85 Days: A Look Back At Ypsillanti Native Lowell Perry

With 85 days until the 2016 Michigan Football season, we recognize the very successful Lowell Perry. An Ypsillanti native, Perry went played football at Michigan from 1950 to 1952. Below are his highlights/achievements through his player career and beyond:

College

  • Was a two-way player who was a safety on defense and also handled punt returns.
  • Was rated as the best defensive back in college football during the 1951 season.
  • He was also selected by the Associated Press as a first-team All-Big Ten Player and by the United Press as a first-team player on its All-Midwest team.
  • In three seasons, Perry had 71 receptions for 1,261 yards and nine touchdowns. His hree-year career total of 1,261 receiving yards was not exceeded by another Michigan player for a decade until Jack Clancy totaled 1,917 yards in four years from 1963 to 1966.
  • Returned 42 punts at Michigan for 351 yards, an average of 10.9 yards per return.

NFL/Air Force 

  • Was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the eighth round at the 90th pick overall in the 1953 NFL Draft.
  • His professional football career was put on hold due to Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) obligations.
  • Perry joined the United States Air Force, where he achieved the rank of second lieutenant.
  • In 1956, Perry joined the Pittsburgh Steelers as an end.
  • On his first play for the Steelers, Perry ran 93 yards for a touchdown in a pre-season game against the Detroit Lions.
  • In his first six NFL games, Perry totaled 14 catches for 334 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard touchdown catch against the Cleveland Browns.
  • Perry also returned 11 punts for 127 yards and nine kickoffs for 219 yards
  • In his sixth regular season game, Perry sustained a fractured pelvis and dislocated hip that forced his retirement.
  • Perry was hospitalized at Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital for 13 weeks after the injury.

Coaching

  • In June 1957, the Steelers hired Perry as the team’s ends coach, making him the NFL’s first African American coach since Fritz Pollard in the 1920s.
  • He worked as a scout for the Steelers in 1958.
  • While working for the Steelers, Perry went to the Duquesne University law school.

Beyond Sports

  • Perry received a law degree from Detroit College of Law in 1960.
  • That same year, he became a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Picard (the Michigan Wolverines’ quarterback from 1909 to 1910).
  • In 1961, he accepted a job with the Chevrolet Division of General Motors in the personnel department of the gear and axle division.
  • In 1962, he left Chevrolet to prosecute unfair labor practice charges for the National Labor Relations Board, a position he held until 1963.
  • In 1963, Perry began a 17-year career with Chrysler. He started as a personnel specialist.
  • In April 1966, Perry was hired as a color analyst for CBS Television to broadcast Steelers games alongside play-by-play man Joe Tucker.
  • He was the first African-American to broadcast an NFL game to a national audience.
  • Perry was appointed by President Gerald Ford In 1975 to be commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • He served as EEOC commissioner until 1976.
  • Perry resigned from the EEOC after one year and returned to Chrysler.

Perry passed away on January 7, 2011 in Southfield, Michigan after battling cancer. He was an amazing football player, American citizen serving in the Air Force, the first Africian American to broadcast an NFL game and did amazing work during President Ford with the EEOC. His achievements in sports and through his life make him one of the most unique and impressive players in Michigan football history.

Go Blue!

David Noe