- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
JARED ALLEN arrives at a tony steak house in downtown Minneapolis with his girlfriend, Jordan Parrish, and the dinner turns into a two-hour exercise in self-restraint. Bottles of vintage Cabernet and Merlot line the walls, tempting Allen to toast the end of his NFL-imposed alcohol ban—issued after his DUI arrest in September 2006—with a glass of red; instead he orders a frothy pint of Clausthaler, a nonalcoholic German beer. A nearby display cart teeming with thick cuts of raw red meat whets his appetite for a Flintstone-sized steak; the 6'6", 270-pound Pro Bowl defensive end instead goes for the grilled sea bass and a heaping side of steamed broccoli. A comely woman in a form-fitting, flesh-baring dress weaves a circuitous path to the restroom, making sure Allen gets an eyeful; he's too busy doting on Jordan (whose chair he reflexively pulls closer to him as the woman swings by) to care.
Even when he's deep in conversation about his new team (the Vikings, who acquired him in an April trade with the Chiefs), his blockbuster contract (a six-year, $73.3 million deal that makes him the highest-paid defensive player in football) and his lofty expectations of winning a Super Bowl this year (was that really a Clausthaler?), Allen speaks in a hushed voice. "Let 'em focus on me," he says, warning teams that hope to stop him from improving on his league-leading 15 1/2 sacks in 2007. "I've been double- and triple-teamed my whole life. I welcome the challenge."
It may sound like bragging, but when Allen talks, it's in a tone tempered by sobriety. After frittering away his early adulthood chasing good times as doggedly as he did quarterbacks, Allen now gets a rush from defying his temptations instead of giving in to them. And he has come to rely on quiet nights like this one to keep him from reverting to the habits that got him into a world of trouble. "That road didn't lead me anywhere," he says. "I worked hard to regain my image." Indeed, after another off-season marked by embarrassing headlines, the NFL at least appears to have in the 26-year-old Allen an Exhibit A for what can happen when a player decides to clean up his act.
Allen's wild-child persona was a long time in developing. As a kid he lived on a ranch in El Cajon, Calif., where his father, Ron, raised reining horses and young Jared found eager role models in Marlboro Man--tough ranch hands. When one bragged of killing a wild boar with a knife, 10-year-old Jared made it his ambition to duplicate the feat. (He did so last summer in Texas.)
At Division I-AA Idaho State, Allen, an irrepressible prankster, got a rise out of tormenting his defensive line coach, Mark Rhea, famously slipping an adult movie into Rhea's VHS deck before a meeting with his position players. Off the field Allen's late-night carousing became the stuff of legend and of police reports. A keen bar fighter, he was arrested once for battery and twice for resisting arrest and was cited for DUI.
The trouble didn't stop after the Chiefs drafted Allen in the fourth round in 2004. On May 11, 2006, he was arrested in Overland Park, Kans., for drunken driving and speeding. He entered a diversion program, and in exchange for a dismissal of the DUI charge he pledged to abstain from drinking or violating the law. But five months later, after his college sweetheart ended their four-year relationship, Allen drowned his sorrows at a Kansas City--area bar and climbed behind the wheel of his Dodge Charger. Police saw his vehicle swerving from lane to lane and nailed him on another DUI.
During his police-chauffeured ride home from the station that night, it finally dawned on Allen that he was a screwup. In a panic he called his agent, Ken Harris, from the squad car, seeking assurances that the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation wouldn't drop him as its spokesman. (It didn't.) He called Ron and his mother, Sarah, to beg forgiveness. Then he phoned the parents of a close friend from high school, Chad Parker, who had died in a drunken driving accident in 2000.
Allen played the rest of the '06 season while awaiting his court date, finishing second on the Chiefs in sacks (7 1/2). After pleading no contest in February 2007 he spent two days in county jail and then was hit with a four-game NFL suspension (reduced to two on appeal). The incident scuttled Allen's bid for a long-term contract with the Chiefs. In May '07 they tendered him a one-year, $2.35 million offer as a restricted free agent. Allen underwent league-mandated counseling and sought further help from the Chiefs. "It was good self-discovery," he says. "Alcohol was obviously a problem because I was always getting in trouble with it. So I figured, let's cut it out."
Allen swore off booze and began making wholesale changes in his diet and exercise habits. He submitted to a punishing mixed martial arts training regimen and hit the weight room with renewed vigor. Soon he'd lost 25 pounds, gained a surplus of energy and was doing fun things like mountain biking in New Zealand. Meanwhile, Parrish, whom he met in Las Vegas, helped him shorten his nights out. "We went dancing with a couple friends," Allen says, "and I thought, I really have no business being out here. I don't like [this scene]. I don't drink. I'm not looking for girls. Around 11, I turned to Jordan and said, 'Let's go home.'"
By invitation of the NFL, Allen will share his cautionary tale at a symposium for rookies next week in Carlsbad, Calif. "Jared was very enthusiastic about speaking, even rescheduling a vacation so he could attend," says Dan Masonson, an NFL spokesman. "He'll talk about the challenges [of being an NFL player] and stress the resources that are available from teams and the league to support players." Allen will try to get through to what he knows will be an indifferent crowd. "You're supposed to be there to listen, but no one really is," he says. "Unfortunately most people have to learn the hard way, like me. The biggest thing I would say to young players is, 'Grow up.'"