Memories of the 1981 National Championships Season – William Perry – Official Clemson Tigers Track and Field Site

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Note: The following appears in the Boston College Football Game Schedule.


Editor’s Note – This is the 40th anniversary of Clemson’s first national championship season in 1981. For every schedule in 2021, Tim Bourret takes us back to this season with features on the players or games of the year historical.


It was Tulane competition week, the second game of the 1981 season, and Ray Brown was waiting to get into an elevator at Mauldin Hall, the dormitory that housed all of the Tiger football players.

When the elevator door opened there were only four people inside, but it was full. At the front of the group was 310-pound first-year middle guard William Perry, who seemed to take up half the elevator on his own.

At 6’4 “and 245 pounds, Brown could see there was no room for him.

But as he looked at Perry in the elevator, Brown said, “William, you’re as big as a refrigerator… I’m going to start calling you ‘GE’.”

To date, GE represents the global company General Electric, which manufactures home appliances among other products.

Clemson Student Assistant Jeff Rhodes was working on a story for a future game day program on Tiger Student Equipment Managers that week and spent a lot of time with the players. One afternoon, Brown told the story to Rhodes.

Rhodes then told the story to Clemson Sports Information Director Bob Bradley, my boss at the time.

“Sir. Bradley had that smile on his face where you could tell the wheels were turning,” Rhodes told me last month as he recreated the story.

Bradley was a master storyteller and put a few paragraphs in his column of notes that predicted the No.4 game against Georgia next week on the creation of the nickname.

The William “GE” Perry Story started to gain traction when Clemson’s Compliance Department told Bradley they had to stop calling him “GE” because Perry was actually promoting the company and of its range of refrigerators.

However, it was too good a story not to use it, so Bradley referred to Perry in other releases and in media meetings as the generic Perry “refrigerator”.

As the season continued, the victories piled up and Perry continued to play from his middle guard position, and his fame grew.

The whole program gained notoriety when the No.2 Tigers defeated No.8 North Carolina 10-8 in November in the first meeting of the 10 best teams in ACC history.

With repeated references from ABC advertisers Bill Fleming and Ara Parseghian as “The Refrigerator,” the nickname has stuck nationwide. The following week, Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff wrote a story about the game and the growing legend of Perry.

And it stayed that way for the rest of his career and in his professional career with the Chicago Bears. Perry reportedly earned $ 5 million during his rookie year in endorsements. I wonder what he would have done during his career at Clemson under the new rules of name, image and likeness.

There are many stories of Perry from that momentous 1981 season. He became a cult figure as the stories were told. If we had had Twitter back then he would have been among the most famous sports figures in the world.

One day, senior All-America wide receiver Perry Tuttle took Perry to McDonald’s in Clemson for lunch. He told everyone the bill was over $ 22. Tuttle spent $ 4 on him and $ 18 on Perry.

There were also stories of Perry going for a swim at Fike Fieldhouse and witnesses pointed out his ability to dive into the pool with great technique. He was also an under-basket legend during basketball games at Fike Fieldhouse.

However, Perry’s greatest athletic feats have come on the grill. Despite split time with William Devane on the defensive line in 1981, Perry had 48 tackles and four sacks, a mark for a freshman who spanned more than 30 years.

Perry and Devane were big reasons the Tigers were successful in limiting Nebraska’s much-vaunted running attack in the Orange Bowl. It was quite a clash against Dave Rimington, center of the College Football Hall of Fame, who is the player whose Rimington (best center in the country) award was nominated. Nebraska scored just 15 points in the game, including eight from laps, and gained 193 rushing yards, the season-low, in the Clemson victory.

My favorite “Fridge” piece was against Wake Forest in 1984, its final year. Believing Wake Forest would attempt a first down in the fourth and one, head coach Danny Ford told the defense to stay on the pitch. This meant that Perry stayed in the middle of the guard.

Wake Forest decided to kick it after all, and when the ball was snapped, Perry rushed over. He hit the blocking back with such force that he knocked it down towards the punter, Harry Newsome. Newsome shot the ball from the back of his teammate and the ball rebounded 36 yards, where it was picked up by a Tiger.

Statistically, Perry was properly credited with a 36-yard punt return, which must be a confusing number for historians examining Perry’s numbers on Sports-Reference.com.

It’s another unusual story about the legendary Perry.

And they are all true.


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