Defensive linemen in the NFL generally earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in one of two ways.
Some rush the passer and are credited with sacks.
Others stuff the run and are credited with tackles.
When a player has both significant sacks and significant tackles, he is a special defensive lineman.
Such is the case with Michael Dean Perry.
Over 10 years in the NFL, including seven years with the Cleveland Browns, Perry received numerous Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.
Known for his remarkable quickness for a defensive lineman, Perry is regarded as one of the best defensive linemen in Browns history.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) December 30, 2018
We take a look at the life of Michael Dean Perry – before, during, and after his Cleveland Browns career.
The Early Years Through High School
Michael Dean Perry was born on August 27, 1965 in Aiken, South Carolina.
Aiken is located in western South Carolina, about 20 miles northeast of Augusta, Georgia.
During Perry’s childhood, Aiken had a population of approximately 12,000 to 15,000 people.
Perry’s father, Hollie Perry, Sr., was a house painter.
He worked a double shift for nearly 40 years.
Perry’s mother, Inez Smith Perry, worked as a school dietitian.
In describing Perry, his mother said,
“Michael mostly carries on in a quiet way. But he’s a big joker.”
Perry was the youngest of 12 children (eight brothers and four sisters).
His most famous sibling is former Chicago Bears defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry.
Perry learned how to play football from his older brothers.
“I think I was 9 when I started. You had to follow in your brothers’ footsteps if you didn’t want to be called names.”
Perry developed his competitive skills during his childhood.
“I was the youngest of eight boys and most of my brothers pretty much were better athletes than I. Of course, when you’re the youngest, you always had to prove yourself. You had to guard those guys and try to get in their end and be competitive, so my competitive nature and skills developed from playing with those guys all my life.”
Perry attributed his football quickness (probably his key characteristic as an NFL defensive lineman) to “[a] gift from God” and something else from his childhood – playing basketball.
“Growing up, I played a lot of basketball and I always had to guard smaller, quicker guys if I wanted to play. And I think that improved my foot skills and foot speed. I think it’s a spinoff from that.”
South Aiken High School
Perry attended South Aiken High School.
Perry played a major role on both the offensive and defensive lines in high school.
While attending a summer camp at Clemson University, Perry caught the attention of Clemson defensive coach, Tommy Harper.
“[Perry] was a replica of the enthusiasm, that effervescence that William [Perry] has that a person can only feel and can’t explain. Those two, when they want to give off a current, you can feel it.”
When other coaches debated Perry’s ability, Harper recalled:
“I said: ‘You gotta be crazy. He’s super quick. He has the same genetic characteristics as William Perry. You’ve got to take him.’”
Both because Perry was considered small for a lineman and because Perry broke an ankle his senior year at South Aiken High School, he was not highly recruited.
Only Clemson University and University of South Carolina showed significant interest in Perry.
Following in the footsteps of his brother, William, Perry decided to attend Clemson and play college football in the Atlantic Coast Conference (“ACC”).
After redshirting his freshman year, Perry played college football from 1984 to 1987 at Clemson at defensive end and defensive tackle.
On Perry’s first college play, in a 40-7 Clemson victory over Appalachian State on September 1, 1984, Perry recovered a fumble caused by his brother, William, and scored a touchdown.
In 1984, Perry had 15 tackles for losses, starting on the defensive line with his brother, William.
Clemson had a 7-4 record in 1984.
In 1985, Perry again started on the defensive line, but started only four games and saw action in three others because of a broken ankle (the other ankle from the one he broke in high school).
Clemson had a 6-6 record in 1985, including a 20-13 loss to University of Minnesota in the Independence Bowl on December 21, 1985.
In 1986, Perry led the Tigers with 15 tackles for losses and nine sacks.
He was voted first-team All-ACC.
Perry helped Clemson win the 1986 ACC championship.
Clemson finished the 1986 season with an 8-2-2 record (ranked 17th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll), including a 27-21 victory over Stanford University in the Gator Bowl on December 27, 1986.
Perry had his best season at Clemson in his final season in 1987.
Perry’s ability on the field is evidenced by an incident during a scrimmage in the spring of 1987 when Perry was ejected from the field by Clemson head coach Danny Ford for playing too well.
