EAST LANSING (Nov. 3, 2003) – I used to think there was a limit to how much punishment one player could handle in a football game before having to wave the white flag. But Saturday afternoon, Chris Perry’s performance went beyond anything I ever thought possible from a college football player – especially considering what Michigan’s senior running back is going through off the field.
Irene Perry, Chris’s mother, has been diagnosed with cancer. To keep his mother fresh in his mind while playing, Perry has been wearing a band around his shoulder since the Iowa game with the word “MOM” written on it. Chris knows there is only so much he can control, so all he can do is pray for his mother and keep fighting for more yards.
“(Chris) Perry has the heart of a champion,” Lloyd Carr said. “I love that kid and the way he’s played and the career he’s had at Michigan.”
He took “leaving it all out on the field” to a new level – seriously, if you look closely, you’ll probably find parts of him still lying out there.
Statistically, it went down in history as one of the greatest rushing performances in Michigan history. He went for 219 yards on a school-record 51 carries, and scored a touchdown. He also had two receptions, giving him 53 touches on the day.
But Perry’s performance transcends the meaning of statistics. Honestly, how many people will actually be able to recall the exact number of carries he had in a few years? I probably won’t. But people do remember images, such as the hopeless look on Perry’s face after last season’s loss to Ohio State in Columbus.
Perry’s perseverance left me with several intense, vivid images that stick out above the touchdown catches or the lockdown Michigan defense. When I look back on this game, it will be those images that I remember the most.
I will always remember watching Perry late in the fourth quarter (well into the 40s in carries), battling extreme fatigue just to get up out of the pile after a run. I will remember how he would lay there a few extra seconds each time to somehow catch his breath and get back to the huddle, only to hear he would be carrying the ball again.
I will always remember how dirty his jersey was late in the game. It got to the point where it was so brown from the mud, it looked like he was wearing a different uniform than his teammates.
I will remember him leaning on the referee to support himself, even though he’ll tell you that he was just jokingly asking him to take some time off the clock. And I will remember how amazed I was that, even though he was about to drop dead from the beating he was taking, he was able to maintain his concentration and still run for positive yardage without fumbling the football.
And I will never forget Perry’s post-game press conference. He was a beacon of emotion, full of life; a warrior ready to go back out for more. He said the only thing he wished was that he had gained more yards.
“He’s always asking for 40 carries, and this is when he needed to carry 40 times,” running backs coach Fred Jackson said. “I did not think he would carry 50 times, but since we had the bye week coming up I thought it would be OK.”
Perry says he would have carried 60 times if that is what it would have taken to win.
His mother’s situation definitely affects Perry on and off the field, but he does his best to use it as a positive motivational factor when competing.
“He gets emotional,” Jackson said. “He loves his mom, and he thinks the worst, but I tell him to pray; they’ve got cures for things and everything will be all right. He’s a very powerful person, both mentally and physically.”
“She’s doing all right,” said Perry of his mother. “She’s going through her treatment and doing well. I’m handling it well because it’s a part of my life. It makes you realize that football isn’t that important.”
But football is what Perry has some control over. So he just keeps running. Running and praying.
Naweed Sikora can be reached at