Football Great & Bowler Joe Perry
continues our series of Editorial articles with this special tribute to football great & bowler Joe Perry. The career of this legendary NFL Hall of Fame player for the San Francisco 49ers is well documented for his gridiron accomplishments but I wish to share my own additional insight about football great & bowler Joe Perry.
Joe Perry passed only three days prior to my writing this article after a struggle with complications from dementia and he lived to the age of 84. Although the world mostly knew Joe as a football player of renown, I knew him as my bowling teammate. Having first met Joe in the early 1970's at L&L Castle Lanes in San Francisco, I was introduced to Mr. Perry by PBA Hall of Famer, Larry Laub, and quickly grew very fond of this gentleman. Joe had a warm and gracious personality and looked you right in the eyes when he spoke. When speaking with Joe, I always got the impression he was with you in mind and in spirit, an admirable quality. Larry Laub grew up in San Francisco and had known Joe Perry as a bowler since back in the late 1960's when Joe, Larry, and another PBA Hall of Famer, Barry Asher, bowled in a league at the old Sports Center Lanes in the heart of the city. By the way, both Castle Lanes and the Sports Center, long time bowling traditions in San Francisco, are no longer in service.
Joe Perry loved to bowl. He would average in the 190's or low 200's most every year he bowled league, a credit to his athletic prowess and a very good average score back in those days. In the 1960's after retiring from football, Joe would often compete in afternoon or Friday night "pot games" at L&L Castle Lanes. In 1981, I had the pleasure of bowling with Joe as a teammate in a summer league at the old Sea Bowl in Pacifica, Ca., nearby to San Francisco, and it wasn't until then did I realize how this quiet and gentle man publicly, Joe "the Jet" Perry, was a fierce competitor on the lanes and how much he loved to win. Even into his fifties and with arthritis in his knees from the constant pounding he took as a running back on the football field, Joe still put his "legs" into every bowling ball
delivery with the sole intent to strike.
Mr. Perry never spoke an unkind word about anyone and would avoid anything controversial while in the public eye. On occasion while having coffee privately with Joe, I could ask him a couple of questions about his football playing days and he would answer thoughtfully and articulately. Although he rarely or never volunteered information about his football career, he would open up to friends in a comfortable environment. I once asked him after leaving a "ringing ten" pin to lose his match point as teammates in our league one night while we were changing into our street attire after losing the final game of league which he hated more, running into the defensive line of the Chicago Bears carrying the ball in a "4th and 1" situation or leaving a ten pin to lose a match as just had occurred in real time? Joe looked squarely into my eyes and said to me in no uncertain terms, "leaving the bloody ten pin!!" Joe Perry loved to bowl and Joe wanted to win...
Another little excerpt from the league in Pacifica, Ca. in 1981 was the night Joe greeted me before stepping into the settee in preparation to bowl and related how important the match we were facing against former PBA Champion and Bay Area native, Dick Agee, was to our league standings and asked me for our most committed effort to win that night. I was surprised by Joe placing so much emphasis on bowling well against Agee's team but I learned later that Agee had beaten Joe out a a league title years ago and Joe never forgot about it - Joe wanted to return the "compliment" to Dick Agee.
During warm up deliveries, Joe asked me if I thought he was lined up properly because he wanted to get started fast in the first game. I knew by hearing that question that Joe was dialing in and was about to put forth his best effort that night. Joe began with the first six and went on to roll a 250 plus score, his highest game that league season as it turned out, and beat Dick Agee in the first game. Joe looked at me and spoke the words directly to my face "your turn, Rich." Joe wanted me to bowl more than a 215 game in the 2nd game that night and made certain I knew it!
Joe Perry was muscling up on his teammates as he undoubtedly did with fellow teammates in the huddle on the football field many times before, that he wanted us to rally and win. This soft spoken man could chill you with a glare straight into your eyes and the simple words "your turn, Rich." As luck would have it, somehow I managed to bowl 300 the next game and as I was walking back off of the approach, Joe was standing at the ball return to greet me and I said, "that's for you, Joe." Joe shook my hand, smiled and politely took a seat in the settee area. We had accomplished what Joe wanted, winning the league series against his former bowling nemesis and that was enough for Joe. For me, it spelled relief. You see, the passion and competitive fires that burn inside a champion run deep. I learned that night that my friend, Joe Perry, was a winner as a man and as a player.
Let's examine some background and information about his sports history and his Hall of Fame NFL career. Hall of Fame fullback Joe Perry, the first player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and nicknamed “The Jet” for his sensational speed, died Monday, April 25, 2011. A former World War II veteran, Joe Perry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969 following a 16-year NFL career, 14 years with the 49ers and the other two for the Baltimore Colts.
A three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Perry still stands as San Francisco’s all-time leader in yards rushing (7,344) and touchdowns rushing (50). He led the 49ers in rushing on eight occasions, including seven consecutive seasons from 1949-1955. Perry finished with 9,723 yards rushing on 1,929 carries with 71 touchdowns in 181 career games. He also had 2,021 yards receiving on 260 catches for 12 touchdowns. He broke the NFL record for most career yards rushing, a total that was later topped by Jim Brown.
Perry, who also spent a stint in the Navy and served during World War II, became the first player with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 1953 and ’54. The 49ers retired Perry’s No. 34 jersey in 1971. Perry was a member of “The Million Dollar Backfield” featuring four future Hall of Famers in Perry, Hugh McElhenny, John Henry Johnson, and Y.A. Tittle.
For three seasons from 1954-56, they formed a fearsome foursome. The group remains the only full-house backfield to have all four of its members voted into the Hall of Fame. Perry regularly attended enshrinement ceremonies at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, supporting 49ers ownership and former players.
Perry and McElhenny also were teammates at Compton Junior College. Perry scored 22 touchdowns in his first season. Perry was later discovered by 49ers tackle John Woudenberg while playing running back for the Alameda Naval Air Station Hell Cats. Woudenberg promptly told 49ers owner Tony Morabito and head coach Buck Shaw about Perry, the team said. Perry’s first season with San Francisco was in 1948. He played for Baltimore from 1961-62, then wound up back with the Niners in his final season of 1963.
The football world mourns the passing of a great player...I mourn the loss of a friend and a bowling teammate.