ACC Legend: Perry Tuttle of Clemson

Nov. 16, 2011

By Rob Daniels, Special to

It's Perry Tuttle's Muhammad Ali-over-Liston moment...his Beatles-strolling-across-Abbey-Road image. And 30 years after it graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in recognition of Clemson's national championship, Tuttle's teammates can't seem to stop teasing him about it.

"Jeff Davis swears I'm the only guy who can make a living off one catch," Clemson's 2011 ACC Legend said recently.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, of course. It would also be unfair to suggest Tuttle has crassly capitalized on a collective effort for massive personal gain. If anything, the former wide receiver has spent his pro career and his nominal retirement years using the moment to advocate for a variety of pursuits from fatherhood to constructive dialogue on race relations to the values of his alma mater and its conference.

"It's one thing to be branded as a football player, but the exciting thing, to be branded with Clemson, is far better," Tuttle said. "That has required me, when I'm out in public, to represent Clemson and my family and the ACC to the best of my ability."

When Clemson fans see the SI cover, which portrays Tuttle holding the ball after a touchdown, they might reasonably assume it depicts a tie-breaking, last-minute, game-winning play in the Tigers' 22-15 victory over Nebraska on Jan. 1, 1982. The truth: The play came midway through the third quarter and gave the Tigers a 19-7 lead.

No matter. Thirty years later, it's still beloved by the Tiger populace, which will descend upon Tuttle's current hometown of Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game.

They'll have much to discuss. Before Tuttle's teammate Jerry Butler arrived and earned the distinction in 1978, no Clemson player had led the ACC in receptions. Tuttle's development was important it suggested the Tigers could, in fact, effectively respond to recent rules changes that had taken the shackles off the passing game. If you were going to win in the 1980s and beyond, balanced offense would be vital, and Tuttle's All-ACC season of 1980, in which he led the league in catches and yardage, was a good omen. He repeated the All-ACC designation a year later, and he's still in the Top 5 of most Clemson career receiving lists.

It will be a short but enjoyable trip for the player who ventured to Tigertown years ago from Lexington, N.C., and who returns out of loyalty regularly.

That's another of Tuttle's traits. In 1984, his NFL career ended and another door didn't open for another two years. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL called in March of 1986, and Tuttle brought his skills northward, catching 83 passes in his first season in the wide-open, pass-friendly league.

"The game itself is fun," he said. "Three downs. Anything that would eliminate blocking for me, I was all for it.

"I signed a one-year contract, and after that season, I had a hard decision. I didn't have a great NFL career. As a matter of fact, they considered me a bust. After that (1986) year, I got calls from NFL teams to come back and play, but that year was so much fun that I decided to stay."

And by staying, he didn't mean simply remaining in the employ of a football team. Tuttle lived in Winnipeg on a full-time basis, and two of his children were born in Canada.

"The weather was not my favorite, but the people were amazing," he said.

Tuttle helped the Bombers win two Grey Cups, and his production - 321 catches for 5,817 yards over six seasons - secured his spot in the team's Hall of Fame in 1997.

His CFL success is one of the things that affords him the chance to be an active dad and husband and to write and speak about important topics that take him anywhere groups are eager to hear a message.

The author of several books, Tuttle derived the idea for one of them by closely examining the Biblical tale of David and Goliath.

"When I counted the number of times Goliath's name was mentioned, I noticed that it was only mentioned twice," he said. "But David's father, Jesse, is mentioned 18 times. I decided the story was not about a little boy and a giant; it was a story about how a father teaches his son to fight giants. I started teaching my boys on how to fight the right fight."

Recently, Tuttle has been working on a book he hopes will help parents and children overcome the obstacles that prevent open, honest and frequent communication. To be entitled "In Before Dark," it is the result of Tuttle's struggle with a disease that threatens to rob him of his eyesight one day.

Still another effort was the outgrowth of a day on the golf course with three friends, all of whom were white. The four men started talking about America's difficulty in discussing racial differences in a climate of fear. What followed was a six-hour talk over pizza at Tuttle's house and a work called "What White People Want to Know About Black People But Are Afraid to Ask."

"That book has taken me around the country," he said. "It has opened a dialogue. It is not a debate. It is not a research paper. It's about how I'm going to raise my children to embrace different people and different cultures."

Tuttle hasn't ceased his embrace of his alma mater, either. He's pleased join his former coach, Danny Ford, on the list of Tiger Legends. Ford, who directed that 1981 team, was honored by the conference in 2009.

"Coach Ford did a great job of letting the seniors dictate the mood of practice and the whole vision of the season," Tuttle said.

Tuttle and coach Dabo Swinney have become good friends, and the coach invited the author of that Orange Bowl catch to address the current Tigers the day before they played North Carolina in October.

Clemson won that game and ultimately secured the Atlantic Division title, and while Tuttle is not into predictions, he said he did notice important parallels between these Tigers, whose game has been elevated by the combination of quarterback Tajh Boyd and freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, and the 1981 squad.

"If you go to practice and are around the staff and players, they do enjoy each other," Tuttle said. "And it's fun to see.

"Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Tajh and Sammy. Those two guys are beasts, aren't they?"

The Championship weekend will afford Tuttle a chance to reflect on 1981 and to mingle with fans at the Night of Legends, scheduled for Friday, Dec. 2 at the Charlotte Convention Center. It's a task he's proud to undertake.

"There are a number of guys who want to represent the ACC and to do that in a way that would honor not only the school but the ACC," Tuttle said. "I don't think I'm old, but I must be if they're going to call me a Legend, huh?"