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Today is August 12, 2020

Ray Perkins: A football lifer’s coaching curtain call

By Dale McKee

Ray Perkins: A football lifer’s coaching curtain call

Ray Perkins is a football lifer. The final coaching curtain call came in 2013 at Jones County Junior College. Over six decades of football came to a close far away from the once bright lights of New York City.

Today, the former Alabama football All-American is back in Tuscaloosa, living with his wife and two daughters. He has two sons from an earlier marriage.

As a player, he was fortunate enough to play for two of the greatest football coaches in history — Bear Bryant and Don Shula. In college, he caught passes from JoeNamath and Kenny Stabler. If that does not impress you, how about catching passes from Johnny Unitas in the pros?

Perkins played for winners at every level of football, beginning in high school at Petal and continuing on at Alabama and into the pros with the Baltimore Colts. Winning and a strong work ethic were ingrained in him from his father — Walter RayPerkins — at a young age. “My dad built houses and he instilled in me the value of hard work,” Perkins said.

It was not easy juggling a hectic schedule opening the local gas station at 6 a.m., then going to school and football practice and then back to the station to close it down at 10:30 p.m.

Following a stellar high school career, not many offers came from colleges. “I was not heavily recruited. Only Southern Mississippi and Alabama offered scholarships. Mississippi State watched a practice, and Ole Miss called, but neither one offered,” the 1966 SEC Offensive Player of the Year and All-American said.

Perkins’ college football career was not ideal to begin with. He missed a lot of football practices due to National Guard duty. The next spring, in a helmet-to-helmet collision with a teammate, he sustained a blood clot on his brain and was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery in Birmingham. He stayed in the hospital for 10 days. He red-shirted the following season, as he recovered from the head injury. “One of the happiest days of my life was getting cleared by the doctors to play football again,” Perkins said.

Perkins was instrumental in Alabama winning the 1964 and 1965 National Championships. During Perkins’ senior season, he led possibly the best team in the university’s history (1966) to a perfect season. The Crimson Tide romped over Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl to finish 11-0. The Tide ended the season third behind No. 1 Notre Dame (9-0-1) and No. 2 Michigan State (9-0-1) in the final polls.

Following college, the then Boston Patriots of the AFL and the Baltimore Colts of the NFL both drafted Perkins. He signed a three-year deal worth $250,000 with the Colts. His promising rookie season abruptly ended when he sustained a knee injury. Before Perkins retired from pro football in 1972, however, he played in two Super Bowls, with the Colts winning one in 1971.

In 1973 Perkins began his coaching journey at Mississippi State under Bob Tyler. He quickly climbed the coaching ranks earning his first head coaching opportunity only six years later with the New York Giants. Some of his first assistant coaching hires in New York were Bill Parcells, Romeo Crennel and Bill Belichick.

Bryant called him home to Alabama in 1983. Perkins coached the Crimson Tide four years, accumulating a 32-15-1 mark and leading his team to three bowl wins. He left Alabama following the 1986 season and signed a $5 million contract to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Leaving Alabama was one of the most difficult decisions ever,” Perkins explained.

Perkins has no regrets. “I am not sure I would change anything about my life. It has been a great ride.”

 

Dale McKee is a Waynesboro native who has been writing sports in Mississippi since 1973. Contact him at ddmckee18@yahoo.com.

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