(Editor’s Note: As former Cowboys’ Pro Bowl lineman Larry Allen approaches this weekend’s Pro Football Hall of Fame announcement, where it’s expected “LA” will get the prestigious honor in his first year of eligibility, DallasCowboys.com will reflect on his career all week. Today, writer Jeff Sullivan recounts Charles Haley facing Allen for the first time in training camp.)
No one, absolutely no one, was tougher on rookies than Charles Haley. Heck, Haley was tough on everyone, from head coaches (see George Seifert) to teammates to equipment managers to the media to more or less anyone within his zip code. Still, rookies were his favorite prey, not only in the locker room and during film sessions, but also on the practice field.
No, make that especially on the practice field. To Haley, this was the only way the youngsters were going to learn what it took to play for the Dallas Cowboys. In his own unique way, he was going to assist the coaching staff in training the kids.
Well, at least that was the plan for the first day of training camp in 1994, at St. Edward’s University in Austin. This was the day Haley met the team’s second-round pick from Sonoma State, a quiet, unassuming, yet massive 22-year-old by the name of Larry Allen.
The huddles break for the first play of the scrimmage, and Haley immediately starts in on Allen, calling him, well, let’s use our imagination on this while assuming it was entertaining if nothing else. Allen doesn’t say a word, doesn’t even look up and acknowledge him. The ball is snapped, Haley, in his prime as one of the game’s elite pass rushers, takes perhaps a stride, no more as Allen promptly treats him like a four-year-old does a Slinky.
“Charles had absolutely no idea who Larry was, none,” longtime Cowboys offensive line coach Hudson Houck said. “Larry just manhandled Charles, which completely took him by surprise. And Charles, who wasn’t a man of many words, gets up, walks over to me, and says, ‘Coach, you have one heck of a player there,’ and walks back to the defensive huddle.
“Larry wasn’t one of the best offensive linemen I was around in my 28 years coaching in the NFL. He was one of the best football players. No one worked harder either.”
And Haley certainly didn’t change the manner in which he treated rookies or teammates going forward. For the most part, he and Allen were cool after that original induction. However, over the remainder of that training camp, Haley gave his maximum effort when lined up against Allen, and on many instances, through technique and a few veteran tricks, raced past him en route to the quarterback.
Both short- and long-term, this was beneficial to Allen, as he watched the film of those practices with Houck. Who better to push a rookie toward greatness than Haley? Allen was also always asking questions, never relying on his size and strength alone. He was that rare athlete where being one of the best wasn’t enough. He strived for perfection – the first player on the practice field, the last to leave; the first player in the weight room, the last to leave.
At the end of Allen’s first camp, Haley told Houck, “This kid is a great player.”
Reminded of the story years later Haley said, “That’s right. And he wasn’t going to be a great player. He already was a great player.”
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.