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Larry Allen is the definition of success attained by hard work through adversity. Allen is considered by many to be one of the greatest offensive linemen to ever play in the NFL, with more Pro Bowls than any other offensive player in Dallas Cowboys history, and is 4th all-time in Pro Bowl appearances by an offensive lineman (11). Allen was an All-Pro 7 times in his career and was part of both the 1990’s and 2000’s All-Decade Teams. Allen was part of the Super Bowl XXX Champion Dallas Cowboys and is in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. Allen‘s efforts throughout his career were acknowledged by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who voted Allen into the Hall with the 2013 class.
The path from Danville, California, Larry Allen‘s place of residence after moving from Compton, California, to Canton, Ohio, location of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was one that had ups and downs throughout Allen‘s life. The adversities Larry Allen had to get past began when he was three months old, when he contracted meningitis. Doctors informed the guardians of Larry Allen that Larry had 24 hours left to live. At 3 months old, Allen had the willpower and strength to allow himself to fight through the infection and survive the scare. Adversity had just begun for Larry Allen, who was stabbed 12 times, in the head and shoulder, when he was only 9-years old. The “playmate” who stabbed Allen was given the knife by the playmate’s mother. This horrible act left Allen with an existing fear of needles. During the early years of Allen‘s adolescence, his parents had separated and his mother moved the family to Danville, California to give her children a better opportunity against gun and knife violence. Larry‘s mother, Vera spoke of how living in Compton, an area full of gun violence affected the family and caused the move to Danville:
“We would hear the gunfire outside our house, we would automatically roll out of the bed, lay on the floor until the shooting stopped, then get back in bed and go to sleep. After a while, we got pretty good at that.”
Unfortunately for the Allens, Danville, California was a town that had a history of violence and illegal drug trading. Having to go through 5 different middle schools, Allen was never able to get a consistent education through his adolescent years. Due to poverty, Allen could not play youth football and had to build up courage to try out for the football team as a freshman at Centennial High School in Compton. Growing up in areas heavily-influenced by drug dealers, Larry Allen had no thoughts of the NFL or the Hall of Fame when he began playing football in high school:
“The drug dealers had all the nice cars. They had everything. They had all the jewelry. Everybody looked up to them. That’s who I looked up to and wanted until I found this football. Before that I was just running around in the streets.”
Because of frequent moves by the Allen family, Allen attended 4 different high schools in his 4 years of high schooling (Tokay of Lodi, Armijo of Fairfield and Vintage of Napa were the 3 other schools). Allen later earned his high school diploma from an adult school. However, Larry Allen began to dream of playing football, which became a sanctuary for Larry, at the collegiate level.
Junior College to Division II
Larry Allen started his collegiate career at the junior college level at Butte College, same junior college that sprouted Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, in Oroville, California. Unfortunately for Allen, his academic resume did not attract any Division I schools for recruitment, despite showing flashes of potential. Oroville went 10–1 while winning the Golden Valley Conference, and Allen was named to the All-Conference and All-State teams in his two seasons there.
After his tenure at Oroville, Larry Allen enrolled at Sonoma State University (now Cal-State Sonoma) to play Division II football. Allen‘s progress as a mature human being truly began to blossom as he received effective guidance from Sonoma State coaches Tim Walsh, Frank Scalercio and Jeff Ramsey. Larry‘s coaches wanted him to focus on the positives in his life by writing down his goals and looking at them every day. Coach Frank Scalerico publicly stated how the coaches felt about Allen and why they tried their hardest for him:
“He just needed someone to believe in him.”
Writing down his goals, which were both athletic and personal, helped Larry visually focus on what he wanted to do. His goals included understanding how to budget money and earning an all-conference honor at Sonoma State, but his ultimate goal would only be accomplished if the others were fulfilled. Allen spoke of the importance of writing down his goals and how the NFL can be a dream fulfilled:
“I learned a lot (by writing down my goals). It was always my dream to play in the NFL. My coaches thought it was far-fetched at first, but that was what I wanted to accomplish.”
Belief Brings in Success
Allen‘s comfort level and performance on the football field grew exponentially. Not only did Allen‘s performance improve, but the Sonoma State offense improved as well. Sonoma State was primarily a passing team and established 10 new school records, including most yards gained, most touchdown passes, best gain-per-completion and highest passing efficiency during his tenure there. During Allen‘s senior season, Sonoma State set a rushing-yard record 334 rushing yards against Cal State Hayward. He participated in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl after his senior season. Allen gave up just one sack and was a two time All-American for the Sonoma State Cossacks.
1994 Draft and the Dallas Cowboys
A rotator cuff injury and small-school pedigree caused Allen to drop in the 1994 NFL Draft and was the 10th offensive lineman selected in the 2nd round (46th overall) by the Dallas Cowboys. Allen was the first offensive lineman drafted out of Sonoma State and was the highest drafted offensive lineman by Dallas since Howard Richards in the 1981 NFL Draft.
“NFL clubs will find you wherever you are. You just have to work hard and set goals. And you have to think about your goals every day.”
