Perry landed at Fork Union Academy, in Virginia, where his star turns in football, basketball and track drew the attention of college recruiters and further nourished his robust self-esteem. So what if there were five other tailbacks on the roster when he arrived at Michigan?
"He was a loud, exuberant freshman," recalls Wolverines senior center Dave Pearson, straining to be diplomatic. "He expected to come in here and do a lot."
"When you come to Michigan, there's a process you go through," says defensive end Larry Stevens, also a senior. "One thing you gotta have here is patience."
Patience was not Perry's strong suit. That was a problem in this tradition-worshipping zip code, where Bo Schembechler's unapologetically redundant motto—"The team, the team, the team"—still permeates the football program. "Where I had a problem with Chris," says Carr, "is that I thought he was more concerned with how many yards he gained, how many carries he got. It was, 'Hey, I'm not getting the ball enough.' I got tired of hearing that."
Irene intervened. She refused to put her seal of approval on her son's desire to transfer, but she also made a request of Carr. "I told him I supported him," she says, "and that I wanted him to do what was best for my son but without breaking his spirit."
As the 2002 season wore on, Askew was relegated to more of a blocking role, and Perry came on strong, rushing for 1,110 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns. His life was further stabilized by the presence of Irene, who moved to Ann Arbor during the season. The reasons for her relocation were professional as well as personal. A freelance writer and former newspaper reporter, Irene conceived and gave birth to a glossy bimonthly, Ann Arbor Magazine, whose premiere issue came out in May. During a walk on campus with her son before that, Irene had spied the Schembechler Building and asked, "Is that man still living?"
"Mom," said Chris, "he's a legend here."
Said Irene, "He'd probably make a good story for our first issue."
So he did. In the article Bo opened up to Irene about his devastation over his wife's death in 1992 from adrenal cancer, his subsequent loneliness and his chance meeting several years ago with the woman who would become his next wife: "God looked down there and said, 'He's lonely, she's lonely, I'm gonna match them up.' " Not exactly the sort of quote Schembechler would dole out to beat writers.
With Irene in town, both Ann Arbor Magazine and the Wolverines are thriving. The Notre Dame rout is in the books, and the comparisons are flying between this squad and the 1997 national champions. This is a deep, experienced team still smarting from the disappointments of recent seasons. ( Michigan players will tell you that if stud linebacker Carl Diggs hadn't broken his leg during the Ohio State game last year, Maurice Clarett would not have led the Buckeyes to victory.) The Wolverines look south at the turmoil in Columbus this season and think, Ifs our turn.