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'The Refrigerator' opens up to the outdoors

3/6/2008
The image of William Perry's mammoth No. 72 bursting through the line left an indelible impression on many an opposing back. 

It's hard to think of an individual as being feared and beloved at the same time, but one of the few men to have pulled off that combo is William "The Refrigerator" Perry.

A standout defensive lineman in college at Clemson, Perry burst into the spotlight in his rookie year as a first-round draft choice with the Chicago Bears playing defensive tackle and a novel, TD-scoring running back.

He was a huge man throughout his 10-year pro career (eight in Chicago, two with the Philadelphia Eagles, then the London Monarchs). His playing weight often was estimated at some 350 pounds by opponents and the occasional head coach with a new diet in mind.

Today, The Fridge still ranks as a doublewide; he guesses his present weight is 380, but admits he has occasionally tipped the scales at more than 400.

Yet, for all his girth, Perry was a remarkable athlete, with stunning quickness and agility belying his immense dimensions. At 6 feet 2, he often displayed a dunk shot in pickup hoop games — another aspect of Perry's unquenchable exuberance for life that gave his football coaches nightmares.

On the field Perry might have been a formidable force. Indeed, the image of mammoth No. 72 bursting through the line left an indelible impression on many an opposing back. But he made it very clear that he played football mostly for the satisfaction and enjoyment he got out of it.

As a outdoorsman, The Fridge maintains much the same philosophy as he did on the field; Perry enjoys natural talents for hunting and fishing, but he works hard at it, too, in order to truly earn the satisfaction of success.

After years of being an NFC doormat, the 2001 Bears now are vying for tops in the NFL Central as one of the surprising success stories of the season.

In anticipation of what could be an updated version of "The Super Bowl Shuffle," we thought is was time to catch up with one of the most popular members of the Windy City's last Super Bowl champions in his hometown of Aiken, S.C.

Here now is the latest edition of our "Athletes in the Outdoors" interview:

ESPN Outdoors: "The world knows of your athletic achievements, but have you also been hunting and fishing most of your life?"

William Perry: "No, not really. I didn't get much interested until my father-in-law began taking me fishing regularly late in my teens. We'd go mostly just for bream and panfish when we started. It was pretty much just for fun, but later in college and the pros I'd go to get away and relax during the offseason. I've got a boat, and my friend Robert Martin does, too, and we go for all species. But I still love to panfish."

EO: You've got your own children now. Are they interested in the outdoors.

WP: "My son, William Jr., is 9 now. We go fishing all the time in the summers. I'm in business with my father-in-law and brother as sub-contractors, doing brick-and-block construction, so I can usually make my own schedule."

EO: "Some kids get bored fishing. How does William Jr. like it?"

WP: "He's a real active youngster, no doubt about that. Ready to take on anything. But when we're out fishing, he's patient. He'll stay out all day with me and keep at it even when the fishing is slow. It's good times for both of us.

"You have to be careful about pushing kids into anything and give them a chance to find their own way. My oldest daughter is college age, and she's just transferred into nursing. After a few liberal arts courses, she's decided she wants to be a registered nurse."

EO: "What type of hunting do you enjoy?"

WP: "Whitetail deer, especially. But we have a lot of boar hunting around here, and I enjoy that, too. I had my first wild turkey hunt scheduled for last spring, but stuff kept coming up and I didn't get to go. I'm looking forward to trying that this spring."

EO: "How about Da' Bears this season?"

WP: "This might not be the best time to ask me that. (Green Bay had just beaten the Bears in Chicago to move into a first-place divisional tie with Perry's former squad.) No, really, it's great to see Chicago back … and playing Bears' football with tough defense, and a grind-it-out running game."

EO: "Do you see many of your teammates from 1985 (when the headstrong tandem of coach Mike Ditka and defensive guru Buddy Ryan melded a 1986 Super Bowl winner from such disparate individuals as Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary and The Fridge)?"

WP: "Oh, yeah. I run into them sometimes when I'm doing public appearances. Coach Ditka probably the most, because it seems like he's all over all the time."

EO: "You were at the S.H.O.T. Show this year, and coach Ditka still has a restaurant in New Orleans (where the annual hunting and shooting trade show was staged)."

WP: "I was there with Oversize Outfitters, a company I partner with. I can tell you just how tough it can be for big guys to get outdoor stuff that fits; I've been pretty far over 400 pounds at one time or another, but now I'm at about 380. Oversize has everything from bib overalls to thermal underwear to quiet raingear up — most of it in sizes from XL all the way up to sizes 8X. The first camo shirt they sent was actually too big! (That's really saying something for a man accustomed to wearing a size 58 suit jacket).

"And this week, I' m shooting a commercial for a new cooler. You know, The Fridge with a cooler."

EO: "Do you think you'll go to any Bears games this year."

WP: "I watch every game. But I don't need to go to Soldier Field. I've been cold enough in that place for any one lifetime. I've earned sitting back and watching them on TV."

EO: "With all that you've got going on, how much hunting will you be able to get in."

WP: "Don't worry about that. South Carolina has a nice, long season. I usually get up to some private land with lots of deer that a friend of mine owns at least once a month."

EO: "What type of hunting do you prefer? Stand? Drive? Still?"

WP: "Strictly stand. After 10 years of professional football, I'm not going to punish my knees anymore. That's just one of the things you've got to learn to live with."

EO: "Gun or bow?"

WP: "Rifle, so far. But I've been looking at bows a lot the last couple of years. I'm not sure, yet, but I think I'm going to learn to shoot one and maybe try it in a couple of years."

EO: "How's your season shaped up so far."

WP: "Not bad. Maybe not quite as good as the Bears' season has, but I'm going on a boar hunt in a couple of weeks and that could change everything around to 'great' in one day."