A few weeks after the Super Bowl, Lonnie Perrin, the Denver Bronco running back, will come home to Washington, D.C., for a few weeks. But he will not stay much longer, he says, because it doesn't pay.
"Last year, after the season ended, I came home and I couldn't get a job," Perrin said today."I didn't expect any handouts, I didn't want to be treated lika any kind of hero. I just wanted a job.
"I tried the Recreation Department and they had nothing. I tried the school board, they had nothing. And I had all these so-called friends who were supposed to help me out, but nothing came through. Nah, I wasn't bitter, but I was kind of disappointed."
Of course, Perrin has no such problems these days in Denver, where, he said, "You walk on the street and you get mobbed. I've never seen anything like it. I was in a store shopping one day and this one guy keeps following me all around the place. He just wouldn't leave me alone. He wanted information about the team, he wanted my autograph. It's like that everywhere.
"I've already had offers from three different people for work in the off-season, and one of them is in my field, social work. There's some business opportunities, a chance to make a little extra money. I'm probably going to buy a house out there. I tell you, if anybody had ever told me five years ago that this would have happened to me, I would have had to laugh."
When Perrin left Washington in 1970, his football future seemed secure. He had been a three-sport star at McKinley Tech, one of the most gifted and versatile athletes the city has produced. He had led McKinley to a city football title in 1970, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound player-of-the-year running back with speed and power, who kicked off, handled extra points and field goals, and played safety. He also made several all-city teams in basketball, and played baseball in the spring.
"There wasn't anything that kid couldn't do," said Bobby Mitchell, the Redskins' director of pro scouting and the man who pushed Perrin toward his own alma mater, the University of Illinois. "He was a natural, that's all you have to say."
On the playing field anyway. But Perrin's schoolwork at McKinley, by his own admission, "wasn't very good. Everything was hard for me. It was hard going to school because you weren't motivated to do anything except play ball. It was hard to go to class, you had the feelings a lot of the teachers just didn't care. Not all of them, but enough to make a difference.
"I was given some breaks because I was an athlete. My senior year, my English teacher let me take a final exam after I'd failed it once, just so I could graduate with my class. It was always tough in the public school system. The facilities and the fields, were bad, the schools were overcrowded. I didn't learn much from the books, but I did learn a lot about life.
"So when I went to Illinois, which was a totally different situation for a city kid, I was prepared to deal with it. A lot of people with much better backgrounds than I had couldn't make it. They had nervous breakdowns, they dropped out. But I was mentally tough, so I could handle things."
There was plenty to handle. As a freshman, Perrin was inelligible because he could predict the required, at that time, NCAA 20 grade-point average out of McKinley. He also had received a $600 scholarship, which the NCAA didn't approve of from the Pigskin Club of Washington and there was talk that he might lose some eligibility. He attended school that freshman year without a scholarship, paying his way with a loan, a summer job and cash sent by his life-long friend, Joe Dean Davison, now the Dunbar basketball coach.
Perrin showed flashes of brilliance at Illinois, but always was nagged by injury or illness. Still, he gained 907 yards as a senior and scored four touchdowns in his final game against Northwestern; putting him alongside Red Grange in the Illinois record book.
"It was a tough four years for him, though," Mitchell said. "There were some problems with the coach Bob Blackman, things like that, and all the physical things. But Lonnie hung in there. He even became a student. He got good grades, and he got his degree, and that tells you a lot about the kid."