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Pro Football / Bob Oates : Super Athletic Ability Separates Perry From the Usual Behemoth

What separates William Perry from most other 300-pounders--from most other 200-pounders, for that matter--is his extraordinary athletic ability.

He isn’t just a fat guy jumping around.

He illustrated the kind of football skill he has Sunday when he caught a touchdown pass against Green Bay. He used his hands to pluck the ball out of the air, just the way the NFL’s best receivers do it.

A man with less talent tends to catch the ball by cradling it against his chest.

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Perry’s achievements as the top draft choice of the Chicago Bears this year are a reminder that athletic talent is wholly unrelated to size.

A 145-pound guard, Bert Metzger, once played for Notre Dame and made All-American. NFL quarterbacks have stood 5 feet 7 inches--Eddie LeBaron--and 6-6. Heavyweight boxing champions have weighed less than 175 and more than 275.

In tennis and basketball, height is an enormous advantage but small players have excelled in both sports.

In football, size helps--but it is talent that dictates. Thus, The Refrigerator has the ability to block like a blocking back, run like a running back, and catch like a wide receiver.

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Strangely, he doesn’t yet play defense like a defensive tackle, the position he was drafted to play. What’s more, he will only be a useful defensive player--some day--if he has a talent for it.

Is pro football the only big-time sport in which bartenders, gravediggers and schoolteachers can excel?

It may be. On the East Coast this year, Eric Schubert is the latest to join the party. Schubert can teach school and also play football for the New York Giants because of what the NFL has allowed its game to become.

The league authorizes nonfootball players to put on football uniforms and participate as kicking specialists.

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In an era of specialization, accordingly, most kickers are nonfootball players.

There is nothing remotely comparable in America’s three other major spectator sports: basketball, baseball and hockey.

The free throw in basketball may require only junior high school ability, but it is still a basketball skill. The designated hitter may not be much of a major leaguer, but he still has to use one very basic baseball skill. A great skater may have an edge in hockey, but he still has to carry a stick, and use it.

As football is played today, placekicking isn’t a basic football skill, in the sense that free-throw shooting, hitting and skating are integral parts of the other sports.

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Football, basically, is running, passing, catching, blocking and defense. No fan goes to a football game to see field goals.

The NFL should either throw out extra points and field goals or the nonfootball players who kick them. And some of us don’t care which.

There’s a four-way tie this week for first--or last--in the four-team AFC Central. And the league office says it’s the first time this has happened in any modern NFL division in the second half of the schedule.

All even with 4-5 records are Pittsburgh, Houston, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

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“It’s been awhile since a Houston team could call itself first place at this time of the season,” Houston running back Butch Woolfolk told Texas writers.

His quarterback, Warren Moon, said: “It seems no one’s going to win the division. It’s just a matter of who doesn’t lose it.”

All four clubs are probably out of the wild-card running, but their champion will make the playoffs, anyway, with any kind of record, 8-8 or worse. The 1978 Minnesota Vikings still hold the futility title with an 8-7-1 team that reached the 1978 playoffs.

One advantage the San Francisco 49ers have in their drive for a wild-card berth is an effective backup quarterback, Matt Cavanaugh.

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There is even talk of a quarterback controversy now in San Francisco, where Cavanaugh played a big game Sunday in relief of Joe Montana, who had injured himself a week earlier in Anaheim.

“We can throw longer with Matt,” said Coach Bill Walsh, who nonetheless remains an ardent Montana fan.

Guard Randy Cross, a UCLA product, sees nothing to fret about.

“This isn’t L.A.,” he said. “We don’t have quarterback controversies here.”

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At Miami this week, the New York Jets can put a virtual end to the 1985 title aspirations of Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino, his journeyman teammates, and his famous coach, Don Shula.

The Jets (7-2) smashed the Dolphins last month in New Jersey and now hold a two-game lead over the AFC’s defending champions, whose poor defense has lately worsened.

Since Sept. 15, the Jets are 7-1, having lost only when an injury kept running back Freeman McNeil out of the game against New England.

"(The Jets) are the most complete football team we’ve seen this year,” Indianapolis Coach Rod Dowhower said, mentioning McNeil, quarterback Ken O’Brien and their defense.

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A record 13 NFL running backs gained 100 yards or more Sunday. Remarkably, there were at least two in each division:

AFC West: Marcus Allen, Raiders; Gary Anderson, San Diego.

East: Freeman McNeil, Jets; Craig James, New England.

Central: Woolfolk, Houston; Larry Kinnebrew, Cincinnati.

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NFC West: Eric Dickerson, Rams; Gerald Riggs, Atlanta.

East: George Rogers and Keith Griffin, Washington; Joe Morris, Giants.

Central: Walter Payton, Chicago; Darrin Nelson, Minnesota.

“Running back is probably the easiest position to play well,” said Mike Hickey, the Jets’ director of player personnel, “I don’t mean it’s easy. But in the pros, there are more great backs than anything.”

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