Catching up with ... Ray Perkins

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The Colts were struggling. Everyone in Memorial Stadium knew it, from the juiced-up Oakland Raiders to the hushed crowd of 56,368 who'd come to watch the first-ever AFC title game in 1971.

Nursing a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter, the Colts seemed stuck on offense. Then, on third-and-11 from his own 32, quarterback Johnny Unitas fired a sideline pass to Ray Perkins, a back-up receiver who'd broken loose past midfield.

Perkins caught the ball and made for the end zone, eluding a desperate flying tackle at the 5-yard line to score.

Final: Baltimore 27, Oakland 17. The conference championship in tow, the Colts advanced to Super Bowl V and won that, too.

Of Perkins' 93 NFL receptions, none meant more than the 68-yarder that broke the Raiders' backs that day — though, 41 years later, he shrugs it off as "a fairly routine play."

Said Perkins, "There was no celebration, no jumping up and down. I just dropped the ball in the end zone and ran to the sidelines, happy that I could have made a contribution."

A seventh-round draft pick from Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide to two national championships, he spent five years here and scored 11 touchdowns before nagging injuries did him in.

"Finally, I couldn't run well enough to play," Perkins said. "So, one day at training camp (in 1972), I went to coach Don McCafferty and asked to be released. But I asked him not to tell the players."

Then he dressed for one last practice.

"The last pass I caught was a slant pattern from Johnny," he said. "I had such a love for those guys, and the game, that I wanted to remember it."

Perkins turned to coaching and spent the next 27 years on the sidelines, both college and pro. Sandwiched between head coaching stints with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he ran the show at Alabama, winning three bowl games after replacing the legendary Paul (Bear) Bryant.

A Mississippi native, Perkins retired there to Hattiesburg in 2000. This year, restless for change, he picked up a clipboard. At age 70, he became head coach at Jones County Junior College, in nearby Ellisville. The Bobcats finished 6-3.

He said he has found his niche. Again.

"I still have a passion for football, and I want to be involved in young peoples' lives," Perkins said. "If I can answer their questions and be a mentor, then I will."

After a 12-year sabbatical, he relishes the job, though it's but an afterthought on his long resume.

"Is my fire still burning?" Perkins said. "Right now, I'm out recruiting. I'm driving down the highway at 70 miles an hour, going to another high school to get me a player to help us win a national championship."

The work allows time for his family. Perkins, who has two sons from a previous marriage, lives with his wife, Lisa, and daughters Rachael, 15, and Shelby, 9.

"People say, what's a guy like you doing with kids that age?" he said. "Every day, they put a spark in my eye."

He's still soft on the old Colts, as well. On the mantel above his fireplace sits a Baltimore helmet, signed by most of those whom Perkins played with.

"Teams today don't have the camaraderie we had," he said. "We did a lot of stuff together. Every year, at training camp in Westminster, we had a 'rookie show,' where the veterans would (haze) the rookies.

"In 1966, when they got around to me, (defensive tackle) Billy Ray Smith brought out an electric chair that he'd rented from someplace in Baltimore, and strapped me in."

Then players began needling Perkins about his talent, his contract, etc.

The roast was on.

"As they talked, they started giving me voltage. They thought it was funny," Perkins said. "I went along with it – but I was glad when it was over.

"You don't see teams doing stuff like that now."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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