Eagles’ return to Super Bowl rekindles bittersweet memories for Perot

CHILLY IN PHILLY: Petey Perot recalls the minus-17 degree weather in the 1981 NFC Championship game that took his Philadelphia Eagles to the franchise’s first Super Bowl. (Photo courtesy Northwestern State Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

January 25, 1981 turned out to be the biggest day in Petey Perot’s football career, but when the Natchitoches native, Northwestern State great and longtime Louisiana Tech offensive line coach looks back, it’s not details of Super Bowl XV he remembers most.

Instead, it’s his Philadelphia Eagles teammates and coaches, and the fanatical Philly fans. And it’s memories of the team’s run to the NFC Championship, capped by a bone-chilling homefield win over the Dallas Cowboys.

They are bittersweet memories, a blend of the bond shared by members of a title-winning team; the frustration of losing, not winning, on the sport’s biggest stage; the pride in having reached that point; and now, the hurt of having mourned guys who he used to line up alongside.

“I more remember some of the guys that were there with us, and some aren’t here any more. Guy Morris was our center, we were really good friends, and we lost him last year.  Max Runager, he was our punter, and he came in with me. He passed away. Woody Peoples, he’s gone. Special people on our team and in my life,” said Perot, sitting in his Ruston home, where he will enjoy watching the Eagles play in the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl Sunday night.

He does remember the first one — played in his home state — and how Philadelphia got there.

“Having an opportunity to play in the biggest game, especially for me at that time playing in my home state, was special. The thing you hate is after you win enough, you get through the playoffs, and you get there and don’t win, it’s a downer.

“Never did get back there. We weren’t bad, but never got back to the Super Bowl.”

Perot was a second-round NFL Draft pick after starting for four years at Northwestern and having a dominant career at St. Mary’s High School in his hometown. He played mostly at tackle as a Demon, tutored by future Louisiana Tech head coach Joe Raymond Peace, and made the switch to guard in the NFL. He was a starter right away.

That put him into two annual battles for NFC East superiority between the Eagles and the Cowboys. Perot lined up against future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy “The Manster” White, and more than held his own in their matchups through his five seasons in Philadelphia.

“I don’t know if anybody ever handled Randy. He was an All-Pro every year, really a fine competitor,” said Perot, who played six NFL seasons, the last with the New Orleans Saints.

The 1981 NFC Championship Game was one of his finest outings, as the Eagles took charge quickly and put away Dallas to punch their ticket to Super Bowl XV.

“I just got enough done that we were able to score some points early, and ended up winning that championship game in Philadelphia, 20-7. It was kinda cool, like minus 17 degrees. We weren’t wearing a lot. I don’t remember wearing long sleeves under my jersey or anything like that,” he said.

He does proudly recall Wilbert Montgomery’s 96-yard TD run on the opening series, although he modestly neglects to mention that he threw a block on White that helped launch the pivotal play.

Two weeks later in the Superdome, with his Louisiana family and friends and former college teammates attending, the Oakland Raiders posted a methodical 27-10 victory to end Perot’s second pro season. At the time, it stung. It still does.

“I was too young, thinking I’d play that game forever, we’d go back to the Super Bowl the next year. I didn’t realize the things I know now. But those were good years,” said Perot.

Some of the fun was playing in one of America’s greatest sports cities, with fans whose passion sometimes knows no bounds.

“The Eagles fan base, we always felt like they were great. They loved all their teams in Philadelphia, and still do,” he said. “Now they could get mad at you and boo you, too. Overall, they really cared. They threw snowballs at Santa Claus one year.”

Those Philly fanatics were despised by visiting teams, especially as dynamic Dick Vermeil rekindled championship football for a once-proud franchise.

“I still stay in touch with Dick. We were all proud when he got in the Hall of Fame a couple years ago, and we talk on the phone at times,” said Perot.

There’s a handful of Eagles from those days who maintain their relationships. Among his teammates were future Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Harold Carmichael and future NFL head coach Herm Edwards. The quarterback was Ron Jaworski, a solid pro who later became a popular and respected ESPN football analyst.

Perot’s last NFL season was highlighted when Sports Illustrated’s legendary writer Paul Zimmerman named him the league’s Offensive Player of the Week after his blocking keyed a New Orleans win at San Francisco in 1985.

After hanging up his helmet, there wasn’t an instant shift to coaching for him. But when Peace succeeded Perot’s Demon head coach, A.L. Williams, as the Bulldogs’ head man in 1987, after Perot had been a volunteer assistant in the 1986 season, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I was very grateful to have that opportunity Joe Raymond gave me,” he said. So were Tech linemen whom he tutored from 1986-96, and then again from 2000-12, 23 years in all, bracketed by two stints at Southern Mississippi. Most notably, Perot was vital in developing future Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Roaf, who was a diamond in the rough when he arrived from Pine Bluff, Ark., but departed Ruston as the Saints’ first-round draft pick, eighth overall in 1993.

Now the 65-year-old’s days are centered around his wife, Kate, their sons, Joey and Josh, and their families, including some precious grandchildren.

“We’re both doing good. Our days are mostly picking up grandkids from school and helping out when we can. It’s a good life.”

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com