New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Ex-Navy quarterback and former Patriot receiver Malcolm Perry. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

  • Tazh Maloy paused in mid-sentence, putting his thoughts on hold, to allow the sky to clear and thunderous roar to fade.

    “Those were two of ours, F-35s,” Maloy excitedly explained into his cell phone as he walked to his parked car, where he hoped to find some sound proofing against more jets and their sonic booms sure to follow. As a Marine Corps 1st Lt. and aircraft maintenance officer, Maloy was in Lemoore, Calif. for two weeks of a Top Gun training exercise 390 miles from home base at Naval Air Station Fallon (NV).

    Three hours ahead of him on this mid-September morning, the caller from Foxborough silently scribbled his notes. Fighter training maneuvers. Top Gun!!!

    Before the next plane buzzed overhead, Maloy folded himself into his seat, closed the door and picked up where he left off talking about best friend and ex-Patriot, Malcolm Perry.

    Maloy and Perry met at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., football teammates assigned to the same platoon. “Attached at the hip,” their NAPS coaches always teased. The two only grew closer in Annapolis. They were both raised by military families and, according to Maloy, “had similar goals, similar personalities.”

    Football brought them together; Maloy from Texas and Perry from Tennessee. The sport kept them together. While Maloy developed as a steady ‘slotback,’ a halfback-receiver hybrid in Navy’s option offense, Perry flourished into a record-smashing quarterback. They worked out together. They studied together.

    “I wasn’t going to let him watch film on his own,” Maloy said.

    Nor would either allow the other to make the next of his life’s most important decisions entirely on his own.

    Every November, Naval Academy seniors declare their preferred branch of active-duty service for at least the next five years: Navy or Marine Corps. As Maloy and Perry prepared to do so in the fall of 2019, they sat at a table in the Double T Diner in Annapolis, Md. and compared career options on paper.

    Over a bite to eat in a rare free hour during football season, they thoroughly and thoughtfully went through each category and subcategory, writing down all the pros and cons they could think of. When their lists were completed, they made their choices.

    “We didn’t choose for each other,” Maloy says, “but we came to the same conclusion.”

    Semper Fi.

  • Jun 8, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots receiver Malcom Perry (19) during the New England Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Malcolm Perry during June mini-camp, after signing with the Patriots for a second time. (Photo byPaul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports)

    Malcolm Perry’s uniform of the day on Wednesday, June 8 featured a white towel hanging from the back of navy blue shorts. His hands were in white receivers gloves. The block number marking his white practice jersey was a blue “19.” Missing from the sides of his silver helmet was the ‘Flying Elvis,’ the logo always facing forward.

    In some respects, Perry was the one looking ahead.

    This was the second of three scheduled days of the Patriots’ 2022 mandatory mini-camp. The practice, held on a lower field absent fanfare behind Gillette Stadium, was a tough one for Malcolm. There was a dropped pass, a muffed punt, a lap to run.

    Five and a half months earlier, he’d signed with New England for a second time. Perry had long seemed fit for Foxborough and perfect for Bill Belichick. He was true Navy blue and gold; an honest-to-goodness, all-time great at a place, in a program beloved by Belichick.

    All-time leading rusher in Army-Navy history. Midshipmen record holder for single-season total offense and rushing yards. Commander-In-Chief champion who capped an 11-win senior campaign by running for 2,017 yards, most by a quarterback in FBS history. 

    Smart. Majored in quantitative economics. Tough. Opted to be a Marine. Athletic. Returned kicks, ran, received and passed as a quarterback, slotback and quarterback again. 

    Unsurprisingly, the Patriots showed strong interest in Perry before the 2020 Draft. However, Miami chose him in the 7th round. A year later, the Dolphins waived Perry and the Pats claimed him. He was on their opening-day roster but rendered inactive with a foot injury. Perry landed on injured reserve and was eventually released. After a short practice-squad stint in New Orleans, he rejoined the Patriots in January.

    Technically, Perry was on a futures contract. Increasingly in the coming weeks, he would wonder if it was time to put football behind him.

    “This whole offseason was mentally different than any other offseason that I’ve had in my whole football career,” Perry says. “Just the passion to get out on the field and become better at what I do, it wasn’t necessarily there. I wasn’t lazy. It wasn’t hard to get up and it wasn’t hard to go to work. But it was hard to dial in and put that work into what I knew I needed to be better at. 

