SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Until Monday, Isaac Sopoaga had never heard of William “The Refrigerator” Perry, the former Chicago Bears defensive lineman who has a permanent place in NFL lore.
“Uh, no,” Sopoaga, the San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle, said. “Not to be disrespectful, but …”
It’s understandable. When the 380-pound “Fridge” was playing occasional fullback for the Bears in 1985, Sopoaga was a four-year-old growing up in American Samoa. But Sopoaga did a nice impression of Perry last Sunday, lining up in the backfield for two snaps late in the 49ers’ 17-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
“I wish there was plenty more (plays) behind that,” Sopoaga said. “… I wish I had two or five more plays so I could play more fullback.”
Sopoaga, 29, played fullback at Samoana High School in Pago Pago but was also his league’s defensive player of the year. Despite that, he said, football was not his first love.
“Actually, my first football game was 1998,” he said. “Football wasn’t my sport. I was solid and heavy into rugby. I’ve carrying the ball in my 12 years of playing rugby, so it’s like nothing new for me to carry the ball.”
Niners coach Mike Singletary said he approached former offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye about using Sopoaga as a lead blocker earlier this season.
“When we’re in the red zone and it’s four-down territory, we want to make sure we put a bigger body in there and lets’ go downhill,” Singletary said. “That’s kind of where it started. With Isaac being such a good athlete, it just kind of evolved that way. Even in some of the third downs we can put him in there.”
Singletary, who was a defensive mainstay on the ’85 Bears team, said the Bears actually got the idea of using Perry in the backfield from former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who utilized guard Guy McIntyre that way the previous year.
Asked to describe his running moves, Sopoaga said, “There’s no secret. It’s just like me playing defense. Just beat the guy in front of you. It’s the same when you carry the ball -- just run over the guy in front of you.”
At some point, Sopoaga said he wants to run with the ball, as Perry once did. QB Alex Smith, asked if he had practiced handing off the ball to Sopoaga, smiled.
”I can’t divulge that information,” he said.
VERNON DAVIS OK: The 49ers weren’t too concerned with the knee injury tight end Vernon Davis suffered on Sunday, but they sent him for an MRI on Monday as a precaution. The word: Davis suffered a contusion, or buise, and is OK. He’s listed as day to day.