While watching a YouTube video of the 1987 Chicago Bears replacement players during the lengthy strike that took place that season (current Saints coach Sean Payton was one of them), my mind worked back to a much different season that had played out just two years earlier. I then realized it’s the 30th anniversary of the “Year of the Fridge”.
Just about this time of year in 1985, Perry exploded onto the scene for Mike Ditka’s team as a 300+ pound goal line blocking full back, occasional ball carrier and even pass receiver. I’m sure George Cumby of the Packers would have been just as happy if Mr. Perry had stayed on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage after The Fridge ran him over on Monday Night Football. The Clemson rookie would enjoy his sudden fame all the way through the Super Bowl where he scored a touchdown that many Bears fans would have rather seen go to Walter Payton.
Perry had no 1985 cards except for one that was part a Bears set issued through a McDonald’s promotion. That set must have been successful enough that Mickey D’s would do a league-wide issue in 1986, creating sets with four different tabs (Jerry Rice had more than just a Topps rookie card that year—he was in the McDonald’s set, too). But in 1985, there would be no mainstream Perry rookies and we would have wait, hope and presume Topps would include Perry in its 1986 set.
And yes, when those packs arrived in late summer of the following year, Perry was probably the most expensive rookie card. We would be three years away from the first Beckett football magazine and thus the monthly movement of football card prices was keenly observed by only a precious few dealers and collectors. And who in 1986 would not have rather had a Perry RC at the start of the than Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, Steve Young or, of course, Jerry Rice.
After the Super Bowl, it seemed like Perry was in a commercial every hour on the hour. Even non-fans knew his name. I still remember seeing my Aunt Doris coming over to visit and hearing her drop in a mention of Fridge during a conversation. At that point, I realized Perry had become a true celebrity. And when that occurs, it’s not just collectors seeking cards—it’s those who just want one for the curiosity. Demand was sky high.
Who knows what heights 1985 Perry cards would have gone to if rookie cards were released during the player’s first season instead of the following year.
If ‘The Fridge’ had happened in the current era, we’d have short printed autographed cards with relic pieces. Thirty years ago, there wasn’t much of anything Perry-related to collect other than autographs (which were also in huge demand).
By the end of the decade, football cards really began to take off. More manufacturers would arrive, technology improved and just in time for that great 1989 rookie class, first year pros had cards by the time they stepped onto the field instead of a year later.
The Fridge novelty eventually wore off and while he enjoyed a nice career, he’s battled some pretty serious health problems. Thanks to eBay and other online sites, prices for his rookie cards have dipped to a few bucks–at most. But if you miss those days or aren’t old enough to remember, check out some Fridge videos, grab his rookie card, do the Super Bowl Shuffle and remember a much different era in the hobby—and our own culture.