Jared Allen stories are hard to find. Well, that’s not entirely true. Stories about Jared Allen are easy to find. The man lives a big life. One of the greatest pass rushers in recent NFL history, once ran with the bulls in Spain, wore unapologetically terrible haircuts and facial hair combinations. Yes, he was vulnerable to temptation.
So, yes, stories about a man like that are easy to find. Stories that are appropriate for a family audience about a man like that, well, those are not as easy to find.
“Frankly, there are some I can’t tell,” says former general manager Carl Peterson, the man responsible for drafting Allen to the Chiefs 12 years ago. “He was a true cowboy from Idaho.”
You probably heard that Allen, who played for the Chiefs during the first four seasons of a career that might someday put him in the Hall of Fame, announced his retirement on Thursday. He did it in a completely Jared Allen way, with a 20-second video shared on social media in which he rides off on a horse (but without a sunset). Like Peterson says, a true cowboy.
There’s one story we can tell here, though. It hints at Allen’s love of pushing limits and need to laugh and unquenchable desire to live the kind of life and play the kind of career that leaves people talking.
Allen had a weekly radio show on 810 AM when he played for the Chiefs, and true to character, his was entirely unpredictable on it. Steven St. John, who hosted the show, would often have stacks of papers with breakdowns and statistics and quotes from teammates and throw it all away when Allen would say — often 20, 30 seconds before going on air — that he’d rather talk about hunting than football that night.
Well, one week, Allen decided he wanted to see what fans would do to win a pair of tickets to the next game. That’s it. The whole show. Stupid human tricks, basically. They did the show at a sports bar, so Allen wanted someone to cut an onion in half, rub it on their face, and then, because why not, pour Tabasco sauce in their eyes.
As it happened, there was a woman at the show who was up for the challenge. Her screams of pain were exactly as loud and terrifying as you’d expect, and Allen doubled over in laughter, unable to speak until they broke for commercial and some people start dousing the woman’s swollen eyes with water.
“Part of me is laughing, too,” St. John said. “And part of me is thinking, ‘Boy, it’s been fun doing radio, but you’re about to be fired.’”
This is only half the story.
The loudest guy in the Chiefs’ locker room was only there because of one of the quietest guys in the front office.
Allen was a hard guy to scout out of college. Already, he was on the extremes. There was no question about his physical talent. He won the Buck Buchanan Award as best lineman in small-college football, but there was some skepticism about the competition he faced at Idaho State. He skipped the Senior Bowl, which is often used by guys from small schools to prove themselves.
That Allen played at Idaho State was, on its own, a red flag. Bigger schools wanted him, schools like Colorado and Michigan State and Washington and even Stanford, which always made him giggle. But they’d stopped calling after he transferred high schools for a prank involving stolen yearbooks.
He was arrested for DUI in college, and got in some fights, but he did play well enough for the NFL to notice. Initially, the Chiefs had a sixth-round grade on him, at least in part because their area scout didn’t make a push.
But Lynn Stiles saw something different. He was the vice president for player personnel and knew that Allen was a terrific athlete — a very good high school basketball player — which combined with good instincts and relentlessness reminded him of Charles Haley.
When Peterson thinks back to that 2004 draft, he remembers Stiles standing on the table making his case for Allen. Stiles says the reality is less dramatic.
“I’m not a screamer,” he says now. “But I can get my point across. You could say that was something of a solo shot.”
The Chiefs did not know what they had, of course, or else they would have selected Allen much sooner. They initially saw him as a backup defensive end and special teams player. Peterson, somewhat famously, said, “We’ll find out if he can (long snap) at this level.”
But nobody else knew, either. That was the draft where Eli Manning went No. 1 overall, a pretty good class featuring several players who will have cases for the Hall of Fame — Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Wilfork, Larry Fitzgerald. But none made first-team All-Pro as many times as Allen, and only Fitzgerald has made more Pro Bowls.
The Chiefs began to see the talent early, even in that first training camp. Allen was on a level with (and sometimes beating) left tackle Willie Roaf, who himself would be named first-team All-Pro that year, and would eventually be inducted to the Hall of Fame. Allen long-snapped one game for the Chiefs that year, but after that he played defensive end. He led them with nine sacks. Then, the next year, he had 11 more sacks, this time with six forced fumbles.
The Chiefs hadn’t had anyone capable of producing those numbers since Derrick Thomas.
The rest of Allen’s time in Kansas City was a blur, sometimes literally. He got two DUIs in a span of five months of 2006. Peterson did not offer him a contract extension, which Allen resented. It’s hard to say which happened first, but eventually both sides lost trust in the other. Allen served a two-game suspension at the start of the 2007 season for those arrests, and still led the league with 15 1/2 sacks.
He opened a bar on Southwest Boulevard — motto: “Wine ’Em, Dine ’Em, 69 ’Em” — even after he knew he’d probably played his last game in Kansas City wearing the Chiefs’ No. 69. Some who played with him said he became a selfish player, his priorities perhaps changed by the contract impasse.
“I don’t know what he’d tell you,” Peterson says. “But I’m glad he began his career with the Chiefs.”
Yes, the end was ugly. Each side grumbled at the other. The parting was sad, if inevitable. Allen went to Minnesota, where he collected 85 1/2 sacks in six years, including a league-high 22 in 2011 — just a half-sack short of Michael Strahan’s all-time record.
The Chiefs got draft picks back, including one they used on Jamaal Charles (and another that ended up in a trade that brought back the pick for left tackle Branden Albert). So, in that way, the Allen trade remains part of the Chiefs today.
Along with the stories.
Now, to finish the story of the woman’s eye and the Tabasco sauce.
A week later, the woman and a friend went back to Allen’s radio show, only this time she was furious. Her eye was still swollen, which made it worse, but she approached the stage screaming, and Allen had a look of horror on his face.
Allen hadn’t put her name on the ticket list — her reward for going through with his dare.
“Oh my God,” he said. “I forgot. I’m so sorry.”
This woman had gone to the stadium, done everything she was supposed to do, and was turned away because her act of smearing a sliced onion and Tabasco sauce in her eyes had slipped Allen’s mind.
An honest mistake, but, yeah, a bad one. Allen was wrong, and he knew it. So he pulled a wad of money from his pocket and pushed it into her hands. She took the cash, nodded, and walked away. Crisis avoided.
When St. John tells this story, he says it tells everything about Allen: He wanted to have fun, didn’t think of the consequences, had the best intentions, then totally forgot about it the next day, then felt sincerely terrible about it and did the only thing he could think of to make it right.
“I’m glad I brought my wallet,” Allen said as she walked away.