1985 Bears Coverage: It’s Harper’s bizarre story of Bear Perry

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Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

It’s Harper’s bizarre story of Bear Perry

Ron Rapoport

Originally published Nov. 10, 1985


“Tom Harper.”


“Defensive coordinator for the Clemson University football team.”

Mr. Harper, will you tell the members of this panel if you are acquainted with William Perry?


William Perry. The Refrigerator. The, ah, biggest man in American sports today?

“Oh, that William Perry.”

Come, come, Mr. Harper, let’s not be coy. Isn’t it true that you were the coach who worked most closely with William Perry during his college career?

“That is correct.”

And isn’t it true that despite the fact William Perry weighed more than 300 pounds and despite his being an All-America defensive tackle, you recommended that he be used in the offensive backfield as well?

“Don’t say that!”


“I said don’t say that. William’s got a contract with the Chicago Bears. I’m working day by day down here. Of course, if William was here now, I’d say it because he’d protect me.”

Please, Mr. Harper, this is no laughing matter. So you do admit the idea of using William Perry as an offensive weapon did occur to you. Did you approach your superior, Clemson head coach Danny Ford, with this idea?

“Hey, I’m just the defensive coordinator and line coach. I don’t have any clout here. Besides, they didn’t believe me.”

Believe you when you said what?

“Believe me when I said Pea could pass better than Mike Eppley, who was our starting quarterback. Believe me when I said he could punt better than Dale Hatcher, who was a third-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams.

“Believe me when I said he could placekick better than Donald Igwebuike, who is now playing for Tampa Bay. Believe me when I said he could run better than any of our halfbacks.”

Now, Mr. Harper, surely you were just engaging in some coaching hyperbole. You don’t honestly expect us to believe these things?

“I don’t, huh? Listen, we had a guy here, Hatcher, who was as fine a punter as I’ve ever seen. But Pea could kick it farther. He about kicked the air out of the ball.”

All right, that’s punting, but what about catching passes? Surely, his touchdown reception last week was something you couldn’t have expected.

“You want to bet? Pea could catch the ball as well as anybody we had. He’d line up at end in practice and say, `Hey, Harps, how do you want it? One-hand? Over-the-head?’ And then he’d go out and catch it that way.”

I see. And running with the football? Passing it?

“He used to rehearse that all the time. We had another defensive lineman, just an ordinary person who weighed about 270, and on Fridays when we didn’t practice too hard he and Pea used to rehearse like a quarterback and a fullback.

“They’d run the option – drop back, sprint out. He was quicker than the guy we had at quarterback. That’ll be the next thing the Bears have him do, I imagine – sprinting out.”

The mind reels. But surely it isn’t true that he could kick farther than Igwebuike? Why, he has had field goals of more than 50 yards?

“All right, I admit it. You’ve got me there. But don’t tell Pea. He would tell me, “I kick it just as far, I kick it just as far,” and he would bet Donald he could beat him. Then even when he came up a little short, he wouldn’t admit it. He’d say, `I just need more work.’ ”

Very well, Mr. Harper, so the end result of . . .

“Wait a minute. I’m not finished. I haven’t told you about how Pea played defensive back in some of our workouts.”

What??!! A 330-pound free safety?!

“Just listen, will you? Late in the season, about this time of year, sometimes there was not much to do in practice so Pea would line up in the defensive backfield. We had interception drills, tip drills – he’d do all of them.”

Astonishing. So the end result of all this is that nothing William Perry does surprises you?

“There is nothing he could do that I would say I felt he couldn’t. He’s just an amazing athlete. I learned a great deal from him. Mainly that what I thought could be done could be done – just not by ordinary people.”

But until now, nobody believed you?

“I didn’t stop telling people, though. Bill Tobin, the Bears’ player personnel director, came down here to look at him and I told him, `You’re not going to believe anything I tell you about this guy, but I’m going to tell you anyway.’ I said, `Chicago is going to see the most unusual athlete they’ve ever seen.”

Mr. Harper, as you know there is some concern about William Perry’s weight.

“Too much concern, if you ask me. I think Pea could weigh 500 pounds and play like an ordinary guy. Have you ever really looked at him? Have you ever seen un upper profile like that? I’d see his huge shadow in the film room sometimes and I’d think I was looking at a Kodiak bear.

“You want to know one of the reasons he weighs so much? Because he’s so polite. After the games here on Saturday afternoon, he’d take his wife, Sherry, down to a local pizza place and everybody wanted to buy him a pizza. Well, being the kind of person he is, if you’re nice enough to buy him a pizza, he’ll eat it. Even if he’s full.”

But surely you must have had some concern about his weight?

“The trouble is you stop thinking about him as an ordinary human after a while, but of course he is. The thing I told him is how much longer can his ligaments and tendons last? I told him you can last longer if you weigh what you’re supposed to weigh. But that’s just the thing. What is he supposed to weigh? How can anybody tell you that?”

Thank you for your testimony here this morning, Mr. Harper. Do you have any final thoughts before we recess?

“You’re welcome and yes I do. Any of you people up in Chicago run into Pea, you tell the big S.O.B. I miss him.”

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