Monday, April 26, 2004

New Bengal guided by loving parents

RB's career has taken winding path

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Four family members and a friend accompanied Chris Perry to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday for his introduction to the Cincinnati media.

It was an altogether appropriate scene that Perry's mother, father, grandmother and uncle were seated in the front row of the Bengals' interview room for his 10:30 a.m. press conference.

Perry wouldn't have been there himself without them. "I don't think I was the easiest child to raise, but it all turned out good," said Perry, the Michigan running back drafted in the first round Saturday.

Bengals first round draft pick Raymond "Chris" Perry, right, shakes hands with a beaming Bengals coach Marvin Lewis during a press conference at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
Though his parents, Raymond and Irene Egerton Perry, divorced in 1990 when Chris was 9, they put aside their differences to make sure he and his younger sister were taken care of.

At pivotal points in Chris' life, his parents intervened. Raymond Perry, a career law enforcement officer, took Chris through the Guilford County jail in their hometown of Winston Salem, N.C., for a scared straight experience.

Still worried that the streets would lure young Chris, Raymond and Irene sent him to Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy in 1999.

"I didn't like it," he said.

Headstrong Chris clashed with school administrators and military instructors - he had to get up at dawn to the sound of "Reveille" - but football coach Mickey Sullivan helped him get a scholarship to Michigan.

It was then that Chris and Irene, already close, grew even closer. Irene, author of the nine-novel Light in the Basement series and holder of a master's degree in community economic development, decided to move from Advance, N.C. - about 15 miles from Winston Salem, where Raymond lived - to Ann Arbor, Mich.

"He is her prince," said Pearl S. Bostic, Chris' maternal grandmother from Brooklyn, N.Y., who also attended his introduction Sunday at the stadium.

Irene, 49, had a business opportunity to become the founding publisher of Ann Arbor Magazine. Chris would play football for the Wolverines.

"My reaction was, 'Call before you come over. Anything else I have no problem with,' " Chris said Sunday when asked how he felt about his mother following him. "She stopped over a few times. One time I wouldn't let her in. I don't know what was going on. It was 7:30 in the morning."

Chris's college football career got off to a good start. Playing behind Anthony Thomas, now in the NFL with the Bears, Chris rushed for 417 yards and was named honorable mention all-freshman. .

He started as a sophomore but was injured. When he was healthy, Chris thought he deserved to be given his job back. He had gained 53 yards on six carries in the loss to Ohio State. Chris thought Michigan could have won had he played more. Wolverine's coach Lloyd Carr disagreed. He didn't like Chris' attitude, thinking him selfish. "You haven't shown me anything," Carr said. "You can leave."

Chris, then a few weeks shy of his 20th birthday, wanted to walk. He wanted to transfer to an ACC school closer to home in North Carolina. Irene stepped in. She and Chris had a series of meetings with Carr.

"I told (Carr) I would support him 100 percent if he did not break my son's spirit about football," Irene recalled on Sunday. "That was the terminating conversation. I told Christopher if he left, where would he go? It was like the movie An Officer and a Gentlemanwhen the guy is out in the rain, 'I ain't got nowhere else to go.' "

Chris stayed. He started 11 games as a junior and rushed for 1,110 yards. Optimism ran high at the start of Chris' senior year, which would end with the Wolverines winning the Big Ten.

But something was wrong. Chris noticed that Irene's energy lagged. He asked. "Nothing," she said.

"She was lying to me," he said.

In August, Irene was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I was amazed at the way he kept going on once I told him," she said. "I was reluctant to tell. I thought it would stress him out his senior year. He said, 'Football isn't a stress for me. I love it. That's not a problem. I've been doing this since I was 7 years old.' "

Irene has undergone chemotherapy and radiation. Her prognosis is good.

"Every child loves his mother," Raymond Perry said. "But when the mother goes through something that could take her away, you become even closer."

Football was indeed Chris' respite. Every other place, whether in his apartment or in class, he couldn't help but find his mind wandering to his mother's condition.

"But I knew I couldn't control it," he said. "I could control football."

So he did, rushing for 1,674 yards and catching 44 passes for another 367 yards. He was fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Irene is hard at work in Ann Arbor. She's planning for the re-release of her acclaimed Basement series - "what black people say behind closed doors when no one is listening" - as a set this summer.

What if she were writing her son's biography? The title?

Her creativity escapes her.

"Oh, I don't know," she said. "It would have to be 'Dedication,' 'Courage' or a word like that. I don't think I could have ever written the storyline of his life."



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