    “It was just hard to work at football and want to be the best at what I did in football, which is what I’ve been doing since I was nine years old. Every offseason my mind is laser focused on ‘whatever I wasn’t good at last season I’m going to be good at this season.’ I kind of repeated that process my whole life.”

    Tugging at Perry, starting with his heart and reaching into his mind, was a passion to serve. Unlike teammate Joe Cardona, whose eight-year Patriots career has mostly coincided with officer duties in the Navy Reserve, Perry’s military service was delayed. He still owed five years, active duty. 

    To Perry, it wasn’t an obligation. The Corps was his calling. As spring arrived, its summons resonated so strongly that resisting its pull became harder and harder. Not that anyone studying and sweating alongside him had any idea.

    “He was a guy who came in everyday like it was a work day,” Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers said. “A real humble, quiet guy who’d go about his business, make his plays and go home.”

    Perry looked up to Meyers. A lot. He respected the leadership in the receivers room of Nelson Agholor and fellow ex-Fin DeVante Parker. Greatly. He appreciated the selflessness of other active-roster long shots and practice-squad candidates Kristian Wilkerson and Tre Nixon. Very much.

    Wilkerson and Nixon, in particular, became after-practice and off-day workout partners. And good friends. Yet none of them knew what only a few could: what it’s like to choose between NFL opportunity and a yearning to serve.

    One who can is retired Adm. John Stufflebeem. In 1975, after hay fever initially disqualified him from being a Navy aviator, Stufflebeem signed with the Lions as an undrafted free agent. Detroit’s head coach Rick Forzano had come from the Naval Academy, where Stufflebeem learned to be a 1 1/2-step punter under Steve Belichick and earned his nickname and future call sign, ‘Boomer.’

    Part-time officer and part-time punter, Stufflebeem kicked in three training camps for three different coaching staffs in Detroit. All while repeatedly being denied appeals to the Navy to let him fly fighter planes like his father did. 

    In 1979, the Lions’ Monte Clark, two head coaches removed from Forzano, wanted to end Stufflebeem’s ‘part-time’ status and promote him to full-time punter. General manager Russ Thomas offered a contract. 

    “My head swelled bigger than I could put my helmet on very, very quickly,” Stufflebeem quipped recently on a Zoom call. “But there was something still nagging at me.”

    On the advice of mentors, including the elder Belichick, Stufflebeem held off signing anything. In time, his fifth appeal was heard and he was finally accepted into flight school.

    To put it, succinctly, I felt like I had the heart of a warrior,” said Stufflebeem, whose first pro coaches included Bill Belichick. “I found out that I could play in the NFL. I found out that I had the skill, I had a confidence that I could make a squad and play for some period of time — I was getting feedback from coaches — so I thought, ‘Well, I know I can go do that now. But what I don’t know is if I can really succeed as a warrior, as a leader of men. And I said, ‘I’ve got to go find out.’ 

    “So, in ’79 I basically had a falling out with Monte Clark and I refused to sign this new contract. For all intents and purposes, (I) walked away, trading uniforms. I traded my football uniform and put on my flight suit, (went) through my flight training and the rest is history.”

    More than three decades of it in the Navy, from flying combat missions to presiding over Pentagon press briefings post-9/11, during the war in Afghanistan. Today Stufflebeem consults in the private sector, providing crisis management and media training. He regularly visits Foxborough, sometimes advising his good friend Belichick.

  • Boomer

    Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, a former punter for the Lions, was a Pentagon spokesperson post-9/11 during the war in Afghanistan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    Stufflebeem has never met Perry, though the way the former felt 43 years ago sounds almost exactly like the latter thinks today. That June outing in shorts and shells turned out to be Perry’s final practice. The next morning, the Patriots canceled the third day of mini-camp and rest of OTA’s. 

    In the past, Perry would have responded to a mishandled punt or pass by catching countless balls from a teammate, coach or JUGS machine. This spring, though, that motivation waned. What drove him was a different desire. So in July, shortly before training camp, he retired from one profession to pursue another.

    “As a kid, it’s your dream (to play in the NFL),” Perry said by phone a few days before former teams Miami and New England commenced his first season without football since he was that kid, dreaming that dream. “Some people have 23-year careers and are the greatest of all time, some people don’t even make it and some people play for a year.