Allen‘s impact was made instantly at both guard and tackle. Allen was forced to start in the 4th game of his career when left tackle Mark Tuinei suffered back spasms. Allen held Washington sackless and received the game ball for his effort. The following game against the Arizona Cardinals marked his first career start. After an automobile accident placed right tackle Erik Williams on IR, Allen started at right tackle. One of the more-recognized highlights of Larry Allen is his tackle on a Troy Aikman interception on New Orleans Saints linebacker Darion Conner:
In his rookie season, the Cowboys allowed a club-low 20 sacks totaling just 93 yards (fewest in the NFL) while earning all-rookie honors.
With the help of Allen, the Cowboys defeated the Green Bay Packers on January 8, when the Dallas offense recorded 450 total yards and Troy Aikman completed 23-of-30 passes for 337 yards. Allen sprained his left ankle during the game, but returned to finish the game. In the NFC Championship Game at San Francisco 49ers, his ankle aggravated him to sit out after 3 quarters.
In the 1995 season, Allen earned the first of seven consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl, first as a guard, and his help permitted Emmitt Smith to rush to a franchise record 1,773 rushing yards, his fourth NFL rushing title in five years. Smith also scored a then NFL record 25 rushing touchdowns behind the blocking of Larry Allen. Dallas finished the 1995 season with Larry Allen‘s only Super Bowl victory (XXX) against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the 1996 season, he earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl and consensus All-Pro and All-NFC honors. In the 1997 season, despite switching from guard to tackle throughout the season, Allen was selected to his third consecutive Pro Bowl at guard and earned first-team All-Pro honors. In the 1998 season, Allen started at the left tackle position from day one of the season, after starting final three games of the 1997 season at left tackle. In his first full season guarding Troy Aikman’s blindside, he earned consensus All-Pro and All-NFC honors. He became just the third player in league history to be selected to the Pro Bowl at more than one offensive line position when peers voted him to NFC Pro Bowl team at tackle. In November of the 1997 season, he faced four of the NFC’s top defensive ends in Hugh Douglas, Chad Bratzke, Simeon Rice, and John Randle and did not give up a sack to any of them. He only gave up 1 sack to the AFC sack-leading Seattle Seahawks. Allen was part of an offensive line that saw Emmitt Smith break the NFL’s all-time rushing touchdown record. In 1999, despite starting in his third offensive line position in as many years and missing five games due to injury, Allen was selected to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl while earning consensus All-Pro honors at guard. Allen helped lead the way as the Cowboys gained 541 total yards while giving up only one sack in 50 pass plays in first career start at left guard at Washington on September 12. Later that season, Allen sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee against the Packers on November 14. He missed the his first career game against Arizona on November 21, snapping the streak of 97 consecutive games played and 90 consecutive starts. He missed the next four games with a sprained knee and returned Christmas Eve versus New Orleans, not giving up a sack and helped Emmitt Smith run for his 9th 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Latter Years in Dallas (2000-2005)
In 2000, Allen was selected to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl and earned consensus All-Pro and All-NFC honors. Despite a fractured right hand in practice on June 20, Allen returned to play by the end of the preseason and started all 16 games for Dallas. In 2001, Allen was named All-Pro for the seventh consecutive season and was named Pro Bowl starter at guard, despite not being able to attend the game due to elbow surgery. 2002 was an injury-plagued season for Allen, which ended with surgery to repair bone spurs. 2003 was a season typical for Allen, playing all 16 games and being selected to his 8th Pro Bowl. Allen was selected to his 9th Pro Bowl appearance after playing all 16 games. 2005, his final season with Dallas marked his 10th Pro Bowl selection, playing in all 16 games for the 9th time in 12 seasons.
On March 21, 2006, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys were looking to get younger and released Larry Allen after 12 seasons with the team.
San Francisco 49ers (2006-2007)
It did not take long for Larry Allen to find a new home, as San Francisco and Allen agreed on a contract. Allen changed his jersey number from 73 to 71, and was voted to his 11th career Pro Bowl after blocking for RB Frank Gore’s franchise record 1,695 rushing yards and franchise combined yardage record (2,180) on the season. In 2007, Allen was selected to his final Pro Bowl as a reserve and successfully defended his “Strongest Man Award” title at the Pro Bowl.
Retirement in Dallas
Despite having success in San Francisco, Larry Allen decided that signing a one-day contract with Dallas would be the way he wanted to retire, and Dallas respected his wishes.
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Larry Allen had one of the most productive careers an offensive lineman could have had. Bruce Matthews (guard/center) and Chris Hinton (guard/tackle) are the only two other offensive linemen to be selected to a Pro Bowl at two different offensive-line positions.
Allen‘s Pro Football Hall of Fame speech is one that will never be forgotten, and to look at the speech in full, please check the videos below.
As a fan of the game, I can only wish a happy, healthy, safe retirement for Larry Allen and I hope for the best in his life, as he successfully overcame numerous adversities in his life to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.