NFL LIVING LEGEND: Dallas Cowboys lineman Larry Allen inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame (Special Feature)
Larry Allen chases down an interception (watch Video | listen to Audio)
“This guy’s got a rocket booster strapped to his back!”, proclaimed Dan Dierdorf (puke) as 325 lb. Larry Allen chased down a Troy Aikman tipped interception during his rookie year.
Larry Allen bench presses 700 lbs. (watch Video | listen to Audio)
Watch as Dallas Cowboys guard Larry Allen works his way up to a 700 lb. bench press during the spring of 2001.
Dallas Cowboys legends speak about what made Larry Allen so great, as he is announced as a member of 2013’s NFL’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class.
SPAGNOLA: In the beginning of this remarkable L.A. story
OXNARD, Calif. – Here is exactly what we know about Larry Allen.
He will become the 14th true Dallas Cowboys member inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio, and just the second offensive lineman in the expansion franchise’s 53-year history.
While playing for the Cowboys from 1994-2005, he was named to the Pro Bowl 10 times (seven consecutively), one short of the team’s all-time record of 11 held by Bob Lilly, a Hall of Famer himself, and as many as Hall of Famer Mel Renfro but more than the likes of Hall of Famers Randy White, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Tony Dorsett.
Twice he was named to the NFL All-Decade Team, in the 1990s and the 2000s, quite a feat to have played so long at such a high level during his 12 years with the Cowboys and final two seasons with San Francisco, which included his 11th Pro Bowl selection.
He was a member of the Dallas Cowboys’ 1995 Super Bowl championship team and played in consecutive NFC title games his first two seasons in the NFL.
He had the speed to once run down a New Orleans linebacker from way behind who certainly thought he was taking his interception to the house, and yet strong enough to bench press 700 pounds one day at The Ranch.
Allen, along with Charles Haley and Drew Pearson, were the last inductees to the Dallas Cowboys’ 20-member Ring of Honor.
Whew, that’s a ton, appropriately so since he was a ton for opponents to handle during his career.
But for the rest of the story, or maybe it’s the first of the story, we have to know how in the world a guy who went to Butte Junior College in Oroville, Calif., and then to Sonoma State, a Division II school, winds up getting drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, who at the time were the two-time defending Super Bowl champs.
You will discover a lot of luck and tireless research by many were involved.
Current director of scouting Tom Ciskowski first turned the Cowboys on to this massive offensive lineman. At the time, the Cowboys were members of BLESTO, the national scouting combine service teams used around the league which had written a report on this Allen guy.
“I was the West Coast scout,” Ciskowski said of his role back then with the Cowboys, “so was responsible for all the schools in that area.”
Even tiny Sonoma State, north of San Francisco, past Petaluma, and east of the 101 that runs right through the current Cowboys training camp site. Yet, it’s hard to evaluate players like Allen because of the level of competition he’d been playing against. You just don’t know if he’s throwing guys around because they are two levels below Division I.
Ciskowski made his dutiful school call, and the coach set up a meeting with Allen. “He was fighting for him,” Ciskowski said, a scouting term for endorsing. Then once he had the meeting and put the tape on, he gained enough confidence to recommend Allen to the Cowboys’ higher-ups because “you could see he had something.”
The Cowboys, and many other teams, could see Allen had something, too, when he was invited to play in the East-West Shrine All-Star Game.
“Sure you are concerned,” Ciskowski said of evaluating his play against other D-II schools, “until you saw him against the Penn States, Ohio States, Michigan States in that game.”
That is where then scouting director Larry Lacewell first got a glimpse of this guy going like 6-4, 330 pounds, who was strong as a bull.
“Frankly, looking at a guy from Sonoma State is not real exciting,” Lacewell says, “until you saw him practicing against Division-I guys.
Lacewell, still around at training camp these days, remembers seeing Allen in a pass-rush drill, the first guy trying to rush around him.
“He punched him,” said Lacewell, meaning reaching out and pass blocking with two hands to strike the guy in the chest, “and you could hear ka-baam.”
Then in a full-speed team drill Allen drilled a linebacker, “and I saw him rolling on the ground,” Lacewell said. “Just stuck him. I just remember how strong he was.”
That convinced the Cowboys to push him up the draft board. Ciskowski, Lacewell and offensive line coach Hudson Houck saw what they thought could be, because as Lacewell said after watching film of Allen playing at Sonoma State, “It was unfair,” L.A. against those D-II opponents.
