NFC North: William Perry
Listed generously at 337 pounds, Raji is nevertheless one of the Packers' better athletes and an obvious candidate for a backfield power formation. He long ago nicknamed himself "The Freezer" in homage to former Chicago Bears defensive tackle William "The Refrigerator" Perry, but Sunday was the first time he got a chance to emulate Perry as a ball carrier.
The play came at the end of the Packers' first offensive possession, part of a goal-line set that included three tight ends. Raji lined up offset as a fullback, with John Kuhn as the tailback. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers handed it to Raji on dive play behind right guard. It took a while for officials to unpile the players -- "B.J. was lying on top us," said center Scott Wells -- but eventually they awarded him a touchdown.
After passing on the Lambeau Leap, Raji launched into a modified midsection gyration of sorts. But he said he's considered some other touchdown celebrations as well and doesn't think Sunday will be a one-time deal. Asked if he would recommend his pickup to fantasy owners, Raji laughed and said: "I think it would be in their best interest to."
As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC North:
Best nickname, B.J. Raji: You've got two kinds of athlete nicknames: The ones they give themselves and the ones bestowed upon them. Last winter, we tried our best to push "The Garaji" or "Raj Mahal," but ultimately what stuck was what Raji himself dreamed up during the Green Bay Packers' divisional playoff game victory over the Atlanta Falcons. After participating in a jumbo offensive package at the goal line, Raji began calling himself "The Freezer." As NFC North fans remember, William "The Refrigerator" Perry rose to cult status in a similar role 25 years ago.
Best tackler, Antoine Winfield: Generously listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Winfield needs perfect form and a fearless attitude to bring down ball carriers who sometimes outweigh him by 100 pounds. Winfield has both. He stays low, doesn't fall for open-field moves and wraps up legs as if he is filming a fundamentals video on every play. There aren't many players, whether they're speed- or power-based, who can elude him. Last season for the Vikings, according to Football Outsiders, Winfield tied for the NFL lead with 28 "stops" against the pass.
Best tweeter, Chris Harris: The NFC North is packed with social media mavens. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, for instance, entertains the masses with "Jack Handey" quotes whenever he's sitting in an airport. But Harris is probably the most prolific in our division, using Twitter to post serious thoughts on important NFL issues at one moment and then updating his diaper-changing failures in another. Just as important, Harris interacts with Chicago Bears fans on a near daily basis. Those of us who follow Harris feel like we know him.
Best comedian, Pat Williams: We're still not sure if Williams will return to the Minnesota Vikings, but even if he departs via free agency, he'll leave behind a litany of hilarious moments, both intentional and otherwise. My personal favorite: Upon witnessing then-teammate Dwight Smith arrested in downtown Minneapolis, Williams identified himself as a reserve U.S. Marshal in Louisiana and offered to help "sort things out." It's true: Williams was involved in a reserve Marshal program at the time, but that's still a scene I wish I had been witness to.
Best best (bonus category): Detroit Lions tailback Jahvid Best. Enough said. (Sorry, couldn't resist)
When Tracy Forrest overheard her 10-year-old son Cliff on the phone trying to explain to someone that he wanted to give William Perry his Super Bowl XX ring back, she could tell Cliff was having a hard time being believed.
After all, what 10-year-old would give away something like a Super Bowl ring for nothing?
So Tracy got on the phone and lent an adult voice to her child's gesture of goodwill and generosity. That gesture culminated in Chicago on Saturday when Cliff handed the ring to the former Chicago Bears defensive tackle, whose battle against Guillain-Barre syndrome has been well documented.
Barbara Brotman of the Chicago Tribune provides an update on the health of former Bears defensive lineman William Perry.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the labor situation, Anthony Adams has no regrets about his decision to become an unrestricted free agent.
According to Lions coach Jim Schwartz, Ndamukong Suh will remain a defensive tackle.
Green Bay Packers
Tom Silverstein identifies the Packers' needs heading into the draft.
Several Packers players are expected to be on hand Monday at Miller Park to throw out the first pitch at the Milwaukee Brewers' home opener.
Leslie Frazier had hoped to conduct his first minicamp next weekend, but the likelihood of that happening "doesn't look good."
This month's draft is the hot topic in the latest Vikings.com mailbag.
Every day begins with William Perry needing help out of bed. Usually, it's 10 a.m. before he even gives it a try, and to support his 400 pounds, he shuffles to the living room on two legs that barely work and his sturdy black cane.
