97: Fridge breaks through in primetime

The moment had finally arrived for Mike Ditka -- the moment to gain a measure of revenge over the San Francisco 49ers and their coach Bill Walsh.

During the 1984 NFC Championship Game, the innovative Walsh used 264-pound guard Guy McIntyre as a blocking back on the goal line in the Niners' victory over the Bears. The move surprised Ditka, who silently vowed that he would get back at Walsh and the Niners.

All it took was a few months -- and Ditka even took it a step further, just to show Walsh that he too was a pretty good offensive strategist. Of course, it took getting the right player, and Ditka had the right player in a 325-pound rookie defensive lineman named William "The Refrigerator" Perry, the Bears' No. 1 selection in the 1985 NFL Draft.

The next time the 49ers and Bears met, in October of 1985, Ditka put his spherical rookie in the backfield -- and he put him there not as just a blocking back but as a running back -- a 325-pound running back with quickness and athleticism who put fear in the minds of all players on the defensive side with his ability to plow through and over linebackers, safeties and corners.

The Fridge, as he was affectionately called, had two carries in the game against the 49ers. Neither was on the goal line. Neither went for more than two yards. But both times, Perry "moved the pile" as if it had been bulldozed. That performance was a prelude to the next game, eight days later, on Monday Night Football against the Bears' arch rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

October 21, 1985, Soldier Field, Chicago. The stadium is rocking as the undefeated, Super Bowl-bound Bears burst onto the field to take on the struggling Packers before a nationwide Monday night audience. As soon as the Bears go on offense following the opening kickoff, the crowd of 65,095 begins chanting, "Perry! Perry!"

This is a shock because the Bears' primary offensive weapon happens to be the one and only Walter Payton, considered by many to be the greatest back in NFL history, and one of the most loved and respected athletes not only in Chicago but nationally because of his all-world ability, personality and infectious smile.

With 13:41 left in the second quarter, the Bears put together an efficient drive and bring the ball down to the goal line. Once again, the chant begins -- "Perry! Perry!" To the delight of the crowd, the 325-pound, 23-year-old rookie rolls off the sideline, onto the field and into the huddle, prompting a mad roar from the capacity crowd.

As the Bears break the huddle, Perry lines up behind quarterback Jim McMahon and in front of Payton. McMahon takes the snap, and as Perry rolls past him and slams into the line, moving it like a bulldozer, Payton takes the handoff. Perry flattens everything in his path, including Packers linebacker George Cumby, creating a gap so wide that Payton is able waltz into the end zone. "I felt like I was stealing a touchdown because I literally walked into the end zone," Payton would say later. "I could tell I really rung his bell," a smiling Perry says later of his hit on Cumby. His philosophy is simply: "Just knock down everyone in my way," he says later, nonchalantly.

The crowd is delirious, knowing their team has discovered a weapon that no defense will be able to stop, as he blocks for Payton. But they want to see Perry carry the ball, not just open up Grand Canyon holes for Payton. Moments later, while still riding the momentum of Payton's touchdown, Bears linebacker Wilber Marshall picks off a pass, and McMahon again moves the Bears to the goal line, prompting the fans to call out again for Perry. Seconds later, the Fridge emerges from the sidelines, causing another thunderous roar from the crowd.

McMahon brings the Bears to the line. The crowd rises. McMahon takes the snap and Perry explodes and lunges forward. McMahon turns and instead of faking the handoff to Perry, he gives him the ball. Perry slams into the line. As the crowd gasps, Perry knocks a pair of Packers backwards and off to the side, running easily into the end zone. As the Bears begin to celebrate, Perry spikes the ball so hard he nearly flattens it.

Soldier Field is a madhouse as fans stand, applaud, hug and high-five each other. Perry jubilantly runs off the field, the sporting world's newest overnight sensation, the most publicized rookie in the history of the league.

Not since George Halas unveiled the T-formation has anything caused such commotion in Chicago football. Perry's TD run illuminates an otherwise horrific football game. The Bears fumble seven times and lose four of them. The Packers use three quarterbacks who wind up throwing four interceptions. The Bears win easily, 23-7, to improve to 8-0. But all the talk, locally and nationally, is about The Fridge, who ran for most exciting one yard in NFL history.

Bears linebacker Jim Morrissey tells the media that "Fridge is knocking more guys out of the league than the drug policy." Says Payton: "He's so wide that nobody expects him to hit with such speed and effectiveness."

He is too big to surround, too strong to knock over, impossible to tackle. No longer a whim but an authentic weapon, Perry emerges as Ditka's goal-line offense. "We'll keep on using him," Ditka tells the football world, "until somebody gets someone bigger than him to plug up the hole."

They began calling it the "P-Formation" -- P as in Perry.