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 49ers' 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� 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."