Once he sits down, he and his chair are in a long-term relationship. He doesn't move, except to go to the bathroom, and the concerning part is that he has no desire to move. A home gym is just 20 feet away from him, but he mostly scowls at it from a safe distance. A walking path is only 40 feet away, but he mostly hisses at it from the comfort of his seat.
His day consists of watching television and eating three or four meals prepared by his heart-broken wife, Valerie. She nags him to exercise, but says she gets "cussed out'' for it. She bugs him to take his medication but says she gets ignored over it. Her new trick, just to get him on his feet, is to tell him he has to come to the kitchen to eat his lunch. That's her best way to get "The Refrigerator'' to walk near the refrigerator.
Of course, then when she least expects it, her husband will hobble out the door and into his car. She knows exactly where he's headed: to the liquor store.
Because every day ends with William Perry needing a drink.
He had nothing planned.
The Green Bay Packers' budding showman resorted to instinct, rolling his hips like a belly dancer while celebrating the score that proved the final margin of victory this past Sunday in his team's 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. Listed at 337 pounds, Raji officially became the biggest man to score a postseason touchdown in NFL history, based on records kept by the Elias Sports Bureau. (You can watch the video here.)
"Football is a game of reactions," he said. "I just reacted and had fun with it."
American sports culture has long had, uh, a soft spot for large men who do surprising things. Exactly 25 years ago, William "The Refrigerator" Perry stole the show in the Chicago Bears' run-up to Super Bowl XX. Raji has better teeth and more of a nuanced personality, but otherwise the man who is calling himself -- yes -- "The Freezer" is set to emerge as one of the fresh personalities on the scene of Super Bowl XLV.
"The guy has some style," marveled Packers cornerback Charles Woodson.
Raji literally served as the rock of a defensive line that was otherwise debilitated by injuries to four players expected to play significant roles. Cullen Jenkins (five games), Ryan Pickett (two), Mike Neal (14) and Justin Harrell (15) were all sidelined for significant segments of the season. Raji, on the other hand, missed only an average of five plays per game.
You could attribute part of that durability to Raji's young legs. At 24, he is only two years removed from Boston College. But it should also dispel any notion that Raji is just a top-heavy, if lovable, big man. He is obviously well-conditioned and, despite the extensive workload, has appeared as spry as ever during the Packers' stretch run. In the Packers' past six games, in fact, Raji has four sacks, has knocked down three passes and intercepted a fourth.
"He's played tremendously for us [in that stretch] and been a real key factor," defensive coordinator Dom Capers told reporters on Sunday.
In fact, the Packers were so confident in Raji's conditioning that they recently added a Fridge-like role to his repertoire. In each of their past two playoff games, Raji has entered the game on offense as an extra fullback in the most jumbo-sized goal-line package you'll ever see. (It also includes reserve offensive lineman T.J. Lang as a tight end and fullbacks Quinn Johnson and John Kuhn as the other men in the backfield.)
Both plays have resulted in touchdowns. The first instance came in the Packers' Jan. 15 divisional playoff game at the Atlanta Falcons, a game for which Raji happened to be mic'd for NFL Films. If you haven't watched the resulting video, it's worth your time.
You'll see Raji admitting that "I didn't block nobody" after bursting through the line ahead of Kuhn on the result. Later, a Packers staff member approached Raji on the sideline and suggested he looked like the Fridge.
"I'm the Freezer," Raji responds.
Personally, I'm partial to "The Garaji" as a nickname, but I'm guessing "The Freezer" has already taken off.
"I was making a joke, just making light of the situation and having a good time with it," Raji said.
The same could be said of his post-touchdown celebration Sunday, which he said has generated "a slew" of offers for lessons and other suggestions to improve for the next time. Coach Mike McCarthy joked (I think) that he gave Raji "two minuses" on his grading chart on the interception -- one for holding the ball away from his body during the runback and another for the dance.
"The dance is a little bit undesirable," McCarthy said.
So what's next for Raji? Most importantly, the Packers are counting on him to anchor their defense against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that scored 37 points on them during a 2009 meeting. Bleah. That alone would be so boring.
Will Raji get a handoff out of that goal-line set? How about a play-action pass? Clearly he has the skills. And this week marks the 25th anniversary of Perry's 1-yard scoring plunge in the Bears' Super Bowl XX rout of the New England Patriots. At a listed 318 pounds, Perry had the record Raji now owns, according to Elias.
"B.J.'s a very good athlete," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "He's the kind of guy that despite his size, he's a pretty good basketball player, that sort of thing. He's blessed with a lot of God-given gifts."
I'm betting that includes the capacity for a better post-touchdown celebration.
"Who knows?" Raji said. "You'll have to see."
The world is waiting, B.J. The world is waiting.
