play. He also plowed the way for two Walter Payton scores that night.
Media reps freaked out over Fridge. When the TV monitors showed the first slo-mo of Perry enveloping Green Bay linebacker George Cumby the way a corpuscle attacks a germ, shrieks of "Mockery!" and "Inertia!" rang out.
When the hysterics ended, everybody pondered the facts: Bears coach Mike Ditka had used a defensive tackle, the heaviest man on the team, to spearhead three TDs in a 23-7 win. Jeez, this is the NFL. Can you do that? Should you?
It was, wrote Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ray Sons, "the best use of fat since the invention of bacon."
Fridge liked it, too.
"When Coach first asked me if I'd play fullback in short-yardage situations, I laughed," he says. "I carried the ball a couple times back in high school in Aiken, S.C., just having fun. I'll do anything to help the Bears win. Offense. It seems like they have fun all the time."
At somebody's expense. Ask the Packers' Cumby, who took on Fridge on all three of his offensive plays that night.
"The first time, I figured I'd take a side," says the 224-pound Cumby. "It didn't matter which, I guess, because one is as big as another. The second time, I hit him flush. That didn't work, either." The third time? Same problem. "I was outweighed by a few pounds."
In fact, standard football techniques won't work on a man who weighs twice as much as his wife and daughter combined, but who can dunk a basketball, run a 5.05 40 and bench press 465 pounds. Cumby squared up nicely to the Fridge's charge, but his head disappeared between his own shoulders like a snapping turtle's. As Perry says, "Just hit and keep on goin' -- it's kinda easy."
It was easy again on Sunday for the undefeated Bears, who beat the Vikings 27-9 -- their eighth straight win -- without ever going to a goal-line offense. Perry, now an official member of the goal-line unit, didn't play on offense at all, for which Ditka actually apologized. "The reverse play is on for next week," he said, looking toward the Bears' upcoming opponents, the Packers.
Fridge did play a lot more defense than he'd been accustomed to, however, even getting the first sack of his pro career when he nailed Viking quarterback Tommy Kramer in the first quarter. Why the defensive playing time? "I mentioned it to someone, and that person responded," Ditka said forcefully. That person obviously was defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who will bend to the head coach when he must, but hasn't taken to Fridge as a defensive tackle.
Perry himself seemed torn by Sunday's developments. "A sack is better than a touchdown," he said later, "but I was itching for the ball at the end."
In the beginning Ditka just wanted to get some use out of his controversial rookie. Called "a wasted draft choice and a waste of money," by Ryan, Fridge has been fat out of luck with the defensive coordinator. Ryan, who hates rookies almost as much as he hates flab, says that Perry lacks the technique, knowledge, endurance and waistline of a professional. "Hell, he's exciting when he's on offense," snorts the coach. "Must be easier than defense."
Ditka first used Fridge to ice the ball in a 26-10 win over San Francisco three weeks ago. Perry carried on the last two plays of the game, gained four yards and was accused of being Ditka's heavy-handed payback to 49er coach Bill Walsh, who used 271-pound guard Guy McIntyre in the backfield in the 79ers' 23-0 win over the Bears in last season's NFC title game.
At first Ditka denied any revenge motive. Then he sort of admitted it. Later he said, "In 100 years nobody will really care, anyway."
Whatever, the platter was set for Fridge, and the feast began. Something had been prodded throughout the nation. A collective and long-suppressed giggle seemed to rise up. "I didn't plan on making him a national hero," says an amazed Ditka. But he has. Letterman and Carson called. So did the Today show. Endorsement requests (refrigerators, naturally, are the big item) have flooded in. Fridge is mobbed wherever he goes. For some reason the 10th of Hollie and Inez Perry's 12 children -- "All big. Two-hundred, 250, 300 pounds," says Fridge -- makes people feel good.
And Fridge is unfailingly pleasant. "I'm easygoing," he says. "I can take a joke. I'm a nice guy. There's this guy on the team who's grumpy. And he'll be grumpy when he's old. But not me. When I'm old, I'll be fat and happy."
Having always been a person of substance -- 13 1/2 pounds at birth, 315 in high school, 370-plus at the end of college -- Fridge hates the thought of changing himself. He refuses to take speech lessons, for instance, which friends have suggested he do to improve his Deep South diction. "Nope," he says, "I'm just as I am."
But he really isn't. Weight clauses in his contract have forced him down to his present diminished state. "It's very noticeable," says Sherry. "He looked so small at the last game. But it was number 72, so it had to be him."
The Bears would like to see Perry shrivel down to 295. Fridge thinks 308 is a nice cozy playing weight. "Even when I was little, I was big," he reasons. But it seems the hefty old days of cereal in mixing bowls and ribs stacked like cordwood are gone. Beer is another matter, however. It is a sort of plasma for Fridge. "In college one time after a game I drank 48 cans of beer," he says. "Wasn't nothing. Just having a nice time."
Beer is the diet pill in Perry's slimming program. "You drink it, see, and it fills you up," he explains. "So you don't eat. Then the next day you sweat it out in practice, and you don't gain weight."
Still, there are times when dieting isn't enough, when Perry must call on his unofficial personal trainer, defensive end Tyrone Keys.
"He weighs in on Wednesdays, and sometimes he'll call at 10 Tuesday night and say, 'Ty, I gotta lose four,'" says Keys. "We'll go to the gym and run and sit in the steam till he gets down."
Keys helps his buddy because he doesn't want Fridge to eat himself out of a great career. He also enjoys observing Perry in action. "He's always making comments about fat guys, wherever we see them," says Keys with a chuckle. "During a game he'll yell, 'Look at that fat guy over there!' It'll be somebody like Dave Butz or Bubba Paris or Curtis Rouse. 'They're lying,' he'll say. 'He weighs more than 295.'
"It's funny, but Fridge never has considered himself a fat person. He feels at 285 he'd have to play receiver, he'd be so small. It's like the time we went to Mister Big. He bought a coat and had it tailored. Then we went to the spa, and he lost five pounds. When he picked up the coat, he wanted them to tailor it again. 'Take this thing in,' he said. 'Look at the slack.'"
During a recent road trip Perry put the fear of weight into his roommate, 185-pound cornerback Les Frazier. After watching a horror movie on TV, Fridge began sleepwalking, finally coming to rest on Frazier's bed. "It scared me to death," says Frazier. "He pounced on my bed. A man of that size. . ."
Stories like that make Bears president Mike McCaskey laugh. The Bears are a very loose, very good team, loaded with characters. And McCaskey approves. "Pro football is one of the last refuges in America for eccentrics," he says. And every refuge needs a refrigerator.
Issue date: November 4, 1985