The person most thrilled with this unbelievable year is Allen himself. When he goes out in public, he's an instant mob scene. And when he stays in, there he is, great big smile on his face, sprawled over a couch in the living room of the small house he lives in behind his aunt's Inglewood home. Hanging above him is a map of the world, which will be his to purchase after the numbers are filled in next year on his NFL contract, an NBC Sports banner, three days' worth of clothes and a basketball hoop. A basketball hoop?
"Sure," says Allen. "Why not? I thought I needed to give this room a little something extra. It fits right in, doesn't it? Maybe I'll be an interior decorator."
That's as good an explanation as any for the presence of an inside hoop, seeing as how Southern California weather is hardly confining. But what the heck, the room has a high ceiling, and the basket is convenient when Allen is struck by an urge to shoot a few hoops. Robinson understands. He says, "Marcus is the kind of guy you'd want to take the last shot in a basketball game." Allen pops in a jumper from outside the coffee table, after juking out the TV, and laughs: "Damn, this is fun. I love interviews."
"I love interviews. I meet so many interesting people. These are the good times."
Understand that a player who professes to like, let alone love, interviews should be immediately suspected of having run too many off-tackle blasts without his helmet. But Allen, 21, is not really a basketball player despite the hoop. Nor a baseball player—although his mother, Gwen, insists baseball is his best sport. She says seriously, "He's another Brooks Robinson." Or anything else except a breed apart as a football player.
In seven of ten games this year, and three times last year, Allen ran for more than 200 yards—this in a sport in which a back who gets 100 yards once in a career guarantees himself a permanent place in the hearts of alumni. Allen has gone for 100 yards or more 19 of the 20 times he has started as the USC tailback. His efforts have erased nearly all of the NCAA marks set in 1969-71 by Cornell's Ed Marinaro, who was playing against far less imposing competition. Marinaro had five 200-yard-plus games in a season, 10 in his career, and had a single-season per-game rushing average of 209 yards in 1971, compared to Allen's current average 212.3.
If Allen doesn't get the Heisman—the winner will be announced Dec. 5—each of the 1,050 voters will be frisked for concealed Georgia Bulldogs. Understand this, Allen is just learning how to be a running back. Mel Washington, one of Allen's coaches at San Diego's Lincoln High, says, "He's definitely not seasoned. I can't imagine what he'll be like when he learns what he's doing." Absolutely hell on wheels is the best guess, unless he takes up interior decorating. Standing alongside the Trojan practice field the other day, Ram Player Personnel Director John Math shook his head, "We don't use the term 'franchise saver' but there are no doubts about Marcus."
At 6'2", 205 pounds, Allen is not as fast as O.J. Simpson was, though Allen says, "I'm faster than most people think I am." And he's perhaps not as crushing as Simpson was. But better? "Well," says Robinson, "O.J. was the best player in college football and went on to become the best player in pro football. He's the only guy who went for 2,000 yards in an NFL season. That's pretty hard to beat. But I'd say Marcus is achieving at the same level." Allen is durable—he has missed one game in four years, and that was because of an eye injury—and has enough stamina to average 36 carries per game. And he's quick. "When he carries the ball," Robinson says, "you find yourself thinking, 'Bad tackle, bad tackle, oohhh, another one.' " What Allen does better than anybody is make the opposition miss; he's a mirage in low-cuts.
His style is much like O.J.'s. He has the vision to see what's going on now and the foresight to see—and avoid—the pitfalls ahead. Trojan Quarterback John Mazur says of Allen, "There are two things I like about him—the way he runs and the way he gets up time after time." The initial impression is that Allen, with his quick moves, is picking up yardage strictly through elusiveness, but perhaps harking back to his days of playing defense as a youngster, he still will deliver a hit before the opposition player can tee off on him. The result is that he'll routinely get an additional three yards after seemingly having been stopped.