CHICAGO -- IT'S HERE.
WE MADE IT.
NO MORE TIME FOR TALK.
NO NEED TO DEBATE.
THE DAY HAS COME TO PLAY THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.
GREEN BAY PACKERS.
LET'S DO THIS.
Sorry, my caps lock was jammed.
I'm writing from downtown Chicago, where we are getting a light dusting of snow that apparently will taper off in a few hours. Still, it has given us our own little white Christmas in the NFC North.
While we nervously pace the room, let's take a glance at some headlines from those who have been covering the Packers and Bears all season. I'll check back in with you from Soldier Field in a few hours:
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune on Bears coach Lovie Smith: "But if the Bears beat the Packers, it will force us to start rethinking the way we view a guy who enjoys more respect around the league than in his own city. It would be time for everyone to show Lovie a little more love."
- Dan Pompei of the Tribune: "A very good chance exists the quarterbacks will decide whether the Bears or Packers goes to the Super Bowl."
- Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Bears-Packers, for everything. If that doesn't give you shivers, nothing will."
- This game puts Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz at center stage, writes Mark Potash of the Sun-Times.
- Can the Bears' offensive line stand up against the Packers' blitzes? That's one of Michael C. Wright's five things to watch in this game over on ESPNChicago.com.
- Michael Wilbon of ESPNChicago.com writes of his boyhood hatred for one of these teams.
- Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "You can bet your cheesehead or your old William Perry poster that Dom Capers and Rod Marinelli, the respective defensive coordinators of the Packers and Bears, spent every waking moment last week crafting game plans to limit the effectiveness of the opposing quarterback."
- Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel on Packers general manger Ted Thompson: "What got the Packers to the position they're in now is the confluence of two natural actions in the Thompson system: the maturation of young players into good players and the natural selection process of replacing good players with better ones. In theory, what you should have is a roster blossoming at the top and budding at the bottom. Whenever a blossom falls, there's a bud ready to bloom and take its place."
- Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette speaks to former Packers president Bob Harlan about the decision to hire Thompson.
- Mike Vandermause of the Press-Gazette: "Yes, today's game at Soldier Field between NFC North rivals is huge. Yes, it will go down as the most important game in the 182-game history of the series. Yes, the winner will dance all the way to Dallas carrying huge bragging rights, while the loser will suffer through an especially long and painful offseason. But no animosity exists between these teams, no matter how hard some try to manufacture it."
- Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com traces the rising public confidence of Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
- Check out who Wilde picked in this game. He is 14-4 in Packers games this season.
- Seven out of 10 ESPN experts are picking the Packers.
- If you want a pregame speech from the actor who plays Vince Lombardi in the currently-running Broadway show, check it out.
Who can forget Perry diving into the end zone on Monday Night Football or catching a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field? Many of us can still feel the tension between coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, a dynamic that ultimately resulted in both men carried off the field after the Super Bowl. McMahon's message-laden headbands. And is there anything else to say beyond "Super Bowl Shuffle?"
Those sideshows were the grizzle on the meat of a team that was as talented, at least defensively, as any modern-day championship group. That collection of players gave the Bears the only championship they have known in the past 47 years.
Nearly half of the defensive starters made the Pro Bowl. Singletary and Hampton are in the Hall of Fame. One day, Dent will join them. Two players finished with double-digit sacks: Dent (17) and linebacker Otis Wilson (11). As a team, the Bears forced 54 turnovers. During one particularly dominant stretch, the Bears went two months without giving up more than 10 points in a game.
Their only loss came in Week 13 at Miami, which finished 12-4 that season. But the Bears rebounded from that loss, winning their final three games by an average margin of two touchdowns, and then elevated themselves to historic status in the playoffs.
On the way to Super Bowl XX, the Bears shut out the New York Giants (21-0) and Los Angeles Rams (24-0). The culmination of their season was a dominating 46-10 victory over New England in which the Bears set seven Super Bowl records.
Most impressive win: It's hard to look past a 36-point victory in a title game of any kind. At the time, it was the largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl.
Quotable: "In life, there are teams called Smith, and teams called 'Grabowski'....We're Grabowskis!" -- Ditka, painting his team as a blue-collar group that evoked Chicago's heritage. The nickname caught on.
1941: Six future Hall of Fame players contributed to a 10-1 record and an NFL Championship. All of its victories were by more than a touchdown, and its only loss was by two points to Green Bay.
1940: The same core of Hall of Fame players finished 8-3 and also won the NFL Championship. The title game was a legendary 73-0 defeat of Washington.