“I thought Coach Ford was upset with me at first because he told me to go home. I already had about five or six tackles for loss and he wanted me to leave because I was being too disruptive.”
Perry had 24 tackles for losses and 10 sacks in 1987.
In a 30-28 loss to North Carolina State on October 24, 1987, Perry had five tackles for losses, tying the Clemson single-game record.
He also had one interception in 1987.
For 1987, Perry was voted first-team All-ACC for a second consecutive year.
Even more impressive (especially for a defensive player), Perry was voted ACC Player of the Year in 1987 (again following in the footsteps of his brother, William, who was ACC Player of the Year in 1984).
In addition, in 1987, Perry was named first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, and second-team All-American by United Press International and the Newspaper Enterprise Association.
He was also one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy (given to the nation’s best college football interior lineman) in 1987.
In 1987, Clemson won a second consecutive ACC championship.
The Tigers had a 10-2 record in 1987, including a 35-10 defeat of Penn State University on January 1, 1988 (and finished the season ranked 12th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll).
For his career at Clemson, Perry set the Clemson record for career tackles for losses (61) and is tied for second in Clemson history in career sacks (28).
Another all-time great, Clemson’s best #91, Michael Dean Perry:
-2x First-Team All-ACC
-ACC Player of the Year
-ACC 50th Anniversary Team
-#1 career TFL
-#2 career sacks
-2nd round pick
-SC Athl. Hall of Fame
-CU Hall of Fame pic.twitter.com/r9jcIWOB3t
— Austin Pendergist (@apthirteen) June 4, 2020
After his senior season, Perry played in both the Hula Bowl and the Japan Bowl (college football all-star games) and then headed to professional football.
The Pro Football Years
1988-1990 with the Browns
At a height of six feet and one inch, Perry was considered small for a defensive lineman (as had been the case when Perry was recruited by colleges out of high school), and thus was not selected in the first round of the 1988 NFL draft.
Perry was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 1988 NFL draft (as the 50th selection).
In describing his rookie season in the NFL, Perry stated:
“From the middle to the latter part of that first season, I played a lot. We went to a Bear defense, which is ironically a 4-3. I was the Eagle tackle (3 technique tackle) and got some playing time. I was also a defensive end in pass situations. I was considered a pass-rush specialist at that time.”
Specifically, Perry played in all 16 regular-season games (starting two regular-season games) for the Browns in 1988.
Perry recorded his first NFL regular-season sack (sacking Colts quarterback Chris Chandler for a six-yard loss) in a 23-17 Browns victory over the Indianapolis Colts on September 19, 1988.
As part of a 19-3 Cleveland win over the Philadelphia Eagles on October 16, 1988, Perry had one of nine sacks for the Browns defense against Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.
On November 20, 1988, in a 27-7 Browns victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Perry had his first multiple NFL regular-season sack game, sacking Pittsburgh quarterback Bubby Brister twice in the game.
Perhaps Perry’s most significant play in his rookie season was a 10-yard defensive fumble return touchdown (his only NFL regular season touchdown), helping the Browns defeat the Houston Oilers 28-23 in the last regular-season game of the season on December 18, 1988.
Perry also returned a kickoff for 13 yards in the game.
The win over the Oilers helped the Browns (who had a 10-6 record) earn a wild card playoff game against Houston on December 24, 1988.
While Perry started the game at defensive tackle, the Browns lost the playoff game 24-23.
For his rookie season, in the 1988 regular season, Perry had six sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 25 tackles.
Perry’s play helped the Browns defense rank sixth in the NFL in regular-season points allowed.
Perry was named to the 1988 Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team at defensive end.
In 1989, Bud Carson replaced Marty Schottenheimer as Cleveland’s head coach.
The change affected Perry’s position, moving him more to a full-time defensive tackle.
“Bud had me at Eagle tackle and cock nose, where you line up a little on a slant on the center.”
On October 1, 1989, Perry sacked Denver quarterback John Elway, helping the Browns defeat their playoff nemesis, the Denver Broncos (the Broncos had previously beaten the Browns in the 1986 and 1987 AFC championship games), 16-13.
