Larry Allen lifts.
Then he speaks to me.
Then he lifts again.
"No bitterness,'' grunts Allen, who is ending a legendary 12-year term in Dallas as the finest offensive lineman in team history, the nastiest man in the NFL and maybe the strongest man in the history of team sports. "But I'll admit, it didn't work out exactly like I would've wanted.''
Spurred by a recent mainstream newspaper column that suggested that the difficulty of conversing with the reclusive Larry Allen is just this side of the difficulty of conversing with Howard Hughes -- and remember, Howard Hughes has been dead for 30 years -- I decided to track down the big man.
Or "stalk,'' if you will.
Anyway, I met up with No. 73 at a North Dallas gym. (Naturally. What, you thought we might hook up at the museum?). As always, he demonstrated that he is cut from a different cloth. He demonstrated it when he first came to Dallas as a rookie and casually told the story of his painful upbringing in Compton, Calif., where as a preteen he was the victim of a vicious knife fight that caused scars that are still evident on Allen's massive shoulders. He demonstrated it when he famously threw around 700 pounds in the weight room as a young man, and at this year's Pro Bowl, when he captured the Strong Man title by bench-pressing 225 pounds a not-quite-human 43 times. ... while other NFL'ers wilted before reaching double-figures.
And he demonstrates it here. Is Larry Allen a square peg in a round hole?
No, in terms of the way he stands out, even in a gym, he's a mountainous peg in a mouse hole.
In a gym full of extreme outfits -- either raggedy T-shirts and shorts, or workout gear so expensive one almost wouldn't want to sweat in it -- LA is LA. There is a diamond earring in his left lobe. There is a pricey watch on his left wrist. There is a detailed tattoo of a rhino on his right biceps. There is no snazzy little headphone-music gizmo; presumably, the footsteps of a man who a friend says now goes 370 pounds jogging the treadmill provides rhythmic beat enough. And over his massive frame there is a Boston Celtics No. 34 Paul Pierce jersey. ... which, like the Dirk Nowitzki jersey he worked out in the day before, is, I assume, the largest authentic NBA garment ever sold.
"The good news is, I'm going home,'' says Allen of a free-agency process that had landed him a two-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Allen played at Sonoma State, in the Bay Area, and has retained his ties there. "So it's a new start, but at a (familiar) place.''
I tell Allen about the story in the paper that day, the one that has Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressing some seller's remorse. I tell him that Jones labeled Allen an "all-time great'' along the lines of a Bob Lilly, that Jones is genuinely "hurt'' to have Allen leave, and that Jones wonders if he should've convinced Allen to stay with the Cowboys at a discounted price.
"I'm not so sure I couldn't have sat down with Larry personally and said, 'Let's get in here and reduce this thing down and stay with us,''' Jones told the Dallas Morning News.
Allen is flattered by the first two comments. He clearly shares a mutual respect with Jones. But the "discounted price'' thing?
Ummm. ... no.
"We were calling the Cowboys about 30 minutes before, and then we got the offer from the 49ers,'' Allen says. "San Francisco came right in and picked up my contract. Had to do it. Couldn't say no.''
That means Allen, 34, will get a shot at an 11th Pro Bowl appearance while making somewhere around $6 or $7 million with San Francisco. Again, Larry likes Jerry, but. ...
Meanwhile, it is worth noting that Allen does not express the same warmth when the subject of coach Bill Parcells is broached. Allen is not ready to get into details; here he retracts behind the figurative "Private: Man-At-Work'' sign most of the media has seen for years. But interestingly, he promises to be a guest on my radio show this summer (Larry Allen doing radio? Hmmm.) and will maybe talk about Bill then. So I guess, for now, I can offer you this: Back in the day, when a former Cowboy wanted to lift, he had permission to show up at Valley Ranch. Heck, guys from other NFL teams who lived in the area could even work out in the "enemy camp,'' kind of a fraternal thing. Honor among thieves, you know.
Larry Allen now finds himself in a gym in Carrollton, Texas, basically because he no longer has full freedom to visit the Valley Ranch weight room he has OWNED for 12 years.
A quote from the Allen buddy: "Bill never took the time to understand Larry. And so Larry never took the time to understand Bill. But then again, who does understand Bill?''
As we've mentioned in this space before, Allen might be infamous with the public because of his unapproachable persona, but teammates have always considered him a "fun guy.'' He shows plenty of "fun guy'' in our conversation. ... but of course, he's all business when it comes to the thing he does best: Allen gets on the treadmill and rolls for exactly 30 minutes. He trudges to the ab machines and once he finally gets there, moves impressively. He walks by the Coke machine -- dwarfing it, of course -- and toward the free weights.
The free weights. This is not my domain. This is not your domain. This is Larry Allen's domain.
There is one more gesture, though, a gesture that reconfirms my belief that Allen remains, as his Cowboys career concludes, completely misunderstood.
He politely asks a pair of regular Joes -- no 700-pound lifters, they -- if they would mind spotting for him. Wheee! So an accountant and a Realtor assist Larry Allen in the weight room! And in setting this up, Larry Allen The Non-Storyteller provides a couple of Cowboys fans with something they can someday give their grandkids:
A Larry Allen story.
EXCLUSIVE: Larry Allen Speaks Out
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