Remembering Pokey

With Pokey Allen, the Bronco football team was reborn. The legendary former Portland State coach took Boise State to the Division I-AA national championship game for the first time in 14 years. Along the way, he became a folk hero.

Ernest Duncan "Pokey" Allen, Jr. (1943 – 1996) compiled a 25-24 record in four seasons as the 10th head coach in Boise State history.  His tenure included the 1994 "Magic Carpet Ride" season, going 13-2 and reaching the Division I-AA National Championship game.  That season also snapped the Vandal streak, as Boise State beat the Vandals 27-24.  The Bronco faithful – led by Offensive Coordinator Al Borges – stormed The Blue and hung from the north end zone crossbar.  

"Little Pokey" grew up as a multi-sport high school star in Missoula .  His nickname was handed down from his father, a large but lumbering offensive lineman, who was the original "Pokey".  He threw a couple of no-hitters in baseball, won two state basketball championships, and started at quarterback in the East-West Shrine game of Montana All-Stars.  His achievements came amongst what was surely a golden age of Montana high school athletics, including:

·         Dave McNally, who accumulated 184 wins with a 3.24 ERA in 14 Major League seasons mostly with Baltimore

·         Wayne Estes, the 1965 Coaches and Athletes Magazine National College Basketball Player of the Year while at Utah State

·         Larry Questad, who finished sixth in the 1968 200-meter dash, behind Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who would shortly thereafter raise their gloved fists on the podium


Pokey went on play quarterback and defensive back at Utah , but not before almost defecting to Utah State .  Concerned he might not get any playing time behind a sophomore starter, Allen embarked on a Steve Martin-like trip including planes and buses from Salt Lake to Logan, Utah – but not before passing through Burley, Idaho.  Fortunately for the Utes, he would ultimately enroll.  He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1964 Liberty Bowl, where his two-way play resulted in an 11-yard touchdown run and third quarter interception, as Utah blew out West Virginia 32-6.  Allen's playing career concluded following stints in the Canadian Football League with the British Columbia Lions and Edmonton Eskimos.  

His coaching career began at Simon Fraser University before becoming the Defensive Coordinator at the University of Montana .  After a stop at Eastern Washington , Joe Kapp hired Pokey as the defensive backfield coach at California , where he met Al Borges and was on the sidelines as "The Play" unfolded in their dramatic victory over Stanford.  Pokey also spent time with the Los Angeles Express and the Portland Breakers in the United States Football League.  

Pokey moved on to the Portland State Vikings following the demise of the Breakers and the USFL.  His seven seasons resulted in two Division II National Championship appearances and 63 wins, including a 51-26 win over Boise State on the The Blue in 1992.  When Skip Hall vacated the head coaching job at the end of the season, Pokey would be hired, bringing his wacky advertising campaign and Al Borges to Boise .   

Bronco fans will always remember Pokey for the 1994 season when BSU started 6-0 en route to a Big Sky Conference title.  Along the way they sacked Dave Dickenson 13 times to beat #1-ranked Montana 38-14.  In the regular season finale Tony Hilde hit Ryan Ikebe for three touchdowns and Boise State made good on Joe O'Brien's victory guarantee with a 27-24 victory over Idaho , the first win after 12 long years.  Boise State entered the playoffs #3 in the country, and defeated North Texas 24-20 in Boise .  The defense snuffed Appalachian State 17-14 in the second round, setting up a semi-final matchup with Marshall .  

 The Thundering Herd twice opened 17-point second quarter leads, but Tony Hilde re-entered in the third quarter after injuring his shoulder and ultimately hit Lee Schrack midway through the fourth quarter and the defense batted away a desperation ball to seal a 28-24 win.  All three of the playoff wins came in Boise and all three were come-from behind victories over the #1, #2 and #3 teams in Division I-AA.  The season would end with a 28-14 loss to Youngstown State , coached by current Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.  

Shortly after that season, Pokey's fight with a rare tissue cancer – rhabdomyosarcoma – would begin.  He would endure stem-cell transplant surgery and still return to the sideline the following year.  Pokey was still the official head coach, although Tom Mason was acting on an interim basis, when the Broncos entered Division I and the Big West Conference in 1996.  He and the magic would return one more time when Pokey returned to lead the 1-9 Broncos to a 33-32 win at New Mexico State .  Andre Horace took a handoff from Ryan Ikebe on a bobbled kickoff with 27 seconds to go and raced to the Aggie 22.  Hilde then found Dave Stromswold and Pokey got a D1 win from the sidelines.  Pokey died a few weeks later, December 30th, 1996.  

Special thanks to Bob Evancho for his collaboration with Pokey in their book, The Good Fight, from which much of this was borrowed.    

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