Bears lighten their load, drop 'Refrigerator' Perry '86 Super Bowl star lost job as starter PRO FOOTBALL

November 10, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

The Chicago Bears tossed out an old Refrigerator yesterday.

William "The Refrigerator" Perry, 30, who went from a "wasted draft pick" to a household name when former coach Mike Ditka turned him into a short-yardage running back in 1985, was waived by the Bears yesterday.

Although Perry's three 1-yard touchdown runs turned him into a national celebrity who outshone even Michael Jordan when the Bears won the Super Bowl after the 1985 season, he became just another average overweight defensive lineman in recent years.

When Dave Wannstedt replaced Ditka as head coach at the end of last year, Perry's fate was sealed. Wannstedt prefers smaller, quicker linemen.

Perry's career may not be over, though, because the Philadelphia Eagles may be interested in him. Their defensive line coach, Dale Haupt, was the Bears defensive line coach in their magical 1985 season.

Explaining the decision to replace Perry with Tory Epps, who was waived by the Atlanta Falcons, Wannstedt said: "These decisions are not easy ones. . . but it was something that had to be done. I tried to be as fair as I could be. It was not money or part of a youth movement. Weight was not an issue."

Perry was an integral part of one of the most colorful teams in NFL history, the 1985 Bears who had their own Super Bowl Shuffle video.

Perry made $5 million in endorsements, doing ads for such companies as McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Kraft.

His former high school coach in Aiken, S.C., Eddie Buck, remembers Perry making a speaking engagement in Hilton Head, S.C., in 1986. Security was so tight at the local airport that entire corridors were cordoned off.

But Perry was a manufactured celebrity. He wasn't a natural in the spotlight the way Ditka and quarterback Jim McMahon were.

Perry became a celebrity almost by accident. The team's defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan, who often clashed with Ditka, had called Perry a "wasted draft pick" and was refusing to play him in his rookie year.

Ditka decided to put Perry in as a running back for two carries against the San Francisco 49ers in a 26-10 victory in the sixth game of the year, mainly because he was annoyed that coach Bill Walsh had used an offensive lineman in the backfield against the Bears the previous year.

The following week, Perry had a 1-yard touchdown carry against the Green Bay Packers in a Monday night game, a feat that turned him into an overnight sensation. Perry carried only two more times the rest of the regular season -- once for a touchdown -- and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass.

Those runs turned Perry into a larger-than-life figure. Ditka gave him a touchdown carry in the Super Bowl -- Walter Payton didn't score in the game -- and Perry even landed on the cover of Time in 1986.

It was all short-lived. Perry carried once in each of the next two seasons and fumbled both times. He broke his arm in 1988 and carried one more time the rest of his career, rushing for 1 yard in 1990. He was eventually overshadowed by his brother, Michael Dean Perry of the Cleveland Browns, who became a better defensive lineman.

The commercials all dried up and Perry rarely gave interviews. He declined to hold a news conference yesterday.

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