William "Refrigerator" Perry steered his bright red scooter down the aisles of McCormick Place, maneuvering around people walking toward him, finding the open lanes.
Hardware salesmen buzzed in his wake.
"It's the Fridge!"
"You see that?"
It was the same grin, though without the gap in front that once made Perry look like a giant-size little boy. He has new teeth now, but the same easygoing cheer, wide smile and massive hands.
Some of the fans who met him Saturday at the Ace Hardware Spring Convention remembered it all from the heady days of the 1985 Chicago Bears
, winners of Super Bowl XX.
"He was so unique. So big," said Thomas Moran, an Ace Hardware credit manager waiting his turn for an autograph at the Grill Daddy booth, where Perry was appearing as spokesman for the company's grill scrubbing brush.
"And the Super Bowl Shuffle," Moran continued, rapping a line by memory. He looked at the table where Perry, sitting on the scooter and wearing a wide-brimmed hat, was signing his name and tirelessly grinning.
"Yeah, the Fridge," Moran murmured. "It's classic."
Some things are not the same. In 2008 Perry was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves. He was nearly paralyzed, almost went deaf and lost so much weight he was nearly unrecognizable.
A recent ESPN.com article painted a sad portrait of him battling alcohol and continued health problems. But the picture Perry would sketch of himself is sunny.
"I was real bad for a while, but everything is subsiding," he said cheerfully as he signed posters.
"He's come a long way," said Adam Plotkin, his agent for 10 years. "You see how quick he is writing his signature? He had to relearn that, how to sign his name.
His hearing is getting better, Perry said, though conversation is difficult and he answered a question about which ear is better by laughing and saying, "Neither one."
But he doesn't like the way hearing aids feel, so he doesn't wear them. "He's too stubborn," said Plotkin. "That's S-T-U-B-B-O-R-N."
Perry, who lives with his second wife in South Carolina, grinned and listed more health improvements. "I'm moving around; doing stuff. I can walk. I can even run," he said.
"I am just relaxing and enjoying myself, doing what I always did."
And he said he is now following doctors' orders to abstain lest he suffer a relapse. "I don't drink beer at all," he said. "You abide by the rules."