1942: An undefeated regular season (11-0) featured four shutouts over its final six games. But this team lost 14-6 to Washington in the NFL Championship Game.
I realize this list doesn’t include a moment from any of Minnesota’s four Super Bowl appearances. There are a few reasons for that. First, the Vikings lost all four games. Second, their last appearance was 33 years ago. For most of us, there is a generational gap that has probably muted the progression of any highlights from those games.
OK, on with it:
1. Play: Green Bay receiver Max McGee’s one-handed, 37-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of Super Bowl I.
Comment: As the story goes, McGee didn’t expect to play in the game and missed curfew while spending the evening on the town. He was, uh, not at full capacity at kickoff.
2. Play: Green Bay kick returner Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI.
Comment: The final score of the game sealed the Packers’ victory.
3. Play: Devin Hester’s 92-yard return of the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI.
Comment: You can’t start a game better than that.
4. Play: William Perry’s 1-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XX.
Comment from Bshuma1: You just can't beat the big guy's celebration and toothless smile after he owned that linebacker.
5. Play: Brett Favre’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on the Packers’ second play in Super Bowl XXXI.
Comment from Capdogg13: One of the best NFC North moments, what with Favre running up the field. That image, along with being one of the best Super Bowl images, defines exactly how Favre approaches the game, no matter his age.
6. Play: Bears players carrying defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan off the field along with coach Mike Ditka after Super Bowl XX.
Comment from bcrawford85: Awesome moment in Bears history, let alone the NFC "Central" history.
Comment from me: I agree. It was the ultimate sign of respect and appreciation for the leader of one of the best defenses in NFL history.
Good morning. Hope everyone had a great weekend. We're gearing up for another mid-summer week in the NFC North, where news will be light but the blogging will never stop. (OK, it will, but we'll get to that later.)
Any football fan of the 1980s, Chicago or otherwise, will be interested to read this feature from Bob Gillespie of the The State. It details the disease and episode that landed former Bears star William "The Refrigerator" Perry in the hospital earlier this year.
Perry, who has Guillain-Barre Syndrome, had little money and no insurance when he began feeling sick, One of his brothers found him in bed -- dehydrated and only semi-responsive -- in April. The story chronicles the work of former Bears coach Mike Ditka to upgrade Perry's medical care.
Perry was released from the hospital in May and is under the care of another brother, former NFL player Michael Dean Perry. He has three more weeks of rehabilitation to go.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Mark J. Konkol of the Chicago Sun-Times traces the rise and fall of former Bears fullback Roland Harper.
- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to begin reviewing the status of free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress, as reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen, means the Bears aren't likely to be signing Burress anytime soon.
- Detroit left tackle Jeff Backus needs to emerge from a three-year nightmare, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Jerry Green of the Detroit News reminisces about the once-regular public pronouncements of Lions owner William Clay Ford.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette offers a thorough overview of the Packers' roster. Dougherty believes Jeremy Thompson has a good chance to start ahead of rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
- Click here if you want to know who Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is hanging out with, according to the New York Post.
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman is concerned Minnesota will turn Adrian Peterson into this generation's Barry Sanders.
Posted by ESPN.com staff
- Former Bear William "Refrigerator" Perry has been released from the hospital after suffering complications from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
- ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson weighs in with some of his observations from the Bears' organized team activities (OTAs) that were open to the media.
- According to a Chicago Department of Revenue spokesman, the city always intended to levy amusement taxes on Chicago Bears season-ticket licenses. The Chicago Tribune reported that, in some instances, the tax is being levied on sales from five years ago.
- The arrival of rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has produced improved performances from fellow QBs Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton.
- Terry Foster of The Detroit News shares a lighter moment from a recent Lions practice: "On one play, rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford ran a bootleg and got around the corner with end Eric Hicks in hot pursuit. Hicks couldn't catch Stafford but had a few words for him. 'Sorry I couldn't catch you,' Hicks said. 'I was just picking up all the money falling out of your pockets.'"
Green Bay Packers
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports editor Garry Howard and deputy sports editor Karl Svatek offer a point-counterpoint look at the saga that is Brett Favre.
- Now that the NFL has signed off on allowing its teams to make deals with lotteries, the Packers are expressing interest in that area.
- Continuing his position-by-position analysis, the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Tom Pelissero examines the offensive line.
- Coach Brad Childress did little to put to rest the speculation of Favre ending up in with the Vikings.
- After missing all of last season while fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Kenechi Udeze is back on the field and serving as an inspiration. "It's inspiring when you talk about a guy that 365 days ago was in the middle of intensive chemotherapy fighting for his life," Childress said. "Put that into perspective. That was before he could even be considered for a bone marrow transplant. To be playing professional football back on the field kind of defies description."
