Dude Hennessey, a former Alabama assistant coach, is squiring Namath around. It was Hennessey who recruited Perkins for Alabama. "Petal, Mississippi," he says. "Population 8,000. I got him with a 98¢ steak."
Hennessey says when he went to Petal to see Perkins he couldn't pry him loose from his job at the Sinclair gas station. "I asked if I could take him to breakfast. He said, 'I've got to wash trucks.' I said, 'How about lunch?' 'No, got to pump gas.' 'Dinner?' 'I got to finish washing the trucks.' When I finally signed him, I took him across the river to Hattiesburg for dinner. I had in mind a nice, big juicy $10 steak, one for each of us. But he ordered a 98¢ hamburger steak, with onions, and iced tea. Naturally, I had to eat what he ate."
Namath is Perkins' surprise guest at a pep rally at Foster Auditorium, the old gymnasium-field house. It's sweltering inside, but 3,000 show up to cheer to the thump of band music. They react to every move. When Perkins blows into the mike, the crowd cheers. He thanks them for coming and assures them the Tide will "represent you well both on and off the field." Namath tells the crowd, "We are all in this together," and the crowd cheers Namath and itself.
Perkins drops Namath off and drives home alone. The Perkins' house is on two acres in Ridgeland, outside Tuscaloosa, and it's a beauty, with a triple-decked swimming pool and five bedrooms. When he was a boy, Perkins says, he dreamed of having such a house and owning land "as far as you could see." But he and Carolyn, his wife, married right out of high school, and those things seemed unattainable. "Funny how life turns out," he says.
Carolyn and their second son, Mike, 16, arrive from the pep rally shortly afterward. Perkins breaks out root beer. Mike shows his father his new yellow-and-black football jersey. He has made the team at Tuscaloosa Academy as a wide receiver. At a lanky 6'2", Mike seems more cut for basketball, but he says he told his basketball coach he was only playing the game "to stay in shape for football."
Perkins is incredulous. "You told him that?"
"Yeah. They don't usually let you play two sports there, and I want to play football," says Mike.
Perkins grabs his son's head and presses his cheek to it.
At 2 a.m. in Ridgeland, Perkins is staring at a hole in his ceiling. From 1979 to 1982, when he was coaching the Giants, Perkins figured he averaged 3½ hours sleep a night during the season. Now he has it up to four or five. He thinks by sheer determination he can train himself to maintain that, except for one gluttonous night a week, when he'll treat himself to seven hours.