NEW ORLEANS — It was Christmas Break, 1991, and Larry Allen had quit football. An entire year had passed since he had last played. His grades at Butte College were so poor, he didn't get his Associate of Arts degree. He was back home in South Central Los Angeles, in Compton, living with his mom, Vera. He was 19 years old. What kind of job did he want?
"I had no idea," Allen said Saturday after he was elected on the first ballot to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This happens to a lot of kids in South Central. They wander aimlessly between nowhere and anonymous. Except that Allen didn't know someone was trying to find him.
"I remembered the year before I had scouted Butte playing at SRJC," Frank Scalercio said by telephone Saturday night. Scalercio in 1991 was SSU's football coach and is now an administrative official at the school. "There was this kid in the game throwing people around all over the place. He was picking them up and throwing them to the ground. I walked away from the game and everybody told me, 'Forget about it. You're not going to get this kid. A big D1 school will get him.'"
Scalercio shrugged. They're right. A year passed and this kid wasn't playing D1 football. Scalercio couldn't find Allen in anyone's program, couldn't even find where he was living. But Scalercio knew Allen liked to play basketball and so during Christmas Break in 1991, Scalercio asked one of his football players — who lived in L.A. and was going back to visit — to find him. Check out the basketball courts. The player, whose name Scalercio can't recall, found Allen. He handed Allen a note. Call my coach, he said. He wants you to come up to Northern California and play college football. Allen was stunned. Wasn't like the phone was ringing off the hook.
It took four months, including intense summer academic study, to get Allen to SSU in time for training camp in the fall of 1992.
"You want my baby?" Vera asked Scalercio.
"Yes ma'am I do," he said.
"Well, you can have him," Vera said. "I trust you."
From nowhere, Larry Allen came and ended up somewhere.
"Yep, Frank Scalercio called," he said, "and the rest is history."
When Allen phrased it like that, I asked Scalercio later, he made it sound like that phone call changed his life.
"I think so," Scalercio said. "That's a true statement."
What would have happened to Allen if he never had received that call? Where would he have gone? There are endless stories about great athletes who slipped through the cracks because of grades, attitude, environment or substance abuse. They drop off the map, never to be seen again. A phone call to Allen got in the way of that and lead to this ...
"I'm surprised they let Warren Sapp into the Hall of Fame after they showed everyone that tape," yelled former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Babe Laufenberg to Allen. As Allen's name was announced as a 2013 Hall of Fame inductee, several clips on NFL Network showed Allen in his Cowboys uniform delivering punishing blocks, a few on Tampa Bay's Sapp. Sapp also was elected to Canton on Saturday.