In a “Monday Night Football” game on October 23, 1989, Perry had a sack of Bears quarterbacks, as the Browns defeated the Chicago Bears 27-7.
Perry had another multiple sack game on December 10, 1989, registering two sacks of Colts quarterbacks in a 23-17 Browns loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Browns defense finished fourth in the NFL in regular-season points allowed in 1989, helping Cleveland win the AFC Central Division title with a 9-6-1 record and advance to the 1989 NFL playoffs.
With Perry starting both playoff games (at right defensive tackle), the Browns defeated the Buffalo Bills 34-30 on January 6, 1990 in the AFC divisional round, before losing for the third time in four years in an AFC championship game to the Denver Broncos, this time 37-21, on January 14, 1990.
In the 1989 regular season, Perry had seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
He also had 92 tackles.
For his play in 1989, Perry was named AFC Defensive Player of the Year by both United Press International and the Kansas City Committee of 101 (consisting of 101 of the top NFL sportswriters).
He was also voted first team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Pro Football Writers of America, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and the Sporting News, and first team All-Conference by United Press International and Pro Football Weekly.
Perry also was invited to his first Pro Bowl.
Michael Dean Perry with the spin, splits the double and is tackled by Munchak, still gets QB hit pic.twitter.com/b2rt0iOuBF
— 𝐏𝐫𝐨 𝐅𝐨𝐨𝐭𝐛𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐉𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐧𝐚𝐥🏈 (@NFL_Journal) April 2, 2020
1990 was Perry’s best statistical year in the NFL.
In the opening game of the 1990 season, on September 9, 1990, Perry had two sacks of Bubby Brister, helping the Browns defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-3.
The following week, on September 16, 1990, Perry added two sacks of Jets quarterback Ken O’Brien, in a Browns 24-21 loss to the New York Jets.
Perry had three consecutive sack games in 1990 (sacking three Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks).
On October 28, 1990, Perry sacked San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana (in a 20-17 Browns loss to the San Francisco 49ers), on November 4, 1990, Perry sacked Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly (in a 42-0 Browns loss to the Buffalo Bills), and on November 18, 1990, Perry sacked Houston quarterback Warren Moon (in a 35-23 Browns loss to the Houston Oilers).
On December 16, 1990, Perry had two-and-a-half sacks of Falcons quarterbacks, as Cleveland defeated the Atlanta Falcons 13-10.
In 1990, Perry had 11.5 sacks (his best NFL season for sacks), two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and 107 tackles (his best NFL season for tackles).
For his play in 1990, Perry was voted first team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Pro Football Writers of America, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the Sporting News, and Pro Football Weekly, and first team All-Conference by United Press International and Pro Football Weekly.
Perry also was invited to his second consecutive Pro Bowl.
While Perry had a great 1990 season, the Browns, as a team, struggled, finishing the season with a 3-13 record and not making the playoffs.
1991-1994 with the Browns
The combination in 1990 of Perry having an excellent individual season, but the Browns not making the playoffs, generally was to continue over Perry’s next three seasons with the Browns.
The Browns finished with a 6-10 record in 1991 and 7-9 records in 1992 and 1993.
On September 8, 1991, Perry had two sacks of New England quarterback Tom Hodson, as the Browns shutout the New England Patriots 20-0.
Perry had another game of two sacks against the New York Giants on September 22, 1991, as Cleveland lost to the Giants 13-10.
On November 10, 1991, Perry again had two sacks in a game, this time of Philadelphia quarterback Jim McMahon, as the Browns lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 32-30.
On December 22, 1991, Perry had one-and-a-half sacks of Pittsburgh quarterback Bubby Brister, as Cleveland lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10.
In 1991, Perry’s statistics totaled eight-and-a-half sacks, two forced fumbles, and 81 tackles.
He was voted first-team All-Pro by the Sporting News, first-team All-Conference by Pro Football Weekly, and second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and the Newspaper Enterprise Association, in 1991.
Perry also was invited to the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive year.
On November 29, 1992, Perry had one-and-a-half sacks of Chicago quarterbacks, helping the Browns defeat the Chicago Bears 27-14.
The following week, Perry had two sacks of Cincinnati quarterback David Klingler, helping the Browns defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 37-21 on December 6, 1992.
