SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) – Hall of Fame fullback Joe Perry, the first player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and nicknamed “The Jet” for his sensational speed, died Monday. He was 84.
The San Francisco 49ers announced that Perry, also a World War II veteran, had died Monday in Arizona of complications from dementia.
Perry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969 following a 16-year NFL career, 14 years with the 49ers and the other two for the Baltimore Colts.
A three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Perry still stands as San Francisco’s all-time leader in yards rushing (7,344) and touchdowns rushing (50). He led the 49ers in rushing on eight occasions, including seven consecutive seasons from 1949-1955.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Joe Perry’s passing earlier today,” 49ers owner John York said. “He was a dear friend to my family and me and to the entire 49ers organization. He was also an intricate part of our rich history. A truly remarkable man both on and off the field, Joe had a lasting impact on the game of football and was an inspirational man to the generations of players that followed him. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his wife, Donna, and his entire family. He will be sadly missed by all of us.”
Perry finished with 9,723 yards rushing on 1,929 carries with 71 touchdowns in 181 career games. He also had 2,021 yards receiving on 260 catches for 12 touchdowns. He broke the NFL record for most career yards rushing, a total that was later topped by Jim Brown.
Perry, who also spent a stint in the Navy and served during World War II, became the first player with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 1953 and ‘54.
The 49ers retired Perry’s No. 34 jersey in 1971.
Perry was a member of “The Million Dollar Backfield” featuring four future Hall of Famers in Perry, Hugh McElhenny, John Henry Johnson and Y.A. Tittle. For three seasons from 1954-56, they formed a fearsome foursome. The group remains the only full-house backfield to have all four of its members voted into the Hall of Fame.
Perry regularly attended enshrinement ceremonies at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, supporting 49ers ownership and former players.
“All of us here at the Pro Football Hall of Fame are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of the great Joe Perry,” said Hall president and executive director Steve Perry (no relation). “Joe was not only a key figure in the history of professional football, but he was a great friend to us here at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a frequent visitor to Canton for our annual enshrinement ceremony as well as many other Pro Football Hall of Fame events. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his wife, Donna, and the entire Perry family.”
Perry and McElhenny also were teammates at Compton Junior College. Perry scored 22 touchdowns in his first season.
Perry was later discovered by 49ers tackle John Woudenberg while playing running back for the Alameda Naval Air Station Hell Cats. Woudenberg promptly told 49ers owner Tony Morabito and head coach Buck Shaw about Perry, the team said. Perry’s first season with San Francisco was in 1948. He played for Baltimore from 1961-62, then wound up back with the Niners in his final season of 1963.
An undrafted free agent, Perry ran for 562 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. He dominated again the next year with 783 yards, eight TDs and a 6.8 yards per carry average.
In 2007, the team established the Perry/Yonamine Unity Award as a way to celebrate the franchise’s 65-year history of teamwork being a focus toward accomplishing goals. The 49ers honor an exceptional nonprofit agency, youth football coach and a current 49ers player who has demonstrated a commitment to promoting unity and giving back to the local community. The award is named for Perry and fellow former 49er Wally Yonamine. The winner in each category receives a $10,000 grant award to be donated to their represented organization.
“We are honored to be able to continue to pay tribute to him through the annual Perry/Yonamine Unity Award recognizing his and fellow 49ers alumnus, Wally Yonamine’s barrier-breaking contributions to the 49ers,” York said.
Perry was born Jan. 22, 1927, in Stephens, Ark. Memorial service arrangements were pending.
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