Who: Walter Payton’s teammate with Chicago, 1985-88
Breakdown: To the chagrin of Buddy Ryan, the Bears’ ornery defensive coordinator, the team selected the enormous Perry out of Clemson in the first round of the 1985 Draft. Ryan thought the rookie to be an unconditioned joke of a football player. Mike Ditka, however, proved visionary, lining up the 325-pound beer barrel at fullback and handing him the ball near the end zone. Refrigerator Fever ensued.
Pearlman’s take: The emergence of William Perry represents an awkward time in Walter Payton’s career. On the one hand, he had endured a decade of terrible football, and now the Bears were dominant. But when Chicago stunk, Payton was the focus of all positive attention. Now, a fat, mediocre rookie was stealing the spotlight. Payton liked Perry, and even recorded a (God awful) rap with Perry after 1985. But he resented the unearned marketing bonanza that ensued.
From Sweetness: What irked Payton most was the emergence of a rookie defensive lineman named William Perry. Drafted in the first round out of Clemson, “the Refrigerator” (as he was called) was immediately lambasted by Ryan, who labeled him too slow, too fat, too dumb to master Chicago’s complex 46 Defense. Yet in an era when players rarely exceeded 300 pounds, the Fridge stood out. Gap-toothed and wobbly, he tipped the scales at 325 pounds, making him one of the league’s largest players. He had a twenty-two-inch neck and a size fifty-eight coat. “I was born to be big,” he told Sports Illustrated, “and I ain’t disappointing nobody.”
Upon seeing his new teammate at training camp for the first time, defensive lineman Dan Hampton nicknamed Perry “Biscuit”—as in, he was one biscuit short of 350 pounds. When Perry removed his T-shirt in front of other players, revealing mounds of Shamu-esque blubber, the moniker de jour changed to “Mud Slide.”
“Funny thing is, Fridge was a great athlete,” said Andy Frederick, an offensive tackle. “I saw him jump atop a thirty-six-inch table from the ground while holding weights in his hands and I saw him dunk a volleyball from below the rim.”
It wasn’t that Payton disliked his new teammate. Even for Ryan, who vehemently opposed the Bears selecting him (on his second practice with the team, Ryan called the Fridge “a wasted draft choice and a waste of money”), Perry was a big, loveable lug. No, what irked Payton was what the rookie symbolized.