Where is he now, you ask? As William (the Refrigerator) Perry was wont to do with opposing backs, let us turn the question on its head: Where isn't he?
The Fridge is everywhere and inescapable on this vessel, a 29-foot fishing boat which, under normal circumstances, would pass for a fair-sized craft. Those circumstances do not include occupancy by an energetic giant who is monitoring four fishing rods and lumbering periodically across the deck to crack open a fresh can of beer.
On a sultry June afternoon four years after his final football game, the ex- Chicago Bear, ex- Philadelphia Eagle, ex-London Monarch and one-time Super Bowl Shuffler is doing what he most enjoys: "wettin' a hook." Piloting the boat in search of crappie is Perry's father-in-law, Crosby Broadwater, known hereabouts as Mr. B. The Fridge, Mr. B and Mr. B's son Robert co-own a subcontracting company out of Aiken, S.C. The Fridge spends his time bidding on jobs, erecting scaffoldings and laying bricks or cinder blocks. "I like working with blocks the best," he says. "A block just sits more comfortably in my hand."
The 37-year-old Fridge has been laying brick and block ever since he pulled down the curtain on his football career, leaving the Monarchs with two games remaining in the 1996 World League of American Football season and retorting to his native Aiken. In that time he has come a long way as a mason. It's been a year or so since Perry has had to "tear one down," as he says—disassemble a flawed wall he's built in order to do it over again. The Fridge is not what you would call a natural for this line of work. The man who must now climb scaffoldings as high as 50 feet has not exactly been wasting away since hanging up his worldwide football pants. Asked about his weight these days, Perry says he doesn't know. Pressed for a ballpark figure on his ballpark figure, he offers 355, which, to a casual observer, seems a conservative estimate indeed. Put it this way: His former self is a shadow of him. "When he comes up that scaffold, you know it," says Mr. B.
Safety is not compromised. Extra attention is paid to ensuring that the scaffolding is sound. "I make sure it's right," says the Fridge. "I tell the guys, if it holds me, then no one else has a problem."
He has become extremely handy with the tools of his new trade. Earlier this summer a snake slithered into Perry's view as he angled in a pond. Alertly seizing his bricklayer's level, the Fridge clubbed the serpent to death, then continued fishing.
Today he and Mr. B have chosen to try their luck in Mr. B's "honey hole" on Lake p Thurmond, an hour's drive from Aiken. They have been fishing for a quarter hour when, inexplicably, the boat begins to drift. By walking from the bow to the stern, the Fridge has raised the front of the boat a yard or so out of the water, inadvertently weighing anchor. This earns him a rebuke from his father-in-law, a wiry man with a mischievous grin and a competitive streak, a man who has elevated piscatorial trash talk to an art form.
"I ain't jivin' now!" Mr. B exclaims when a fish strikes his line. "You can't believe I got another hit that fast, can you?" If, while backpedaling as he reels in the fish, he happens to step on one of the size-13EE feet of his son-in-law, Mr. B snaps, in lieu of an apology, "Get out the way if you ain't catching no fish!"
It is all in fun between these two. It always has been, dating to the days when an 11-year-old William—then a waifish 200 pounds—was the scourge of the pool at Aiken's Eustace Park, dunking everyone in sight, lifeguards and his future father-in-law included. William's behavior toward Mr. B improved markedly when he discovered that this man was the father of his classmate Sherry Broadwater, upon whom the hulking adolescent had a correspondingly massive crush.
Sherry returned his affections, to a degree. "I think my daughter liked him pretty good," says Mr. B, "but he ran every other boy away from her. She said, 'I like him, Dad, but he comes over, and the boys just take off.' "