Darren Perry returns after father's funeral

Ryan Wood, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
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Green Bay Packers safeties coach Darren Perry.

GREEN BAY - Darren Perry still can remember his father’s smile 10 years later.

It was pushing 2 a.m. Feb. 6, 2006, hours after the Pittsburgh Steelers had defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Perry, a defensive backs coach for Pittsburgh after a seven-year career as a Steelers safety, had just won the biggest game of his life.

Dad was proud, Perry remembers. Living vicariously through his son. In that moment, Perry realized he'd accomplished another career-long goal.

He finally converted Joseph Perry to being a Steelers fan, stealing him away from his beloved Washington Redskins.

“I don’t know if I ever truly converted him,” Perry said laughing, “but after we won the Super Bowl, that was one of the last games he came to. We were having a party, and it’s 2 o’clock in the morning. He’s still in the ballroom, hanging out like he’s one of the players. The last thing on his mind was being tired. He was just going to enjoy the moment and take it all in.

“Just to see the smile on his face was incredible. … It was hard to get him to smile. So when you did, you remember those times. Because he was such a stern and intimidating figure that a lot of people were afraid of him, but the people who knew him had no worries. Because if you were doing the right thing, you had nothing to worry about.”

Those memories are “precious” now, Darren Perry said.

Joseph Perry, 82, died June 2 at his residence in Chesapeake, Va. The funeral was last Thursday. Ten days before Father’s Day.

Darren Perry, the Packers' safeties coach, spent the past week with his family. He returned for Tuesday’s start of minicamp.

“(Packers coach) Mike (McCarthy) and Green Bay, they’ve always preached family’s first,” Perry said. “So they told me to take as much time as I need. I’m forever thankful for that. To me, that just speaks volumes about how the Packers operate. We are family first, and football secondary.”

Perry isn’t sure whether he ever fully converted his father into a Packers fan. There’s a bit of irony that the last game Joseph saw his son win was at Washington.

When Perry was younger, he would spend Sunday afternoons sitting on his parents’ bedroom floor and watching Washington. This, Perry said, is where he learned to love football.

“No question,” he said. “That’s all we used to watch. I just remember watching football Sunday afternoons in his bedroom on the floor. He’d go to one Redskins games a year, and that was like his Super Bowl.

“Those times and those memories, they’re precious. They’ll always live.”

Perry’s father was a “pretty good” athlete, but he was drafted into the army before he had a chance to play college football. Joseph served more than 30 years in the military and received an honorable discharge, retiring with the rank of First Sergeant, according to an obituary in The Virginia Pilot. He was also the first African American officer hired by the City of Chesapeake.

Among those at the funeral was former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith, who grew up in the same area as Perry and remains a close friend. Perry said there was also an outpouring from the community.

“If I could have a third of the impact that he had on people,” Perry said, his voice trailing off. “I think that’s the thing that when you see what he’s done, those are the things that become important to you. What type of legacy am I going to leave? Am I going to have people saying the same thing about me that they said about my dad in terms of being a leader, helping people and being an impact? Being a great father where your kids are proud? We looked at him as dad, but to hear what the people of the community said about him, friends – to me, that was pretty remarkable.

“With someone that’s impacted your life the way he has, when they leave a part of you goes with them as well. That’s kind of how I feel, honestly. But we’ll keep living, and we’ll keep trying to impact, inspiring and motivating young people. That’s what it’s all about.”

rwood@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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