January 11, 2017

Checking In With Perry Tuttle

Former Clemson football players, from left, Jeff Davis, Perry Tuttle and Homer Jordan, (3) greet each other as they meet for a special ceremony for to honor the 1981 national championship team Saturday, Sept. 23, 2006, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

The question first came up Monday night, right around the time the Clemson Tigers were putting the finishing touches on a win over the Alabama Crimson Tide to capture the second national football championship in school history.

Just exactly where is Perry Tuttle – the hero of the Tigers’ first title back in 1981 – these days?


Good question, that.

And it turns out the answer – Tuttle’s story of going from a national championship through his six years as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to what he is up to now – is absolutely fascinating.

First thing’s first, let’s deal with the basics: Tuttle, who played for the Bombers from 1986-91, lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. And he was at Clemson’s win live and in person Monday as his son, Kanyon, is a redshirt freshman on the Tigers.

A father of six, the two oldest having been born in Winnipeg, Tuttle is the Charlotte Hornets’ team chaplain, a public speaker whose next appearance will be in front of a bunch of mayors on Martin Luther King Day, is the founder of the Perry Tuttle Company (a sports marketing firm), and an author of four (soon to be five) books including ‘What White People Want to Know About Black People, But Are Afraid to Ask.’

And if that wasn’t enough, last month he was part of the group that launched ‘Vertigo Music’, a new app that combines music streaming with live streaming.

“It’s been a wild few days,” began Tuttle with a chuckle this week from Charlotte in a chat with “First of all, that was a great game the other night, regardless of the outcome. And for my son… I’m really happy for him. What a great experience he’s having.”

Tuttle would know, of course. He had five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in the 1982 Orange Bowl over Nebraska that gave the Tigers the championship, a performance that not only capped an All-American season, but landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Perry Tuttle

A few months later, the Buffalo Bills made Tuttle their first-round choice, 19th overall, in the 1982 NFL Draft. He bounced around the NFL – from the Bills to Tampa Bay to Atlanta – before surfacing with the Bombers in 1986. He re-established himself in his first year in the CFL, pulling in 83 passes for 1,373 yards and eight TDs and the phone starting ringing immediately after that season.

“I got six calls from the NFL after that first season asking me to come back to their camps,” said Tuttle. “I turned them all down. Most guys would say, ‘I’m going back to the league.’ But something happened to me in my first year in Winnipeg. I became ‘me.’ I wanted to experience that for at least another year and ended up staying for six.”

Tuttle, to be sure, felt some freedom in stepping out from under the microscope as a failed first-rounder. But he also insists his days in Winnipeg allowed him to mature as a person and spread his wings, so to speak.

An example:

“I don’t know who it was who said ‘find your one thing and do it well,’” Tuttle explained. “Why limit yourself? I mean, I came to Canada and I took piano lessons. I remember meeting a lady at the mall and she noticed I had a broken finger. She told me she taught piano lessons and that if I took piano I’d never have another broken finger. And for the last five years I never had a broken finger… before then I had four. It came to the point where they were calling me ‘The Piano Man.’

“I can’t tell you how much I grew as a person there. Physically, I probably played two years too long. But because I enjoyed it so much, spending time with Coach Murphy and guys like Joe Pop and Tom Clements, James Murphy… I really didn’t want to leave.”

“But it was my shoulders. I had a number of shoulder separations. I remember going across the middle in a game against Hamilton and a linebacker by the name of Darrell Corbin hit me and I thought I broke every rib in my body. It was so painful. I remember looking up in the stands at my bride and thinking, ‘This is it.’ It was a great run.

“Now that I work with NFL guys I tell them if they really want to have a great experience just playing the game, think of the CFL. It’s not about restarting your career, but to just enjoy the game, enjoy the fans. I just felt more authentic as a person and probably grew more as a young man up there.”

Perry Tuttle Winnipeg Blue Bombers 1986. Photo F. Scott Grant

Perry Tuttle Winnipeg Blue Bombers 1986. Photo F. Scott Grant

As busy as he is, Tuttle’s post-playing career hasn’t been without its challenges. He is dealing with macular degeneration and glaucoma in his eyes and will soon have his 16th surgery in attempt to save his vision.

But he certainly has kept busy, as we pointed out earlier, since retirement. When he’s not doing the public speaking thing, or working with the Hornets, or writing books or being part of a new app start-up, he’s doing the thing that matters to him most.

“I just want to be a good dad,” he said. “I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this, but the one thing I think I’m pretty good at is being a dad.

“I don’t want to be remembered as someone who played football or wrote books. I want to be remembered as a giver.”

“One of the things that happens being a professional athlete is you learn how to become a taker, not because you’re greedy but because people just give you stuff and want to be around you. You learn to take.

“Most of all, I want to finish my race well. I want to break the tape laughing going across the finish line. Whether it works out that way or not, we’ll see. But that’s my desire.”

It was near the end of a 32-minute conversation when Tuttle politely asked for a favour.

“If there’s one thing I can say it’s this,” he said, pausing for a moment.

“I have thought many days and thanked the Lord for my time in Winnipeg. Will you tell the folks there I say hi, please? I’m grateful for them.”