Former Clemson All-American and NFL wide receiver Perry Tuttle was in Johnson City on Tuesday, but it must have felt like Buffalo.
Thanks to an instant kinship with Boone Trail Baptist pastor Randy Helms, Tuttle was in town to speak at the church’s South Roan campus. Shortly after arriving around 6 p.m., Tuttle learned that former Buffalo Bills teammate Van Williams lives here.
It wasn’t long until Tuttle was on the phone with Williams, who was eager to participate in an impromptu reunion.
“This is awesome,” a smiling Tuttle said when Williams arrived. “We were rookies together. I remember when I first laid eyes on him I thought, ‘This guy is chiseled. He looks like he could bench-press this whole gym.’
“And he was such a nice guy. We came in together and we just kind of hit it off. The guy was just a stud of a runner.”
Williams, a Science Hill Hall of Famer who played at East Tennessee State and Carson-Newman, reciprocated Tuttle’s joy in the surprise encounter. Williams said they hadn’t seen each other since the mid-80s.
“It’s funny, about a month ago my wife asked me if I kept in touch with any of my old teammates,” Williams said. “It’s good to see him – really good to see him.”
According to Williams, Tuttle’s mission was even fitting.
“I’ve been saved for about six years,” Williams said. “The best I ever could’ve done was accept the Lord.”
Tuttle, who is an author and a chaplain for the Charlotte Bobcats, said his faith is rooted in a sort of emptiness he felt after realizing his dreams.
He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated after catching the winning touchdown pass in Clemson’s national championship Orange Bowl victory against Nebraska at the end of the 1981 season. Several months later, Buffalo drafted him in the first round.
“It’s something where you always dreamed about getting there,” Tuttle said, “but once you get there you go, ‘Is that it?’ I kind of found myself – once I was (three years) into the pros – thinking there’s got to be more to this (life) than what I’m experiencing. Whatever the TV said would make me happy, I had. I bought the best-looking car that was on the road. I bought the biggest house on the block. But I just wanted more.”
Tuttle played with quarterbacks Steve Fuller and Homer Jordan at Clemson. He is still fourth among Tigers with 150 career receptions.
“Perry had good speed and he ran really precise routes,” Williams said. “He had good hands and he was a real hard worker.”
Tuttle’s final reception at Clemson was the 13-yard game-winner against the Cornhuskers. Oddly enough, thanks to hanging out on the beaches when not preparing for the Hula Bowl, Tuttle said he was practically the last to know he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He said Marcus Allen slammed one down on his chest while he was lying in the sun and began razzing him about being the “countrified” player going national.
“So I looked at it and I’m like, ‘Man, I made the cover of Sports Illustrated,’” Tuttle said. “It had been, like, three days. Of course, there were no cell phones back then. So I went running back to the hotel and called my parents, and she said, ‘Where have you been?’… They had this parade for me when I got back home.”
Former Clemson receiver Dwight Clark was also on the magazine’s cover that month for his game-winning catch in the San Francisco 49ers’ playoff victory against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Sports Illustrated was an incredible deal for me and for Clemson, but it’s a high price,” Tuttle said. “I’ve chosen to kind of be an ambassador for Clemson. My college roommate said I’m the only guy that can make a living off of one catch.
“It wasn’t even a real play. It was an audible between me and the quarterback.”
Of course, as Tuttle and Williams were reminded Tuesday evening, some of life’s blessings materialize on the fly.