- Percy Harvin is on the field this week for the first time with his new teammates and he couldn't be happier.
Admit it. You were virtually joining me Monday night by flipping between "Dancing with the Stars" (We call it DWTS on Disney-owned ABC!), "2001: A Space Odyssey" on the Encore Mystery Channel and that 1985 matchup between Chicago and Green Bay on the NFL Network.
I must say that the Packers' Jim Zorn era had totally passed from my consciousness. Took me multiple squints -- thank you, video degradation -- to realize that the left-handed quarterback wearing No. 18 was Zorn. I thought it was cool seeing Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier playing cornerback for the Bears in what was his last NFL season, but one part of the game stood out most prominently for me.
As you recall, William "The Refrigerator" Perry caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jim McMahon just before halftime, his first scoring reception. I vaguely remembered that play. What came next, however, I did not. Perry returned to the sidelines, joined the special teams huddle -- led by unofficial Bears assistant coach Jeff Fisher, who was on injured reserve at the time -- and trotted back onto the field to cover the kickoff.
That's something you don't see in today's game: A starting defensive tackle covering kickoffs, let alone one who participated in the previous offensive play. The Fridge got down the field, too, and was near the tackle. Just one example of how the game has changed over the years.
Oh, the Bears went on to defeat the Packers 16-10.
End fantastical digression. On with our morning march around the NFC North:
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the numbers on free-agent offensive lineman Frank Omiyale's contract. Omiyale will receive $6.3 million this season, almost half of the total value of the deal. That's a strong sign that the Bears consider him a starter at some position this season.
- Packers defensive back Jarrett Bush visited Tennessee on Monday and will meet with Baltimore officials on Wednesday, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Packers gave Bush the low tender as a restricted free agent, meaning they would get no compensation if he signs elsewhere.
- The Packers have yet to host linebacker Kevin Burnett on a visit, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Even "The Simpsons" have taken a shot at Detroit's 0-16 season. Check out the video on the Detroit Free Press' Web site.
- The much-discussed visit of free-agent cornerback Karl Paymah to Minnesota is, alas, on hold, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The city of Walnut, Calif., is preparing a legal challenge to plans for building an NFL stadium in nearby Industry, according to the Pasadena Star-News. The Vikings are among a handful of teams that have been approached to play in the proposed facility.
- Former Vikings coach Dennis Green and former Vikings defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell are among the men expected to be head coaches in the new United Football League, according to Howard Balzer of The Sports XChange.
At least the Detroit Lions are having a little fun. (Or at least, an ex-Lion. We understand that's a big distinction).
Former Lions receiver Roy Williams, traded earlier this month to Dallas, returned to Detroit on Monday to attend the team's annual Halloween party/charity fundraiser. How was he dressed? As former Lions running back Tatum Bell, who was involved in the well-documented disappearance of tailback Rudi Johnson's bags during the preseason.
If you recall, Bell said he grabbed the bags after mistaking them for those of another former teammate -- whom Bell had agreed to deliver to a local friend's house. Playing off that story, Williams wore a bellhop uniform to the event (with a "T. Bell" nametag in case someone missed the joke), and a pair of boxer shorts with "Rudi" on the front and "Johnson 32" on the back, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
UPDATE: Thanks to reader Taha for forwarding us the link to some video of the party.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Chicago linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer had surgery last week on his thumb, reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Hillenmeyer didn't practice Monday and his status for Sunday's game is uncertain. Nick Roach would replace him in the starting lineup if necessary.
- Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Bears legend William "The Refrigerator" Perry, who is in a wheelchair while he rehabilitates from a bout with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Perry was hospitalized for five months with the illness, which causes extreme weakness and numbness in the extremities.
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune writes that Brad Childress is "in the biggest week of his three-season tenure as Vikings coach." A home loss to Houston would drop the Minnesota to 3-5. That record, combined with the prospect of losing defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams thereafter, could scuttle Childress' tenure, according to Reusse.
- Ah, here's the reason: Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said he hasn't dropped a pass since changing the style of gloves he wears during games. Shiancoe's new gloves have no webbing between the fingers, according to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Newsflash: For the first time this season, Green Bay could have all five of its receivers healthy for a game. That's assuming James Jones (knee) is ready to play Sunday at Tennessee. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette assesses the situation. "It's a great package," receiver Donald Driver said. "If we ran it, there's no five [defensive backs] in the National Football League that can stop us."
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he "definitely" feels better after resting his sore throwing shoulder during the bye week, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.