Larry Allen: Remembering the Career of Legendary NFL Guard
Dude did all his talking on the field, so it's a good thing "Quiet Larry" will have mic-friendly former boss Jerry Jones presenting him in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday.
Allen will become the 14th Dallas Cowboy to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He never was—and never will be—the most famous member of the Cowboys fraternity. That's life as a media-shy guard, I guess, but Allen was still one of the most dominant players in NFL history.
This is a guy who Troy Aikman once suggested was the best player in the NFL, one who made not one, but two, all-decade teams (1990s and 2000s), something only 12 other players have accomplished. He was an All-Pro in seven consecutive seasons and a Pro Bowler in all but three of his 14 seasons in the NFL.
When you think of the Cowboys' most recent dynasty, you think of The Triplets—Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin—all of whom are already immortalized in Canton. They scored the touchdowns, broke the records and earned celebrity statuses as a result.
But football people know that none of those three would be close to as accomplished as they are without Allen's impact on the Dallas offense between 1994 and 2000. He continued to dominate after that as well, but with a dramatically different cast of skill position players.
Former Raiders coach and Fox NFL broadcaster John Madden once paid Allen the ultimate compliment:
If I went back into coaching...and I could take one guy with me, it would be that guy, No. 73 white.
Madden said that during a 1999 game against the Indianapolis Colts in which Allen single-handedly pummeled Indy's defensive front on one particular touchdown drive. It's not easy to entertain viewers with highlights of interior offensive line play, but Allen was such a beast that it was easy to marvel at his feats each Sunday.
Here he is in that Colts game, rocking Ellis Johnson. The first shot is when contact is made; the next shot is a split second later. Smith is presumably laughing as he strolls through the gap with a pancake to his left.
And what's most amazing is that he was also incredibly versatile, playing every offensive line position except center and earning All-Pro nods at three of them. Even when he stepped in as a left tackle while the Cowboys waited to transition to Flozell Adams in 1998, Allen found himself in the Pro Bowl and on the All-Pro team.
“I would say that Larry Allen is the most well-known lineman of all time," Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News said of the Cowboys legend, per Jim Thomas of CantonRep.com.
Smith has a 1,629-yard edge on Walter Payton for the all-time rushing yardage list, but would he own that crown if he didn't have Allen rocking out in various spots along his offensive line between 1994 and 2002?
Smith ran for 1,000 yards in each of those seasons except in 2002, when he finished with 975 yards at the age of 33 and with Allen missing 11 of 16 regular-season games.
Smith missed only five games in nine years with Allen, and while he and Aikman played together between 1994 and 2000, Aikman was sacked less often per dropback than any regular starting quarterback in the league. Only once in seven years with Allen was Aikman taken down more than 19 times in a season.
In his first full season as a starter with the Cowboys, Allen paved the way as Smith set a new Dallas rushing record with 1,773 yards. In his first full season with the 49ers in 2006, Allen again paved the way, as Frank Gore set a new San Francisco rushing record with 1,695 yards. Both records still stand.
Oh, and there was that time Allen ran down a linebacker to prevent a pick-six:
How the hell did that happen? Well, despite his size, Allen was freaking athletic and fast. Faster than you or me. He ran a 4.85 40-yard dash at Sonoma State, according to The Dallas Morning News, which also reported that his vertical jump was 30 inches.
Perspective? Only three offensive linemen and one guard have run faster 40s the last eight years, and all three of them weighed at least 20 pounds less than Allen did during his playing days. No guards at this year's NFL scouting combine could beat that 30-inch vertical leap.
He was also pretty strong, too. Legend has it he once benched 700 pounds. Oh wait, it's not merely a legend if we have video evidence:
That was in July of 2001, and it would have gone viral if such a term existed at the time.
We've heard of so many rags-to-riches stories in sports that we've basically become desensitized to them. But consider that Allen nearly died six weeks into his life as a result of meningitis, according to The Dallas Morning News.
He survived that, just as he survived Compton, Calif., and the 12 stab wounds he suffered as a 10-year-old while trying to protect his little brother from a bully.
“I couldn't even get a job at McDonald’s," Allen said of his life before he rose to football prominence.
Four different high schools in four years. He was already defying the odds when he was drafted behind only 45 prospects in 1994—including guards named Eric Mahlum and Isaac Davis. Now it's hard to believe anyone could have passed on such an exceptional person and player.
Now 41, Allen has accomplished everything a football player can accomplish. Just don't expect him to tell you that.
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