    “I feel like in my heart I was filled with what I had in my mind as a dream, as a kid. And just having a passion for something else that I still had to do was was also a big, big deciding factor in deciding to walk away. It was just a culmination of a lot of things. But I definitely would say I got the taste of the NFL. I kind of know how it works. There’s not many more secrets that, you know, (others) wonder about.”

    Like, using the example Perry gives, “what it would be like to play and what it’s like to practice under one of, if not the greatest coach of all-time and see how he coaches. I at least got a taste of it and know what it’s like.”

    Unknown to Perry was how that coach would react to his retiring. 

    “Probably the hardest part for me was was going to Coach Belichick and having that conversation,” Perry recounted. “A guy who has put his time and effort into you and sacrificed a lot to get you and showed a lot of interest, to be who he is and for him to do that means…I don’t even know if words can describe it. 

    “That’s why it was the hardest thing. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to be playing football anymore; it was more this guy put a lot of effort into me and developing me, and I wasn’t going to get to see it through.”

    Belichick and Perry had talked often. While Perry was still a Midshipmen. When Miami first made him available. After he returned, then retired. Belichick’s Annapolis background, affinity for Navy and respect for all military are universally recognized. 

    As a coach, he worked extensively with numerous Academy grads from Phil McConkey to Cardona. As a friend, he was extremely close to Stufflebeem and spent considerable time with the late Pat Tillman. Belichick made the hardest part for Perry relatively easy.

    “I would say he was very understanding and he was appreciative of what I was going forward to do,” Malcolm says. 

    “I have a ton of respect for Malcolm and the decision that he made,” Belichick said via Zoom on Tuesday. “I’m sure he’ll be a great teammate and a great Marine. I’m glad he’s on our side.”

    Meanwhile, none of Perry’s teammates knew what he had in mind. Not even Cardona, who’s been a mentor since Perry was a teenager in Newport. Cardona, then an Ensign before rising to his current rank of Navy Lt., was a Command Duty Officer at NAPS. He also helped the football staff.

    “He was a star player there, did everything including return punts,” Cardona chuckles. “So I like to say that I was his first special teams coach.” 

  • Joe Cardona

    Lt. Joe Cardona, USN, is in his eighth season as the Patriots long snapper. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

    When they became NFL teammates, Cardona became a special advisor of sorts. 

    “(Joe) would always drop tokens of knowledge on me and he was always trying to push me to get some more education, telling me about (courses) that he took, how to manage my money and stuff like that,” Perry says. “So he was big into trying to develop me as more than just a player.” 

    Cardona was doing it while combining loves and satisfying interests. Pats’ long snapper. Team NFLPA rep. Officer, Navy Reserve.

    “For me personally, I’ve had moments where I felt that I wasn’t doing enough to validate my ability to play on the field, when it comes to my military service. I struggled with that many times, myself,” Cardona said recently. “But I also have the privilege of being a Reservist…I do stuff for the military every single day.

    “So I’m extremely lucky to get to fill that rank of a Reserve officer, whereas Malcolm, his deal is different. He was on hold, given everything he had on the field, while keeping in mind that he was preparing for a totally different job the day he hung up the pads.”

    The day he did, Perry returned home to Clarksville, just below the Kentucky-Tennessee border, next to the Army base, Fort Campbell, where he was born. It’s where mother Bonny retired from a career in Army supply soon after Malcolm’s birth as the youngest of six children. And it’s where he watched his father, also Malcolm, care for his uniform, shine his boots, and leave for long overseas deployments. Sometimes to Afghanistan or Iraq.

    Still surrounded by tanks and humvees and helicopters, like in his youth, Perry is there attending to piles of necessary paperwork and visiting doctors to treat residual injuries from his football career so he’ll be cleared to report to The Basic School at the Marines training command in Quantico, Va.  

    Perry conditions daily, forgoing much of the quick-twitch, short-burst drills of his past in favor of long-distance running. Often he fills his backpack with weights. Except for fatigues — so far at least —- Perry does his best to replicate the kind of physical regiment he’ll experience at TBS.

    Soon he’ll reunite in Quantico with some ex-Navy teammates now in leadership positions for temporary duty. Education of this officer-to-be begins in March. Which leaves Perry time to text and watch his ex-teammates on weekends.

    When word of Perry’s retirement made its way around the Pats’ locker room, many of those same guys reached out to him.

