No. 8 and, later, No. 10 proved conclusively that Perry belongs in the NFL. They helped remove him from "freak" status. They also kept him in the public eye, "positioning" him, as the ad world likes to put it.
No. 9 enhanced his innocent, good-guy image. (What, you mean I can't toss a man in for six? Not even my best buddy, Sweetness?) When the two recently did their rock video, "Togetherness," they exuded the me-and-you charm of a Robin Hood and a Little John strolling merrily through Sherwood Forest. And Perry's Kraft macaroni ad, in which he plays impishly with a group of little children, puts the Fridge into the same safe, color-free realm as superdad Bill Cosby.
"The thing about William is that he's a very disarming character," says Bears free safety Gary Fencik. "If he had a different personality, all this would be intolerable."
No. 11 would have been intolerable to Payton if anybody but the Fridge had been scoring. Payton desperately wanted a TD in the Super Bowl, but Perry got it instead, and, as Steiner says, "Interest in William just exploded again." Just as important in that game was the fact that the Fridge was supposed to pass, even though he didn't (nobody was open, and he wisely, though thankfully not literally, ate the ball). Head coach Mike Ditka, the cheerless grump himself, was pulling the strings and going for some laughs. "I wanted Perry to be the only lineman ever to run for a touchdown, catch a touchdown pass and throw for a touchdown," Ditka says. Why? "Because everybody roots for the underdog. Everybody can identify with a common overweight guy."
Sandra Philpott, the account supervisor for Rath Black Hawk, watches as the Fridge stands under the studio lights, smiles on command and balances a ham tin on his finger, acting like a veteran model. For Rath Black Hawk, hiring the Fridge was a very big deal, Philpott explains. The company doesn't have a lot of ad money to toss around, but it felt this was a wise investment. It likes the fact that the Fridge is a family man, a recognizable face, an innocent.
"He doesn't seem tainted by the pro life we saw in North Dallas Forty" she says. "It all started with his size, and now it seems to have moved to, 'What a nice young man.' "
Indeed, the Fridge is already in his third incarnation. He went from human being to novelty to good guy faster than you can say The Super Bowl Shuffle. Hey, we aren't too desperate for good guys, are we?
"He seems to be having so much fun," says Philpott, which is what everyone seems to say about the Fridge.
But is he?
Right now he sure is. He is standing in the dark on a piece of land off Route 19 in Aiken, Sherry at his side. The smell of pine is in the air and a half-moon illuminates this spot where Fridge says he's going to build his family's dream house. There are three in the Fridge family, with a tiny new appliance due in May.