Even at that, there still was another hurdle to overcome. Somewhat of a defective shoulder was discovered at the NFL Combine, or as Cowboys trainer Jim Maurer, then an assistant to then Cowboys trainer Kevin O’Neill, remembers, a rotator cuff problem. As the story goes, there was another problem: Allen was so wide across the chest he couldn’t fit into the MRI chamber, so whatever doctors were worried about couldn’t be confirmed by an imaging picture.
Also there was this: Scar tissue from multiple stab wounds in the shoulder sustained during his formative years growing up in Compton, Calif.
“It was a pretty significant issue as I remember,” Maurer says of the shoulder, “a lot of questions about it.”
Bryan Broaddus, then working in the Green Bay scouting department, remembers Allen, and remembers the Packers were so worried about the shoulder that he was taken off their draft board for medical reasons.
But O’Neill didn’t take the easy way out he could have when the Cowboys front office came to him for an opinion. You know, cautiously downgrade Allen just to cover himself if the shoulder curtailed Allen’s career.
Ciskowski remembers O’Neill saying “the shoulder could be rehabbed” instead of needing surgical repair.
So the Cowboys had Allen on the on board, so on board Lacewell says that they had a first-round grade on the man-kid from Sonoma State. But on draft day, Allen began falling, falling, falling. Look, guys like Heath Shuler, Trent Dilfer, Shante Carver (Cowboys), Eric Mahlum, Kevin Lee, Bruce Walker, Marcus Spears (seriously, an OT) and David Palmer already had been drafted in the first and early part of the second. But Allen? Still was on the board.
“So we’re sitting there, and you know you hear rumors, you heard about the shoulder problems,” Lacewell said, “and we’re asking ourselves, ‘What are we missing?’”
So Lacewell, Ciskowski and Houck went into the room next to the Cowboys war room with the draft in progress and Allen falling out of the first round and into the second. They put the film of Allen on one more time “to make sure we were seeing the right thing,” Lacewell says. “Maybe we were wrong, and you just don’t do that or have the time (during the draft).
“But Hud, Tom and I, particularly Tom – I give him all the credit in the world, because it’s easy to waffle or lose your guts on a guy from Sonoma State – we were confident he was the guy. No doubt we were holding our breath (when he was falling) until he got to us.”
And with the 17th pick in the second round, 46th overall, the Dallas Cowboys select offensive guard Larry Allen, Sonoma State.
Who? What? From where? Thought they produced wine out there in Sonoma not football players?
Oh, and there was one more flashback for Lacewell. When time came for the rookie Allen to take his conditioning test, Lacewell says, “He was pitiful. He couldn’t finish anything.”
But brother, could he finish a block, and as the stories go, finish a guy’s career, too, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones remembering how one opponent lambasted by Allen retiring from football the very next day and how several opponents would develop what became known as the “Allen flu,” turning up sick/hurt the day they would have to take on the Cowboys offensive lineman.
And Saturday, Larry Allen, the man of few words, from tiny Sonoma State will officially finish his NFL career with a bronzed bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame preceded by potentially the shortest acceptance speech in the history of the Hall’s enshrinement ceremony. But that’s OK. They don’t judge these guys on words, just production.
“Over my years I like to name the few really great ones,” said Lacewell, who’s been around a whole lot of great ones, first starting his coaching career under Bear Bryant at Alabama and having then coached at Oklahoma, Iowa State, Arkansas State (head coach for 11 years) and Tennessee before spending 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys (1992-2004) in their college and pro scouting departments.
“And Larry Allen is the very best offensive guard I’ve ever seen, phenomenal. I’ve known Cortez Kennedy for quite some time. Recruited him. Cortez Kennedy told me once when Larry would hit you, he said, ‘It felt like a boulder had.’ I remember a linebacker once trying to run from him, he’d punch the guy and the linebacker started rolling on the ground.”
Imagine that. Imagine all of this.
And then you have the rest of this L.A. story.
EARTH CITY, Mo. — The football world is fixated out West, where the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks engaged in an arms race this summer to bolster their playoff-ready rosters. Then, both teams saw a key skill-position player go down to injury, which drew even more attention.