The following week, Perry had two sacks of Detroit quarterback Andre Ware (giving Perry five-and-a-half sacks over three consecutive games), as the Browns lost to the Detroit Lions 24-14 on December 13, 1992.
In 1992, playing in only 14 of the Browns’ 16 games, Perry had eight-and-a-half sacks for the second consecutive year.
He also had 51 tackles.
Perry was voted first-team All-Pro by the Sporting News in 1992.
In 1993, Perry opened the regular season with two sacks of David Klingler, helping the Browns defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 27-14 on September 5, 1993.
Perry again had a stretch of three consecutive weeks with sacks in 1993, sacking Falcons quarterback Bobby Hebert in a 17-14 Browns loss to the Atlanta Falcons on November 28, 1993, sacking Saints quarterback Wade Wilson in a 17-13 Browns victory over the New Orleans Saints on December 5, 1993 (one of nine sacks by the Browns defense in the game), and sacking Oilers quarterback Warren Moon in a 19-17 Browns loss to the Houston Oilers on December 12, 1993.
For 1993, Perry had six sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 81 tackles.
Happy 55th Birthday MDP! pic.twitter.com/jmBCSfcUmf
— Bring Brownie back (@Cleveland_elf) August 27, 2020
Perry again was voted first-team All-Pro by the Sporting News in 1993.
Perry also was invited to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time.
1994 was Perry’s last year with the Browns.
On November 13, 1994, Perry had two sacks of Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, helping the Browns defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-7.
Perry had his last full sack for the Browns when he sacked Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell in a 17-7 Cleveland loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 18, 1994.
The following week, Perry was credited with his last sack for the Browns (half a sack, shared with teammate Rob Burnett) – a sack of Seahawks quarterback Dan McGwire in a 35-9 Browns victory over the Seattle Seahawks on December 24, 1994.
Perry helped the Browns defense lead the NFL with the fewest points allowed in the regular season in 1994.
The Browns finished the regular season with an 11-5 record, earning a wild card berth in the playoffs.
After the Browns won in the wild card playoff round against the New England Patriots 20-13 on January 1, 1995, the Browns lost in the divisional playoff round against the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-9 on January 7, 1995.
Perry started both games for the Browns at right defensive tackle – his final games with the Browns.
In the 1994 regular season, playing 15 of Cleveland’s 16 regular-season games, Perry had four sacks and 43 tackles, including 33 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles (specific solo tackle and assisted tackle information was unavailable before 1994).
Perry was voted first-team All-Conference by United Press International, and second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, in 1994.
In addition, Perry received his fifth Pro Bowl invitation.
1995-1997 with the Broncos and Chiefs
Perry’s production in 1994 was his lowest since his rookie season.
A history of knee and ankle injuries had begun to slow Perry’s performance.
A combination of declining production, the impact of injuries, and salary cap issues led the Browns to release Perry in February 1995.
Later that month, Perry signed a three-year, $7.2 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
“My time in Cleveland was up. [Bill] Belichick was there at the time. He went in a different direction. [Mike] Shanahan was in Denver and they were going in another direction and, sure enough, it was a fit.”
In 1995, Perry played in 14 of Denver’s 16 games.
He had six sacks, one forced fumble, and 39 tackles, including 33 solo tackles and six assisted tackles.
Perry was voted second-team All-Conference by United Press International in 1995.
In the 1996 regular season, playing 15 of Denver’s 16 games, Perry had three-and-a-half sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and 31 tackles, including 22 solo tackles and nine assisted tackles.
Perry’s play helped the Broncos win the AFC West Division title with a 13-3 record in 1996, before the Broncos lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-27 in the divisional round of the playoffs on January 4, 1997.
Perry started the playoff game at right defensive tackle for the Broncos, but caused the Broncos to incur a costly “12 men on the field” penalty in the game when he failed to get off the field in time.
Perry was again voted second-team All-Conference by United Press International in 1996.
He also received his sixth and final Pro Bowl invitation.
In 1997, Perry was limited by injury (by turf toe, in addition to his prior knee and ankle injuries).
Perry played in only nine games for the Broncos before he was released in December 1997.
