Has anybody ever seen an athlete like Larry Allen?
Here you have a man who once bench-pressed 700 lbs.
Who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds and posted a vertical leap of 30 inches.
For some a jump; for him, a leap.
Larry Allen in his prime was 6’3” tall and weighed north of 325 lbs.
Pump in a few more slices, pudd’nhead, meaning tack on a few more pounds.
Like defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who spent the first 11 years of his career in a New England Patriots uniform, Allen was likely the best athlete on his team.
And Wilfork, 6’2’’ 325 lbs — going on about 380 at least — was certainly no slouch; he could jam a basketball easily and would, according to Brady, emerge victorious in various inter-team competitions routinely.
With him, it was a given.
In the meantime, Larry Allen may well be the best offensive lineman in NFL history.
This cuts a wide swath indeed.
Anthony Munoz; Jonathan Ogden; Forrest Gregg; John Hannah; Bruce Matthews; Orlando Pace; Randall McDaniel; Mike Webster; Dwight Stephenson; Dan Dierdorf; Willie Roaf; Jim Otto; Gene Upshaw; Alan Faneca; Art Shell; Walter Jones; Richmond Webb; Mick Tingelhoff; Ed White…
But it is no reach.
Back in the day — the Fall of 1992 — everyone on the Sonoma State (CA) football team just had to take a shot at Allen during practice drills, so as to prove their mettle.
A rite of passage of sorts.
Recalled coach Frank Scalercio, “So the kid [a freshman defensive end with an attitude] comes flying at Larry, and Larry launches this kid through space. I mean it. The kid was flying. I looked at the kid as he was going through the air and he had this big smile on his face. I’ll never forget what he said when he landed.”
“I just got flat-backed by a future Hall of Famer,” the greenhorn gleefully proclaimed.
He was right.
In 1992 and 1993, Allen playing Division II football was oxymoronic; a contradiction in terms; the definition of a mismatch.
Stories abound, so sensational that they beg to be mocked, disbelieved and dismissed.
Human beings just don’t do these kinds of things.
But there are witnesses.
Blocking on a run against UC Davis, Allen knocked to the ground — out cold — a defensive tackle, a linebacker and a safety.
All three. All unconscious. One play.
Scalercio maintains that Allen didn’t even break stride.
How about this one?
Sonoma State was playing at Humboldt State and the night before the game, Sonoma’s players were at their Eureka hotel watching the local news.
It seems that during the sports segment, Humboldt coaches and their best player, Scotty Reagan — a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end, and NFL prospect himself — predicted that they would embarrass the Seawolves and Allen in particular, the next afternoon.
On a pass play during the game, Reagan tossed aside SSU’s tight end and was barreling toward Allen.
“The guy had an eight-yard running head start on Larry,” remembered Scalercio.
When they met, Allen hit him in the chest.
“He lost consciousness before he hit the ground,” Scalercio, said. “His legs had gone limp while he was still in the air, and so when he hit the ground Reagan tore the ACL in his knee. He missed the rest of the season.”
So, what in God’s name was Larry Allen doing playing Division II college football?
He grew up in Compton, CA.
He contracted meningitis and almost died at six weeks old.
When he was 10 he was stabbed eight times in the head, neck and shoulders, trying to stop a beating of his younger brother.
His father was absent and Allen attended four high schools in four years.
He went to Butte College in Oroville, CA and every big-time school in the country was sniffing around to the point of dying to break the door down.
Allen’s grades were poor and he left with no degree.
Scalercio was undeterred.
When Allen’s mother Vera agreed to allow Larry to move on to SSU — provided that Scalercio kept his promises — it wasn’t long before Allen was tested.
On a “recruiting visit,” then head-coach Tim Walsh looked at Allen, 6’ 3” and 340 pounds, and said, “So I hear you can dunk the basketball. OK. Let’s see.”
Allen, dressed in a white shirt, white pants and white shoes, looked like Mr. Clean.
And had pulled into the parking lot only moments earlier.
He had just driven eight hours from Los Angeles.
He took two steps in those shoes and slammed a thunderous two-handed dunk that sucked all the air out of the building and the people in it.
Including Walsh, of course.
“Everyone went quiet,” said Scalercio. “All you could hear was the ball bouncing on the floor before it stopped.”
By the time Allen was a senior at SSU, he was the conference Player of the Year — as an offensive lineman.
But there were no postseason All-Star game invitations forthcoming.
Scalercio campaigned for Allen to be named to play in the 1994 East-West Shrine Game but Shrine officials were ambivalent to say the least.
They didn’t want to take a chance on a Division II player.
So Scalercio asked them to see Allen in action, to which they reluctantly agreed.
It was Sonoma State against Hayward State.
“Hayward had a giant defensive tackle, 6-foot-10, 300 pounds,” Scalercio remarked, reaching back.
“On one play our right guard blows a knee. He screams back to Larry in the huddle, ‘Larry, he did it on purpose!!’
The Hayward guy points to Larry and says, ‘You’re next!’
I walked over to the defensive tackle and said, ‘Son, that was the wrong thing to say.’”
A couple of plays later, Allen hit the Hayward behemoth so hard, he too was taken from the field unconscious.
Larry Allen became a member of the 1994 West roster.
The 1994 NFL Draft produced players like Marshall Faulk, Bryant Young, Isaac Bruce, Kevin Mawae, Rodney Harrison and Jamal Anderson.
Allen was the best player taken that year.
By a mile.
He would be named All-Pro eight times — 7 times First-team — and go to the Pro Bowl 11 times.
In his career, he played in more Pro Bowls than any other Dallas Cowboys offensive player in franchise history.
His physical feats were the stuff of NFL legend.
The 705-pound bench press; 43 reps of 225 pounds on the bench; a squat of 905 pounds; 20 reps of 520 pounds on the incline bench; the 30-inch vertical; the 4.85 time in the 40…
In a Monday night win in New Orleans on December 19, 1994 — Allen’s rookie season — he shocked the Saints and the football world with perhaps the most unlikely and odds-defying athletic feat imaginable, in a career loaded with them.
Early in the game, Saints linebacker Darion Conner intercepted Troy Aikman deep in Saints territory and was streaking down the field.
Allen was at a standing start, well behind the play.
There was a lot of ground to cover.
He ran down Conner and caught him from behind, saving a touchdown in a mind-boggling, miraculous show of speed and endurance for a — to be charitable — 340-pound lineman.
The game’s announcers — Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf — were in total disbelief as to what they had just witnessed.
So was everybody else.
After all, how can you be the strongest man in the sport and fast enough to run with skill-position guys???
Who can do that?
One other thing about Larry Allen.
He is a man of very few words.
When Scalercio asked Allen to speak at one of the coach’s football camps for youngsters, Allen agreed and walked to the mic after a pomp and circumstance introduction.
He said three words, “Just say no,” and walked off the dais.
And when his son, Larry Jr. — who played at Harvard and was a first-team All-Ivy selection twice for the Crimson as an offensive guard — signed with the Cowboys in 2019 as an undrafted free agent, Dad was effusive…for him.
He tweeted, “Proud of Son.”
Larry Allen has conceded that he “uses [his] mouth plenty…but only for eating food and chewing tobacco.”
You argue with him.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in December 2020.]