By Matt Schudel for The Washington Post: Joe Perry, 84, one of the first African American stars of professional football, whose superb running for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s led him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died April 25 in Tempe, Ariz. He had dementia.
Mr. Perry, nicknamed "the Jet" for his power and explosive speed, was among the most dominating and electrifying runners of his time. When he led the National Football League in rushing in 1953 and 1954, he was the first player to gain 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
In 1954, he became the first African American to be named the NFL's most valuable player, and he held the NFL's career rushing record for five years.
At 6 feet and about 200 pounds, Mr. Perry was small for a fullback, even during his era. When he didn't elude tacklers with his quickness and balance, he simply bowled them over with sheer strength.
A teammate on the 49ers, receiver R.C. Owens, once called him "the toughest running back you'd ever want to see. He didn't back off from anybody."
From 1954 through 1956, Mr. Perry was part of the 49ers' "Million Dollar Backfield," with quarterback Y.A. Tittle, halfback Hugh McElhenny and fullback John Henry Johnson. They are the only starting foursome from the same backfield to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"He was the fastest player off the ball in the history of the world," Tittle told the San Francisco Chronicle. "You'd take the ball from center and turn, and he was already gone through the hole."
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