American Football: Packing a paunch: 'Freezer' hungry for Super Bowl joy

Green Bay's BJ Raji hopes to reprise his flesh-quivering touchdown celebration as he follows in the footsteps of 'The Fridge' in Sunday's showpiece
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The Independent Online

First there was "The Fridge". Now it's time to get to know "The Freezer". The Fridge, as NFL followers of a certain age will recall, was William Perry, outsized even by American football standards, who almost succeeded in proving that he was more than a novelty act when he scored a touchdown for the Chicago Bears in their 1986 Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots in New Orleans.

The similarly super-sized BJ Raji of the Green Bay Packers decided that he would go one better by adopting the title of The Freezer, and this Sunday the defensive lineman has a chance to emulate Perry on the field when the Packers take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV here. "I was miked up for a game, and one of the trainers came to me and said, 'You look like The Fridge out there'," Raji said. "And I was just playing around, 'I'm The Freezer'. I was making a joke, just making light of the situation and having a good time with it. So I guess, in retrospect, I came up with the name.

"I was probably about one year old when he [Perry] was playing so to sit here and say I've seen a lot of him, I would be lying. That is a name that is going to go down in NFL history for ever, so even bringing his name up with my name is an honour."

What Perry did not have that Raji does is a dance. Raji scored the first touchdown of his career in this season's NFC Championship game as Green Bay beat the Bears – who else? – to reach Sunday's game. After intercepting a wayward pass from Chicago's back-up quarterback Caleb Hanie, Raji trundled into the end zone before launching into a posterior-quivering routine that immediately went worldwide on YouTube.

Not expecting to score, Raji had not rehearsed a celebration, and will not be doing so on the off chance of a repeat on Sunday. "The last one was spontaneous, so I'll have to say we'll just see what happens," he said. "The secret was hip movement, hip fluidity – just having fun with it pretty much."

Raji, who graduated with a degree in sociology from Boston College, and whose parents were Pentecostal ministers, is in his first year as a starter and has been relishing the spotlight that the dance has brought. "Oh yeah, of course," he said. "Especially at the defensive lineman position, a lot of guys don't get a lot of exposure. One play does not win the game, but it was a big play for us."

Freezers are often larger than fridges, but Raji is listed, perhaps conservatively, as being the same height (6ft 2in) and weight (24st 11lb) as Perry. Like Raji, Perry was a defensive lineman, but he was eventually allowed to use his weight in offensive plays, either as a blocker for Walter Payton, the Bears' star running back, or as a ball carrier himself. It is assumed that putting him in the position to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl with a one-yard run was done with the aim of capitalising on his notoriety – NFL teams are seldom unaware of marketing possibilities.

Raji, whose usual position of nose tackle is the pivotal one in a defensive line, with his main job being to punch a hole in the protection surrounding the opposing quarterback, could follow in Perry's considerable footsteps here too – he has already seen limited action in offensive plays. Raji's bulk disguises his mobility, which has allowed him to be used in coverage as well as a blunt instrument, hence his interception against Chicago.

However, Mike McCarthy, the Green Bay head coach, and Dom Capers, the defensive co-ordinator, would probably prefer him to continue his part in an improved defense that has reached the Super Bowl as the sixth seed, requiring them to win three play-off games on the road against favoured teams. And once all the questions about dances and touchdowns have been dealt with, Raji admits that he is happy to concentrate on doing his best in defense.

"All I can say is that I have had opportunities to make plays and I just have to make them when they present themselves," Raji said. "I'm more worried about winning. If coach feels he's giving me the ball to win, I'm very ecstatic about that. If coach feels he needs me to block so he can run play-action stuff or run the ball, I'm fine with that as well. As long as we win, I'm happy."

He will, in all probability, have enough to worry about against the Steelers, who are looking for a third Super Bowl victory since 2006, and whose quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, can join an elite club whose members include Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers and Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys, by earning a third Super Bowl ring.

But after beating the Philadelphia Eagles, the top-seeded Atlanta Braves and the Bears in their own backyards, Green Bay are in confident mood. They have even made themselves at home in Texas by bringing some brutal Wisconsin weather with them, making The Freezer the perfect focus for a week of sub-zero conditions that have resulted in airport closures and rolling power blackouts.

"Any time that you can hold the offenses that we are talking about to some of the fewest points of their season total, it is pretty good for us," Raji said. "I feel like we have played great on all levels of the ball. We have one of the best coaches in the National Football League, particularly I'm talking about Dom Capers. We all bought in. If you are on the same page and you have the players, it can be something special." And if they win on Sunday, Raji can lead the Packers in dancing the night away. That would be worth watching on YouTube.

Heavyweight contenders

Trevor 'The Tortoise' Misipeka (Athletics)

Weighing nearly 21st, Trevor "The Tortoise" came last in his 100m heat at the 2001 World Athletics Champion-ships in Canada. After the Samoans decided not to compete in the field events the shot-putter was turned into an unlikely sprinter, recording a time of 14.28sec, nearly four seconds behind the winner, Kim Collins.

William 'The Refrigerator' Perry (American Football)

The former Chicago Bears defensive lineman, who stood at 6ft 2in and weighed over 27st at his peak, scored a touchdown in his team's Super Bowl XX win in New Orleans in 1986. His Super Bowl ring – size 25 – is the largest of any player in the history of the event.

Dwayne 'Sluggo' Leverock (Cricket)

The 20st Bermudian was the largest player at the 2007 Cricket World Cup. The bowler, who lives above a curry house in Bermuda, made 32 ODI and 15 Test appearances for his country before retiring from international cricket in 2009.

William 'Fatty' Foulke (Football)

The Sheffield United goalkeeper from the late 19th and early 20th centuries was renowned for his 6ft 4in, 23st 9lb frame. While at Chelsea, the club would put two small boys behind his goal in an effort to draw attention to his size.