Oh, and both teams have bright, young, promising quarterbacks who have become media darlings.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Rams went 4-1-1 against the NFC West last season, feature a former No. 1 pick at quarterback, have one of the top defensive fronts in the league and possibly have the youngest roster. Let’s not forget about St. Louis just yet, even if they crave this under-the-radar status. Here is what I heard spending the day with an enthusiastic Rams group:
1. Bradford the teacher: For the first time in his young football career, Sam Bradford has had the same offensive coordinator two years in a row. Heading into his fourth season, Bradford finally can spend training camp without the burden of learning an offense. That should pay off for the Rams, and not just because Brian Schottenheimer can be as creative as he’d like with Bradford and a versatile, fast group of skill players. As general manager Les Snead told me in his office, “Instead of learning the system himself, (Bradford) can actually help teach it. Last year, he couldn’t help teach it. Like he tells me, ‘I can actually go teach the rookie,’ ” Because of a variety of factors — nagging injuries, a struggling offensive line — Bradford hasn’t been as consistent. That should change this year. Signing left tackle Jake Long bolstered Bradford’s group of bodyguards, with coach Jeff Fisher telling me the offensive line is a strength this year.
2. Youth should catch on fast: Spend a little time around the Rams, and the youthful enthusiasm is contagious. No, not everyone is young. Fisher is 55, for instance. But it all feels young and relaxed and exciting. The Rams were one of the youngest teams in 2012, and they will be again this season. At receiver, Austin Pettis is considered a veteran and he’s just 25. In the front seven, defensive linemen Chris Long and Kendall Langford are grizzled vets, entering their sixth seasons. Optimism abounds. Snead told me the rookies aren’t playing young, they aren’t slowing down physically to catch up mentally. That’s one reason Tavon Austin has looked as quick as a Ram as he did as a Mountaineer. “That will allow these guys to start thinking less and playing to their college speed faster,” Snead said. “There’s always that for rookies, it’s more complicated, there are more checks. They can be a little bogged down so they don’t look quite like they did in college athletically, the central nervous system isn’t catching up. That’s the thing about this group. They’re picking up football and what we do faster.” Just one reason everyone is gushing about Austin, first-round linebacker Alex Ogletree and the rest of the rookies.
3. How uncomfortable can you feel?When the Rams first started rebuilding, they wanted to beef the team up one unit at a time. Stack one group, then move on to another, like the Giants did with their defensive line. It appears St. Louis has done just that. When I mentioned to an opposing coach that I planned to visit the Rams, the response was, “Oooh, that front seven.” Yeah. People know. The goal is to make quarterbacks uncomfortable, which should make them even better at covering on the back end. The Rams don’t have all the answers on defense, but they don’t have a ton of questions, either. Even at safety, rookie T.J. McDonald is already opening eyes — he was calling the defense a day ago. The goals are to have Top 10 units on offense and defense, and that is within reach.
4. The Rams could be around for a while: The youth of the Rams is one reality for the organization. “It’s cool to have the youngest team,” Snead told me. “I think we’ve upgraded talent. We’re better. Now, we just gotta get experience, go on stage, and know our lines.” The other side is, because of that youth and because of the financial health of the team, they’ll be around for a while. They had two first-round draft picks in April thanks to the Robert Griffin III trade, and they have two more in 2014. Heading into next offseason, the only key free agents to be are tackle Rodger Saffold and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. There aren’t any for the following offseason, either. For two years, no one is going anywhere. And even Bradford, who has the final megadeal for rookie quarterbacks, will only cost the team $36 million over the next three years. It’s not cheap like Andrew Luck’s deal, but it’s not crippling either. Their key parts should stick together. In other words, we might want to get used to hearing about the Rams.
5. Expect to hear a lot of names on offense: At receiver, there are at least five players in the mix for playing time, and Fisher told me, “We’ll use them all. It’s none of these, ‘I want the ball things,’ any of that stuff. They just want to play, get where they need to get to, so Sam can make a play.” Austin is the hot name now, but Chris Givens has had a really strong offseason and camp. At tight end, free-agent signee Jared Cook began building his rapport with Bradford during sessions in the summer. They’ve already connected endlessly in camp, making one believe he’ll serve as Bradford’s security blanket like Danny Amendola was in 2012. What the coaches also like is that when Bradford throws it, Cook catches it. “Jared has a giant receiving radius,” Fisher said. “With Sam’s accuracy, Sam can put the ball out of frame to complete it. And they work really well together.” With Steven Jackson gone at running back, Fisher said the situation could be “playing two or three backs all the time. Which is good.” As I said, get ready to hear a lot of names for the Rams’ offense.