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Remembering Larry Allen

LA's road never traveled right into our hearts


FRISCO, Texas – Larry Allen spent 12 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Barely knew him.

Oh, knew the stories. How at a young age growing up in Compton, Calif., he suffered stab wounds from a fight at age 11. How when he went to take his combine physical, teams were leery of a rotator cuff and those pronounced upper body scars. They ordered an MRI. This 6-3, some 335 pounds of a barrel-chested human being at 22 years of age couldn't fit in the MRI tube. Inconclusive results.

Oh, there is the time from a flat-footed start at the line of scrimmage, he chased down Saints linebacker Darion Connor some 50 yards to prevent a Pick 6. There was the time he benched pressed 700 pounds and had been known to squat 900. There is the urban legend that NFL defensive players came down with the Larry Allen Flu days before having to face him, also known as Larry Allen-itis. Or the stories that when he first arrived in college, the older players in practice started counting the line to make sure they weren't up when Larry's turn came in one-on-one drills.

"Not many people wanted to play against him," says Mike Zimmer, here on his second defensive coordinator tour of duty, having arrived himself right along with second round draft choice Larry Allen in 1994.

73 views from the amazing life and playing career of the Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys Guard Larry Allen.

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Now LA was friendly enough. Would laugh a lot. Nod his head a lot. Smile a lot. Rub that big ol' noggin when he grew nervous a lot. It's just that Larry didn't talk a lot. Hardly at all when coming to interviews. Not an outwardly mean person now, uh, at least off the field. Thank goodness for that considering his size.

And you know what, just not a very verbal person. In fact, we often wondered how he ever asked his wife Janelle out on an initial date while in college, let alone to marry him. Might have been all her idea, like the two-chicken (not pieces), "40-ouncer" first dinner she cooked for him.

And the biggest shame would have been never really getting to know the real Larry Allen, not just as the Pro Football Hall of Famer, Cowboys Ring of Honor member, two-time NFL first team All-Decade guard, 11-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All Pro before this mountain of a man suddenly passed away this past Sunday on a family vacation trip in Mexico.


Because when we found out like five minutes before our Mick Shot's podcast began out here on Monday morning, found myself starting to choke up, wondering how in the world was I going to be able to talk about Larry. To tell stories, and oh there are so many stories. Too raw too soon.

But was able to, and only because in 2013, the year LA was being inducted in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, had the opportunity take a deep dive into just who Larry Allen was, able to trace his life story while doing interviews for our Deep Blue documentary titled From Compton To Canton.

Why our three-member team including myself, videographer Chris Behm and writer/producer Steve Sullivan traveled to California, first to Palm Springs to interview his Cowboys offensive line coach Hudson Houck, then to Butte College in Oroville to interview his then junior college head coach Craig Rigsbee, then on to Rohnert Park to interview the then Sonoma State University assistant coach Frank Scalercio, next on to San Luis Obispo where his Sonoma State head coach Tim Walsh was now the head coach at Cal-Poly State, then Napa where Larry's high school teammate Steve Hatton is now teaching school and finally to the Allen residence in Danville to spend at least two hours talking with Larry.

That's right, talking, and talking, more talking in two hours with the soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee than ever spent with Larry over 12 years with the Cowboys. An incredible story of a road I'm guessing never traveled on this remarkable journey from the hard-scrabbled streets of Compton, overcoming the prohibitive odds from ever emerging into the fame of America's Team.

Start with his mother, Vera Allen, a tough love mama, who didn't want to hear her baby getting beat up by an older neighbor out on the streets. She sent him back out to fight for himself. The third time Larry finally won.

But he really won when Mama Vera sent her son to the Napa Valley, where Grandma Bertha Lee Dotson lived in Yountville, Calif., to get him off the streets and away from the gangs pillaging Compton. He would commute to Vintage High in Napa, where he was befriended by high school teammate Steve Hatton and the Hatton Family, led by Ron and Lois. You heard of Blindside, the story of Michael Oher. Well, this was the forerunner, since to cut down on Larry's commute, the Hattons took Larry in a white family giving a Black student a home, where Steve says his mom had to buy a gallon of milk a day once Larry moved in.

By Homecoming this senior year, having been immersed in a mostly white student body in the late '80s and playing football at a high level, Larry was voted Homecoming King. Wouldn't dare make this up. Had a picture of a crown on the head of Compton-raised Larry to prove it. Come graduation time, Larry was one class short. No D-I offers.

Never no mind, in Cal, you didn't need to graduate high school to enroll in a Juco. So, from there, it was on to Butte College with several of his teammates and rival high school team players on a recruiting trip. Enter Rigsbee. Said when these players arrived at his door, he took one look at Larry and told his wife, "I got this guy, you take care of the rest."

With no more than T-shirts, shorts and team issue, LA had a place, a team to play for and another father figure in his life. Rigsbee tells the story of working late one night in the office, that being part of a parttime job for Allen, when he threw Larry the keys to the car go get some pizza. Larry balked, saying he couldn't do that. Come to find out at like 18 years old, Larry Allen didn't know how to drive. No license.

Now it's off down the road to driver's ed school.

Also got him a checking account. One problem. Larry never had a checking account of course. Was writing checks to buy pizzas until the friendly local owner calls Rigsbee about these bouncing checks. Rigsbee had to inform Larry that he needed to put money in the account to write checks. As for football, first-team All-America Juco as a freshman. More the same his second season, but he ended up seven hours short of his associate degree, scaring away D-I schools again.