Perry then signed with the Kansas City Chiefs and played one game with Kansas City.
For 1997, Perry had one forced fumble and 15 tackles, including nine solo tackles and six assisted tackles.
After the 1997 season, Perry retired from the NFL at age 32.
The Years After the NFL
After his retirement, several teams tried to encourage Perry to come back to the NFL, including the New York Giants under former Browns general manager Ernie Accorsi.
However, Perry never returned to the NFL.
“It went back to the age-old question: Would I rather have health or wealth? I could have a little of both, without putting my body through a traumatic experience, so that’s what I elected to do. When my body started to break down, I said I don’t want to be a cripple. I knew the aging process would be accelerated from playing up to that point. I just wanted to preserve as much of my body as I possibly could. So I retired a little early.”
Perry and his wife, Trini, have four daughters, Amber, Taylor, Tyrah, and Tiera.
“Having four girls keeps you patient and it keeps you humble; they go through stuff real fast. But they’re special. They’re great, and they’ve all been very good kids.”
Perry now lives around Charlotte, North Carolina.
Perry was involved in owning some “Subway” restaurants.
Perry and Trini operate A1 Transportation Company, which specializes in wheelchair transportation.
Perry received numerous honors after his retirement from the NFL.
In 1999, Perry was voted in 10th place in a poll of 28 former Clemson players, coaches, administrators, and fans to select the top Clemson players of the 20th century.
Perry was inducted in the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) July 28, 2020
Perry was one of the inaugural members of the “Cleveland Browns Legends Program” in 2001.
In 2002, Perry was named to the 50th Anniversary All-ACC Team.
Perry was inducted in the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
In 2020, Perry was the recipient of the Brian Dawkins Lifetime Achievement Award.
Michael Dean Perry Named Brian Dawkins Award Winner https://t.co/bZUaJFl9cn
— Clemson Sports (@ClemsonSports) January 24, 2020
The Award is presented to a former Clemson player “who exemplifies excellence in the areas of integrity, scholarship, athletics, service, leadership, commitment, dedication, courage, resilience and spirit”.
Perry’s Legacy with the Browns
Perry ranks high on various lists of Cleveland Browns career defensive statistics.
Perry’s 51.5 sacks as a Browns player rank second on the list of career sacks as Browns players.
Perry’s 10 forced fumbles as a Browns player rank third on the list of career forced fumbles as Browns players.
Perry’s 480 total tackles as a Browns player rank seventh on the list of career total tackles as Browns players.
With his play on the field and amiable personality, Perry was one of the most popular Cleveland Browns when he played for Cleveland.
Perry was so popular that “McDonald’s” named a sandwich after Perry, which it only sold in the Cleveland area.
On top of a stellar NFL career, Michael Dean Perry’s fame transcended football with a sandwich named after him in metro Cleveland McDonald’s. The “MDP,” a triple bacon cheeseburger, was the largest sandwich on the McDonald’s menu.
Here’s one of the incredible MDP commercials: pic.twitter.com/vfd959ViZ0
— Austin Pendergist (@apthirteen) June 4, 2020
The “MDP” consisted of the same ingredients as a double cheeseburger, plus the addition of a patty and bacon.
The positive feelings of Browns fans for Perry is matched by the positive feelings of Perry for his time in Cleveland.
“That was a great place to play. The fans were tremendous. They were very loyal to the Browns and to me. I had a great experience in Cleveland. What people don’t realize is that during that time I was playing, free agency was unheard of. So the guys stayed on one team a good little while. I had an opportunity to play with the core guys a long time and had a nice relationship with them. That was a great time. We had some great memories. The fans were great. That was a great time in my life.”
One issue concerning Perry is whether he will ever be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While Perry has been nominated, he has not yet even been a finalist, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Perry has an impressive resume with six Pro Bowl invitations, numerous All-Pro honors, role in helping three Cleveland and one Denver teams make the playoffs, and strong play (significantly from his exceptional quickness on the defensive line) during his prime years that made it so difficult for offensive linemen to block Perry and prevent him from getting sacks and tackles.
If Cleveland Browns fans had the vote, Perry would be headed to Canton, Ohio to be fitted for his Pro Football Hall of Fame “gold jacket” tomorrow.