The honors are stacking up for Larry Allen, like so many logs on the fire, the heat of which makes Allen glow almost as bright in retirement as he did as a player. Tonight in Florence, Ala., Allen will be inducted into his fourth Hall of Fame, the NCAA's Division II, for his play as a Sonoma State offensive lineman in 1993-94. Appreciative certainly he is, and one might think Allen would get choked up over it.
Allen would, if he had stopped feeling like a player who went to 11 Pro Bowls, 10 of them with the Dallas Cowboys. While his body is retired from the NFL, that pesky left shoulder forcing him out, the retirement message has yet to reach his mind and his heart.
Last Sunday, Allen flew to Dallas for the Cowboys-New York Giants game. Allen, who lives in Danville with his wife and three kids, was making his sixth trip this year to a Cowboys game. In a fight with the Giants for the lead in the NFC East, the Cowboys were facing a must-win game. And winning it they were, until New York quarterback Eli Manning led the Giants to two touchdowns within 2:28 in the fourth quarter, the last one with 46 seconds left in the game. The Giants won, 37-34, and Allen went to make his usual trip to the Cowboys postgame locker room.
"But I couldn't walk into the locker room," Allen said, "because of all the emotion I was feeling."
Allen still hasn't been able to let it go. This is his fourth season since he played and yet the game still pulls at him. Allen played for 14 years in the NFL and it very well might take another 14 years for him to comfortably separate himself from the sport. For what he experienced in the NFL, Allen can't get it anywhere else.
"The contact, that's what I loved about the game," Allen said. "Even now I need to get it out of my system."
That's why he goes to a gym, Allen said, and works out furiously, exhausting himself. It is a sight to behold; Allen stands 6-foot-3, weighs 315, 25 pounds less than his playing weight. He's a bear of a man and, only 40, still looks like he could play in the league, if it wasn't for that muscle tear in his left shoulder. Allen could have had it operated on but he was getting tired of being a surgeon's delight. He's had seven surgeries: on his left knee, left ankle, left shoulder, two on his right elbow, two on his right knee.
"I just couldn't punch like I used to," said Allen, referring to an arm thrust into the chest of a defensive lineman.
Contact, violence, physical domination, that's all part of football, no matter what the level of play. At SSU, Allen knew he had to display those characteristics in a bold way. As a small Division II school, SSU typically did not have a lot of NFL scouts trolling the campus.