June 21, 2024

Larry Allen was an enormous man with unsurpassed talent and a ferocious demeanor on the football field. In 14 NFL seasons — 12 with the Dallas Cowboys, two with the San Francisco 49ers — he was a six-time All-Pro and 11-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman.

“I hear people say Larry was the best offensive lineman in the game, and that’s just not right,” Cowboys teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Michael Irvin once said. “Larry was the best player in the league, and it wasn’t even close.”

Yet Allen, who died suddenly Sunday at age 52 while on vacation with his family in Mexico, had fears rooted in his upbringing in Compton. At age 9, he was stabbed 12 times in the head and shoulder while defending his younger brother, Von, from an older boy whose mother had given him a knife.

After enduring painful stitching of the wounds, Allen became so frightened of needles that he even refused Novocain before his dentist filled a cavity. As for the kid with the knife, though, Allen found him three months after the stabbing.

“My mother said, ‘I’m not raising any punks, so she made me fight this guy,’ ” Allen said during his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2013. “She said, ‘You will fight him until you win.’ First day I lost. Second day I lost. The third day I finally won. That was one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my life, never to back down from anybody.”

Allen’s mother, Vera, was his guiding force.

“We would hear the gunfire outside our house, we would automatically roll out of the bed, lay on the floor until the shooting stopped, then get back in bed and go to sleep,” she told The Times in 1994. “After a while, we got pretty good at that.”

She moved with her two sons to Northern California a few years later. Allen attended four high schools and didn’t play football until his junior year, when the family returned to Southern California and he enrolled at Compton Centennial.

A year later Allen again bolted because of gang activity and drug dealing near his family’s home, playing his senior year at Vintage High in Napa while staying with the family of a friend, Steve Hagland. Allen didn’t graduate and drifted to tiny Butte Junior College in Chico, where he dominated on the field but didn’t earn the grades to transfer to a Division I program.

He moved back to his mom’s house in Compton, played pickup basketball and worked odd jobs. Football became an afterthought until Frank Scalercio, an assistant coach at Division II Sonoma State, tracked him down and hauled him back to Northern California.

While trying to convince Sonoma head coach Tim Walsh that Allen was worth recruiting, Scalercio repeated a rumor he’d heard that the lineman could dunk a basketball. Walsh rolled his eyes when Allen — all 325 pounds of him — arrived on campus.

“I was bragging about this kid for months, and would always include the fact he could dunk,” Scalercio told Star magazine. “So here we were, the basketball team is in the gym, a few football players, just all watching him. And he throws down this two-handed slam like none of us had ever seen. The ball was just bouncing on the floor for like 10 seconds and no one said a word. I have never heard silence like that in my life.”

Two years later, Allen wasn’t quiet when he got a call from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on NFL draft day.

Jones: “Son, would you like to be a Cowboy?”

Allen: “Yes, sir!”

The kid from Compton who’d bounced around four high schools, a junior college and a Division II program was a second-round pick of the reigning Super Bowl champions.

“I ran out of my apartment and jumped into the swimming pool with all my clothes on,” Allen said.

Soon thereafter, he bought Vera a house in Sacramento.

“Everything she gave and did for my brother and me, that was the one gift I was able to give to her,” Allen said. “She did everything for my brother and me. My life could’ve ended up much differently.”

Yet sadly, his life ended prematurely. Allen left his wife, Janelle, daughters Jayla and Loriana and son Larry III.

“Larry, known for his great athleticism and incredible strength, was one of the most respected, accomplished offensive linemen to ever play in the NFL,” the Cowboys said in a statement. “His versatility and dependability were also signature parts of his career. Through that, he continued to serve as inspiration for many other players, defining what it meant to be a great teammate, competitor and winner.

“The Jones family and the Cowboys extend their deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the Allen family and grieve along with the many other friends and Cowboys teammates that also loved Larry.”

Allen’s exploits on the field are legendary. He excelled at guard and at tackle, ran a 4.8-second 40-yard dash and was astonishing in the weight room — even though he famously didn’t enjoy lifting.

Social media sites Monday were filled with tributes to Allen that included his most memorable feats, such as the time he bench-pressed 700 pounds — 300 pounds more than any teammate — and withstood Rocket Ismail falling on Allen’s chest in jubilation.

And the time he bench-pressed 225 pounds 43 times.

And the time he chased down New Orleans Saints linebacker Darion Conner 50 yards downfield following an interception.

Allen apparently also was responsible for opponents contracting a unique malady.

“Players will watch him on film during the week and then pull up with some mysterious injury or flu or something,” New York Giants All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan said. “We call that catching ‘Allen-itis.’ ”

Allen, who was called for holding only 13 times in 14 seasons, helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XXX after the 1995 season in a 27-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Six years after he retired in 2007, he rattled off the names of many teammates, coaches and family members during his Hall of Fame induction speech in Canton, Ohio.

“My goal was simple, to earn a seven-letter word called respect,” he said. “The respect of my teammates, opponents and the NFL. Today, my mission is complete. I also played hard, whistle to whistle, to make my opponents submit. And today, I’m submitting to you. I just can’t wait to see my buddies.

“I’ve been blessed to play the game I love. And remember this, it has never been about me, Larry Allen, but the many, many people that helped me out.”


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