It was 2008 and Jacob Harris was on a tour of college campuses. He had visited Humboldt State and Chico State and they were all nice and lovely, each campus tour guide quick to point out famous alumni as well as iconic buildings and professors of high academic distinction. When Harris began his tour at SSU, he never forgot the first thing out of the man's mouth as he tried to sell Sonoma State.
"Larry Allen went to school here," the tour guide told the group.
That was the very, very first thing the tour guide said, remembered Harris, now a senior majoring in business at SSU. Harris not only was struck with the placement of Allen above all of SSU's marketable attributes, but it was the way the tour guide said it. With conviction, pride and a certainty that Allen's two years at the Rohnert Park campus (1992-1993) would be forever a lure impossible for undecided students to resist.
"Yes," Harris said Saturday night, "I am a little star struck."
Harris indeed had big eyes when Allen — named last week to Pro Football's Hall of Fame — walked into the VIP tent adjacent to the gym. It was Pack The Den, an athletic fund raiser. SSU would play Chico State and the hook to the evening was Allen, viewed as the best offensive guard in NFL history, the strongest player to ever play the game and, as John Madden once said, quite possibly the greatest offensive lineman in league history.
To Harris, Allen is more myth than man. Harris was only a year old when Allen last played for the Cossacks, now the Seawolves. The stories of Allen's ability while at SSU — he once blocked a player from Portland State so hard the player flew in the air from the hash mark and landed on the sidelines — elevate the awe factor among those seeing Allen in person for first-time.
They had to be stunned by what they saw Saturday night. Allen did not dress, act or talk like a NFL superstar. He wore all black, shirt, pants and shoes. He had a nice watch on his right wrist but he otherwise had no bling, certainly no swagger. Unlike the typical NFL super star whose apparel and attitude scream "Look At Me!", Allen went in the other direction: "Look Past Me."
"You would never know he played football," said Tim Burrell, 69, a semi-retired sales manager for a medical company and long-time Allen friend. "You have to grind it out of him. He is as shy as he is big."
Allen is 6-foot-3, 330 pounds but the all-black ensemble concealed his size. To a point. A look at his shoulders from the back revealed something like a very-wide piano bench under that shirt. It was massive, the kind of massive that overwhelms because the feeling of largeness is everywhere.
"Those shoulders would stop a truck," Burrell said. "I always worried that Larry would kill someone playing Division 2 football."
Because of his size — he had about the same dimensions on the SSU campus as he did later with the Dallas Cowboys — the first impression of Allen could set you back on your heels.