Enter Scalercio. Found out about this Allen kid from Rigsbee, because at the end of his season Larry went back home to Compton, the idea was to finish those hours and get his associate degree. Moved in with his dad who had not been in his life. Then moved back in with Vera. Never bothered to get his degree.

Scalercio hunts Allen down. Has a guy on the team living in that area give him his card. Larry puts it in his pocket. Never bothers to call. One day, Mama Vera finds the cards in Larry's pants doing the wash. Calls the number out of curiosity. Coach Frank said they talked for hours. Mama talks to Larry, and calls Coach Frank back. He says, Vera goes, "You want my baby?" Coach goes, "Yes ma'am."

"Well come and get him."

Hooks Larry up with a Sonoma State player who lived in the L.A. area, and on his way to Sonoma State in the spring he goes

One problem. Couldn't get him into school. No high school diploma. Remember that one missing class. No matter. Here comes another angel in the life of Larry Allen. They enroll Larry at Lewis Adult School, where high school dropouts go to earn their GED. Larry, very lightly called it "the pregnant school," because so many in the program were young girls who dropped out of high school to have babies.

Undaunted, Larry graduated. Got his degree. Scalercio went to the graduation, drove Larry straight to the Sonoma State admissions office and got the approval to enroll.

"Told him, go get dressed," since practice was about to start.

This is all for real.

Ended up mauling these D-II opponents. Scalercio tells the story of some big defensive linemen talkers before playing Humbolt State. No, no, don't poke the bear. Please don't.

"Larry hit the guy from Humbolt State so hard in the chest, it buckled his knees on the way down," Scalercio says. "Tore his ACL."

No lie.

Larry is voted the league's Offensive MVP. Shined at the East-West Shrine game. But despite what he did in college, falls out of the first round, only because Sonoma State was a Division-II school. Teams worried about the level of competition he had mauled.

Houck tells the story of that 1994 NFL Draft. Second round. Cowboys at Pick 46, a compensatory one at that. Says in the war room there was talk about liking this guy and liking that guy.

Houck says, "We got the guy we REALLY like," himself and then West Coast scout Tom Ciscowski ready to stand on the table for one Larry Allen. Like the response becomes, who, where?

Houck points out Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says let's put on the tape. That's all Jerry, the former collegiate offensive lineman at

Arkansas, needed to see.

"That's our guy, let's go, draft him," Houck says of Jones.

And the rest is history.

Not only did LA become a celebrated player, he became a beloved member of the organization. Look, Troy Aikman would not do this for just anybody. But since it was Larry Allen, Troy voiced the documentary's narration. That's big, but the least he could do to honor the guy who helped protect his blindside for seven years.

And Larry did not forget the people who helped him along the way. Would fly the Hattons into Dallas, all expenses paid, for one home game a year. Same with the Rigsbees.

In fact, Rigsbee told this story about Larry from back during his Butte College days, and by the way, one Aaron Rodgers, from nearby Chico, Calif., went to Butte College before transferring to Cal, Rigsbee actually watching all Rodgers' Cal games since his son was on the Golden Bears team. The team was preparing for the end of season awards banquet and Larry was being honored. A dress-up affair.

Larry still had basically a team-issue wardrobe. Rigsbee told his wife to take Larry shopping. Get him some clothes, suit, shirt, tie, shoes, do the best you can with a guy his size off the rack. Well, Larry, as the story goes, took a fancy to some of those Wingtip shoes that were popular back in the day, and at the time considered mighty expensive.

Rigsbee's wife told him he could buy three pairs of these shoes for the cost of that one pair. Larry agreed. The trip was a clothing success.

Well, fast-forward to Larry's rookie season. He brought the Rigsbees in for a game. Had him over to the house. Had the Rigsbees come into his room, then the closet. There, proudly displayed were his very own pair of shiny Wingtips.

Funny guy this Larry Allen. Grateful, too, so many of his teammates these past two days talking about how the big guy would go out of his way to help young teammates, friends, and those who shepherd him along on his way from "Compton to Canton."

Oh, and one more before we go. Larry's oldest daughter Jayla wanted her daddy to put his best foot forward when giving his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Aug. 3, 2013, in Canton, Ohio. She took her time to interview Larry, find out all about his past and just who helped him along the way. And as she told me and Brad Sham afterward, they had practiced, and practiced and practiced. Said she might have been more nervous than Larry might have been during the speech, and I'm told was sitting on the edge of her chair silently encouraging Larry on.

But you know what, and to the surprise of most of us, Larry did just fine. In fact, great. So Larry Allen. Knocked it out of the park like he knocked defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage. Couldn't have been prouder of him. Those who knew him said the same. So happy for him.

And maybe to sum up his life far too short, so sad an ending to an improbable inspiring story, here is how he concluded his 16-minute speech, maybe the longest Larry ever talked straight through at one time. And if you knew Larry like I was grateful to come to know Larry after our trip, it's OK if you too shed a tear or three when you hear the emotion in his words:

"And my goal was simple, to earn the respect of my teammates, opponents and the NFL. Today my mission is complete. I also played hard, whistle to whistle, to make my opponents submit, and today I'm submitting to you.

"I've been blessed to play the game I love. And remember this. It has never been about me, Larry Allen, but the many, many ways that (people) helped me out. Thank you, and God bless.

And bless you, too, Larry Allen.