1985 Bears Coverage: Bears’ Goliath survives David

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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.

Bears’ Goliath survives David

Brian Hewitt

Originally published Nov. 12, 1985

The limo driver reached to the passenger side of the Volvo stretch GLE, opened the glove compartment and adjusted the electric air shock absorbers.

William “Refrigerator” Perry was in the backseat.

He had arrived to take a bite out of the Big Apple as a guest on NBC-TV’s “Late Night With David Letterman.” In less than two hours, the 302-pound Perry would be artfully swapping bon mots with the same talk show host who once called Atlanta pitcher Terry Forster “a fat tub of goo.”

“I understand in Japan people actually worship you,” Letterman would say.

The audience would laugh.

“I’ve heard that before,” Perry would reply calmly.

But right now the limo was whisking Perry, wife Sherry and `personal manager’ Conrad Ford across the Triboro Bridge, down FDR Drive and up to the front door of “Thirty Rock” – NBC’s Manhattan headquarters.

“New York,” said a wide-eyed Perry, looking out at the city lights. “Look at this place.” In the hallway outside the studio, Perry caused a furor. Autograph seekers, assistant producers, pages, cameramen and even members of Paul Shaffer’s ultracool band stopped and stared.

“Tom Selleck just sort of walked in and walked out when he was here,” Letterman aide Laurie Guthrie said. “It was nothing like this.”

The stage manager escorted Perry to a small dressing room down the hall from Letterman’s. Then it was off to the set for a dry run and then into makeup.

Letterman tapes his show from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. New York time. It aired in Chicago at midnight last night.

A half-hour before showtime, Letterman strolled down the hall wearing a Walter Payton jersey bearing the number 34. Thirty minutes later, he burst onto the set wearing a coat and tie.

One of Perry’s agents had feared Letterman might savage Perry on the air. He never laid a glove on him.

“I’d heard he might tell some hard jokes on me,” Perry said later. “But there were no surprises at all. He was a nice guy.”

Among other things, Perry told Letterman he eats just one meal a day. (Letterman: “You’re going to waste away to nothing.”)

He also said he wouldn’t mind returning a kickoff and he throws “just like Roger Staubach.”

Finally, Letterman got Perry to admit to having consumed 48 beers following a college victory over North Carolina. “It was a big game,” Perry said.

Letterman showed a tape of Perry running for a touchdown and catching a pass for another. Asked when he will throw his first NFL pass, Perry said, “That might be in the making.”

No Webster

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the refusal of child actor Emmanuel Lewis’ agents to allow him to be shown on Perry’s shoulders. Lewis, star of the sitcom “Webster,” is 14, but is only 43 inches tall.

Letterman’s staff desperately wanted to have Lewis and Perry on camera at the same time. Absolutely not, the Lewis people said.

But nothing bothered the unflinching Perry. He had brought along a deflated football to present to Letterman on the air. The pig skin was gutted and filled with a slab of ribs. But the Letterman bosses said no.

And suddenly the show was over. Back in the hallway waited reporters from People magazine and several New York daily newspapers and an army of photographers.

More snapshots. More interviews. An all-too-brief visit with two of his older sisters, both of whom live and work in New York.

End-around

By now Letterman’s security people had learned of a mob in the lower lobby waiting for Perry. So they commandeered a service elevator and spirited Perry out a side door and into a different limo.

Still, people were there, grabbing, shouting, screaming and pushing pens in his face.

Finally the driver orchestrated Perry’s escape from New York. And while Ford sat up front riding shotgun and Sherry curled up for a quick nap in the back, the Refrigerator contemplated what had happened.

He was quiet, relaxed and in total control. Marshall McLuhan would have been jealous of the words that came out of his mouth.

“I just take the publicity and go,” he said. “I don’t live off it. Some people take it and live off it and they’ll run it into the ground. They’ll run it into other players’ faces.

“I just take it one day and let it go the next day. People were hanging around me all through college and it was wonderful then. Me and my wife and my little girl loved it. But now it’s wild. You couldn’t even have dreamed this much.

“It won’t remain like this, though. Michael Jackson came out with all those records and they didn’t stay but so long. But as far as me taking it and running with it, when it’s over I’ll let it go. What goes up must come down.”

When he’s finished playing football, Perry says he’ll return to Aiken, S.C., where he grew up and where he met Sherry in the ninth grade.

“I’d just like to get a big house and be able to go fishing when I’m done with football,” he said.

But for now it’s the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday and the Tonight Show Nov. 26.

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