SALT LAKE CITY -- The outdoors and William "The Refrigerator" Perry go together like Oreos and clam dip.
Try as hard as you want, but it's nearly impossible to imagine the former NFL star in a tent or a tree stand or sitting around the campfire (well, OK maybe if there's a large hunk of red meat on a spit nearby).
But there he was last week in all his gap-toothed grinning splendor at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show, hawking a line of coolers carrying his name. The Fridge Chill and Grill is a combo ice chest and collapsible grill that burns newspapers instead of charcoal.
Tucked away at a back-row booth at the show, he was cheerfully autographing photos of himself in Chicago Bears attire and answering questions, mostly about his gridiron days.
"So," the investigative outdoors journalist asked, "the grill folds up on purpose, but does the cooler cave in if you squish it in a car trunk?"
Silently, the sitting Perry pointed to his massive underside, where one of the little cubes was hard at work, supporting his more than 400 pounds.
Undaunted, the journalist pressed on, "You seem like a fish out of water at an outdoors show."
Perry grinned again. "That's how I like my fish -- out of water. I'm a country guy. I love to fish. I knock off work, grab a beer and go fishing all the time."
The Fridge (the cooler) holds a whole case of beverages because for The Fridge (the man), a six-pack probably isn't going to get the job done. There's also room for sandwiches in the outside pockets to take the edge off hunger pangs while waiting for the food to cook.
Perry, nearing 40, lives in Aiken, S.C. His house is paid for, he has a boat, a mini-fleet of cars and a construction business. Last summer, he was featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story and the requests for appearances and endorsements started anew.
The stuff he does now, like fighting in the Toughman World Championship Series and selling a line of coolers, he does for fun.
Life, he said, is good.
Does he miss the big spotlight that shined on him during the Bears' heyday of Jim McMahon, Walter Payton and Mike Ditka?
"I miss the fun, but I don't miss the fame," he said, turning serious for a moment. "The fame came and went and I let it go. I never let it go to my head."
The Super Bowl ring he lost years ago. One purported to be his was sold this year on eBay for more than $27,000. The football he escorted across the goal line in the big game in January 1986 belongs to his son, who plays with it in the yard. Perry insisted that he has never watched a tape of the game.
Then, he brightened. "You say you're a newspaper reporter? I'm guessing you could keep one of these grills burning all year with your articles."
The trade show attracts thousands of manufacturers and buyers every year to Salt Lake City's massive Salt Palace. The industry holds a summer show to display products for next spring, and a winter show that does the same for cold-weather gear. While Perry certainly was an eye-catcher this year, he wasn't the only one.
Displayed in a small booth near Perry was the "StrikeAlert Personal Lightning Detector," which lights and beeps to warn of an approaching thunderstorm -- acting much as you would if actually struck by a bolt from the blue.
"I can save you $79.99," joked one man, who checked out the price and walked on. "Put down that graphite fishing pole!"
For the truly inept, there was the inflatable tent: no poles or clips to wrestle with, thanks to balloon-like sleeves that inflate to serve as supports. A camper just has to remember to pack a bicycle tire pump or an air compressor before leaving for the woods. As someone who always forgets the church key, I think I'll pass.
A handful of companies hawked wares under the umbrella of "Dog Stuff," apparently for canines that don't mind "ruffing" it, but owners who do.
For the humans who love to play with their pets but hate drool, there's "Chuckit," a tennis ball flinger.
The item, from Canine Hardware, can rocket a ball 140 feet. Too bad the Orioles didn't have one for catcher Chris Hoiles; it might have prolonged his career. But there's still time for Brook Fordyce.
Planet Dog, a Maine-based company, was pushing "Orbee ... a hollow, whimsically globe-shaped toy that is curiously durable, awkwardly bouncy and buoyant."
And, one wag said, "outrageously unnecessary."
But perhaps the most unnecessary item at the show was Coleman's CD Coolbox, which brought to mind that old Certs argument, "It's a candy mint, it's a breath mint."
The combination CD player and cooler may seem like a good idea, but what happens when someone wants to put the drinks by the grill and the tunes by the water?
Perhaps next year's show will have the answer.
This 'n that
The Department of Natural Resources is having a hearing tomorrow on its proposed seasons and bag limits for 2001-2002. That hunting blueprint includes the new later season for migratory Canada geese, announced last week.
The hearing will run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Annapolis High School, 2700 Riva Road.
If you can't make the hearing, you can e-mail your comments to: email@example.com.- us. Or you can mail your advice to: Waterfowl regulations, Wildlife and Heritage Division, Department of Natural Resources, Tawes State Office Building, Annapolis, Md., 21401.
But before we get to the late season, we get to enjoy the early one, which starts Saturday with the early resident Canada goose season. The daily bag limit is five and you can shoot from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
Mourning dove season also begins Saturday. The daily bag limit is 12 birds and you can shoot from noon until sunset.
Don't put off getting a new license. Put it on this week's "to do" list.