    “I texted him (that) it was just ‘an honor to be around you for the time that you were here,’” said Meyers, who added his belief that Perry “left a lot of meat on the bone” as a skilled athlete who could dazzle with the football in his hands. “I hate that we won’t get to see him play again, but I respect what he’s doing.”

    “Malcolm’s a great dude, one of the better people I’ve ever been around from a person-to-person standpoint,” said Nixon, who thinks of Perry as “a great role model.”

    Speaking from their own experience, Cardona and Stufflebeem are confident Perry’s USMC career will be better because of his brief time in the NFL.

    “My experience in this environment, really the highest-caliber performance, the highest-pressure situations in sport helped prepare me to handle many situations in life, but also the military world,” Cardona says. “If he takes the same intensity he brought on the field, there’s no doubt his Marines will love him and he’ll be effective.”

    “The real sense of teamwork and camaraderie comes from who’s the person to the right of you? Who’s that you’re locking arms with to get something accomplished?” Stufflebeam explains. “You feel and find that in the military it’s more deadly serious and therefore much more real when you’re giving it your all for your mate who’s there in the foxhole with you or up in an airplane pointing yourself at the ground as you’re getting shot at. 

    “It’s a lot different than this notion of, ‘I did it for the love of America!’ You do it for love of your mates, your comrades that you’re going to war with. You start to learn that on athletic fields or athletic courts.”

    Learning it in the NFL requires connecting to and coalescing with vastly different individuals.

    “I think that at the Academy you’re surrounded by, more so, like-minded individuals. And when you make it to the NFL, you’re around guys that are from completely different spectrums of life,” Perry relates. “You kind of got to figure out how to maneuver and talk to people from from all over. I think there’s more diversity and there’s a lot of different reasons that people are there than when you’re at the Academy, if that makes sense. 

    “But you have to still find a way to make it work and work with people as a team. Also, you get to see how our coaches like Coach Belichick coach and how they run things. So it’s kind of a leadership course in itself if you pay attention to the right things.”

    Perry values his year-plus under Brian Flores in Miami similarly. 

    “Coach Flo is a great coach and I obviously took a lot from him in terms of the leadership stuff and how he coached,” he said. “It was cool to see how he was as a coach and then go to where he comes from. 

    “It was cool to kind of go back in his history and see why he did things a certain way and why he said certain things and stuff like that. It was an experience that I’ll definitely take forward into my officership.”

  • Perry

    Perry rushed for an Army-Navy record 304 yards in 2019. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    Consequences in the NFL can be brutal. Lost games lead to lost jobs. Injuries can be life altering. In the military, from training to actual warfare, they can be life ending. 

    Neither Tillman nor too many of Perry’s Annapolis predecessors made it back from combat alive. More than his, others’ lives will depend on the decisions he makes. Perry understands it all, but can’t afford to dwell on it, at all. 

    “When I think about situations like that and those those great people that went through those things and did what they did to make the greatest sacrifice ever, it goes back to the basics and what you are taught at the most fundamental level,” he says. “I couldn’t even put into words or even speak on the things that they did with where I’m at in my career. 

    “I would be wrong to even put myself in the same conversation as those guys. But it’s an honor to even be mentioned in the same sense as far as going to the Naval Academy and going through the same experiences those guys did and knowing that you have the potential to change the world and do something meaningful for the country. It is a blessing. But I can’t even imagine what those guys went through and the sacrifice that they made. It is truly amazing.”

    Perry can better relate to his buddy Maloy, whose job it is to make sure those billion-dollar jets roaring over Lemoore and the lives they carry operate safely and securely. 

    “My best advice is just be you,” Maloy says. “There’s no ideal Marine.

    “Malcolm is one of the most selfless persons I know. There’s nobody I’ve met who doesn’t love him. He’s super funny, super caring. He’d do anything for you. It’s always so consistent with him.”

    “I think we ought to celebrate his decision,” says Stufflebeem. “Obviously he had the work ethic and Bill wouldn’t pick a guy who’s not coachable. It says a lot about that young man, which tells me he’s going to be very successful in the Marine Corps however long he stays. 

    “We need to congratulate his opportunity that he had to experience the NFL. And we just wish him nothing but the best. Now he’s going to be an officer in the Marine Corps.”


    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. He previously called Navy football for 16 seasons.

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