41: Joe Perry-NFL

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Joe “The Jet” Perry was once the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, and until 2011 was the all-time leading rusher in the history of the San Francisco 49’ers. But never winning a championship and playing the shadow of the great Jim Brown has certainly affected the legacy of Joe Perry. Perry said no to a larger offer to play for the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL in 1948 and instead signed for nearly less than half what the Rams were officering to play in the All America Football Conference (AAFC) and the Niners. In his second year with the team, he led the AAFC in rushing. The AAFC folded after the 1949 season and San Francisco joined the NFL. The crossover to the NFL didn’t slow Perry down and he became the first running back in NFL history to gain 1,000-yards or more in back-to-back seasons when he rushed for 1,018 yards in 1953 and 1,049 yards in 1954. Perry had to share the backfield with other such stars as Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson – and that certainly played an effect on Perry’s career totals. Still, when all was said and done, Perry rushed for 9,732 yards (AAFC and NFL combined) to go along with 71 touchdowns on the ground and he also caught 12 touchdown passes. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969 and his No. 34 was retired by San Francisco. Yet, when the conversation turns to the greatest running backs of all time, Joe Perry’s name is rarely mentioned and that’s a shame, because he was as touch, fast, and gifted as any running back who has ever played. Lee Elder, a terrific football historian and member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association, returns to Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for an in-depth conversation about the great – and forgotten – Joe Perry.

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