He glides through the corner at Santa Monica Boulevard. A BMW 733i honks; the driver has the audacity to floor it and pass. These people don't even recognize the driver—they just want to race.
Allen, of course, has a more important race to run—toward lasting fame in the NFL. In his four-year career he has rushed for 4,638 yards and 44 touchdowns. Last year Allen led the NFL in rushing (1,759 yards on 380 attempts)—his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.
What sets Allen, 26, apart from contemporaries like Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker—and what makes him the most versatile running back in the game—is his extraordinary ability to catch passes. In each of the last three seasons he has caught at least 60. His career total is 237. Lydell Mitchell of the Baltimore Colts is the only other back in NFL history to have rushed for more than 1,000 yards and caught at least 60 passes for three straight seasons.
"When I prepare for the Raiders, I prepare for Marcus Allen," says Ronnie Lott, the San Francisco 49ers' All-Pro defensive back. "I know that every, every, every play, he can beat you."
Says Dennis Smith, the Denver Broncos' All-Pro defensive back, "Even if it's not in our game plan, we leave our zone and follow him. Marcus brings on that kind of alert. He is the Man. Marcus will not be intimidated. You can see it in his eyes. He does the intimidating."
If toughness could be measured, the 6'2", 205-pound Allen might be the best running back in the league in that category, too. "I've been around some supposedly tough people," says Howie Long, the Raiders' All-Pro defensive end, a bruiser himself. "This guy is the real deal. I've seen Marcus body-slam the Oilers' Robert Brazile and Gregg Bingham in the Astrodome when nobody else would do anything. He'll go after countless defensive linemen who have cheap-shotted him—guys running backs aren't supposed to go after. Marcus is the toughest man I've ever been around."
How tough? Allen has studied tae kwon do, a form of martial arts, the last two off-seasons. He takes a private class three times a week with teammate Sean Jones, ex-Raider safety Odis McKinney and Al Cowlings, an ex-Buffalo Bills defensive end.
Allen bows as he takes the mat. His brown eyes grow wide and cold. He dons boxing gloves for what will be five three-minute rounds of sparring. Jones, a 6'7", 265-pound defensive end, fires quick lefts. Allen takes most of the shots in his chest. THUD. THUD. THUD. Allen doesn't flinch.
As the fifth round begins, Jones is exhausted. "Fourth quarter, Sean," Allen coaxes. Jones forges on. When the round is finally over, Jones is doubled over. Allen is hardly sweating.
Jumping jacks. Sit-ups. Squat thrusts. By the dozens. One set after another follows the sparring. Next, Allen stands on a four-inch balance beam, kicking and walking, kicking and walking. In the early days he couldn't get his legs to waist level. Now he sends them soaring over his head.