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The Thrill Of It All
JOE POSNANSKI
January 11, 2010
What rocks pass rusher Jared Allen's world? Old school football—especially the kind that's played in January
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January 11, 2010

The Thrill Of It All

What rocks pass rusher Jared Allen's world? Old school football—especially the kind that's played in January

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"What are you going to do about it?" his grandfather Ray had asked him just a few days before. O.K., seriously, you want to talk about a badass? Ray Allen, yes, he defines the word. He was a Marine for 26 years—they called him Scarface. Jared has said he's the sort of guy you thank for not killing you with one hand. And as Jared sat in that car, his grandfather's disappointed voice echoing in his head, the blackness of the moment searing through him, he asked himself that hard question: Am I a bad person?

He didn't think so. Yes, he did bad things. He liked to get in fights. He liked the sensation of hitting people—that's why he played football in the first place. He had a knack for getting in trouble. At Live Oak High in Morgan, Calif., Allen was one of the hottest defensive end prospects on the West Coast. Colorado wanted him, Michigan State, Washington, even Stanford called to ask him to take the SAT again. He told Stanford no—hell, he didn't want to take the SAT the first time—but the point was that he was in demand. Then he got thrown out of Live Oak as a junior for a prank that involved stolen yearbooks. To hear Allen tell it years later, he was not responsible. Either way, he got tossed, and the college offers went away. "You realize," he remembers telling the Live Oak principal, "you are f------ up my life."

Allen finished school at Los Gatos (Calif.) High and ended up going to Idaho State, a place he could not have hated more. It was small-time, and Allen knew he was big-time. He remembers getting into fights just about every weekend. He picked up a DUI there. He was arrested for battery and twice charged with resisting arrest. He was thrown out of a game after punching an opponent in the face. He was also one hell of a football player—he won the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the best defensive player in Division I-AA.

A bad guy? Well, wait. Jared liked kids, and he liked helping people. A spokesman for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, he made a point of personally getting to know the children he worked with. He was intensely loyal to friends and loved making people laugh. The drinking, the carousing, the fighting—he just figured that was all part of being a badass football player. He was unblockable and unafraid. "You're young, single," he would say. "What do you do?"

You party—"with two r's," as Allen says. In 2004 the Chiefs took him in the fourth round, ridiculously late for a 6'6", 265-pound pass rusher with 4.7 speed. But nobody really knew what to make of Allen. After picking him, Kansas City talked about how it might use him as a long snapper. "We'll find out if he can do that at this level," general manager Carl Peterson said. Instead Allen started 10 games at defensive end in his rookie year and led the Chiefs with nine sacks. The next year he led them with 11 sacks. Two years later he led the league with 15½. He was an NFL star.

But there was more to that than he thought, more to the life than he imagined when he was eight. As he sat in the car and rode through the blackness to jail—well, no, it was not the first time he had thought about his life. And it was not the last time. But it felt more urgent in that moment.

Am I a bad person? he remembers thinking. Am I happy?

And it bothered him that no answer came to mind.

Beating a double team is badass. One way you can do it, Allen says, is to flash between the two blockers while they stare at each other with that Three Stooges I-thought-you-had-him look. Another way is to spin off one blocker and duck underneath the other in sort of a mixed-martial-arts move. His favorite, though, is to make the blockers collide and fall by one means or another, leaving him a freeway to the quarterback. That's badass. He can do it by knocking their heads together, like he's in a Steven Seagal movie; by shoving one blocker into another; or by creating confusion and mayhem, in which case the blockers knock each other out of the way. "One thing about the double team is that there has to be communication," he says. "And when there's communication, there's miscommunication."

Of course, it's hard to make any of that happen. Most of the time double teams keep him away from the quarterback. Sometimes they bring a running back over to chip him. Sometimes a tight end stays in to work with the left tackle. Sometimes Allen has to wrestle a tackle and a guard. He understands that this goes with being a dominant defensive end. But it still ticks him off. "You've seen that movie The Blind Side," he says. "They pay these left tackles all this money? And they can't block me one-on-one?" To Allen, beating a double team isn't just badass. It's justice.

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