When the Minnesota Vikings let Jared Allen leave via free agency after the 2013 season, there was no telling where his career would end. He had been a beloved player for years and appreciated by coaches, teammates and fans alike. Whether his career had any gas left in the tank was a question mark.
Less than two years later, Allen is 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl ring that has eluded him his entire career. Despite playing through a broken bone in his foot, Allen is having the best year of his life as far as team success.
Starting the season with Chicago and sold when the Bears went on a defensive fire sale, Allen’s 2015 season looked like it might be his last on an awful team in a defense in which he didn’t fit.
Now he’s playing for a title.
Allen said there is a ton of chemistry on the Panthers and that he was welcomed with open arms. He was an outsider but made to feel like family. Asked at a Super Bowl media session what he felt separated the Panthers locker room from others he had been in, it was all about the love.
“The analogy that I always use is like every typical football cliché that a coach wants you to buy into, people actually have,” Allen said. “It’s guys who genuinely like each other and the next man up mentality isn’t something that coach just talks about, it’s something that the players believe in and encourage. There is just a brotherhood with no drama. On my 2009 team, which is the team I would most compare this one to when I was with the Vikings, we had a very close locker room there too, but there were still some brotherly spats here and there. On this team, we just have a ‘no BS’ policy and Coach (Ron) Rivera does a great job laying out the plan. The vets do a good job leading and the young guys do a good job at listening and being a part of it. So, really I have never been in a locker room like this. I have been in ones close to it, but this one takes it to a whole different level.”
Allen has finally achieved the goal of making the Super Bowl with a good chance of winning it. He has set the goal from Day 1 of his career to win one because accepting failure or a team in building mode doesn’t compute with him.
“You always want to get to the Super Bowl. I’ve never been on a team where we start the year and say, ‘Let’s go 8-8,’” Allen said. “The goal is to win the Super Bowl. Whether the team believes it or not, that’s always the coach’s message and goal. If I would have to reflect back over 12 years, obviously I didn’t get drafted and immediately think I want to win a Super Bowl right away. You have individual goals – you want to make the team, you want to start and you want to do these things. I think that’s why being on this team has been so humbling because sometimes you get so caught up in those individual milestones, making the team better along the way, but sometimes the overall team success gets lost. The most humbling thing of this year is that it is genuinely about winning and losing. It almost brings you back to your childhood days where nobody cared about your stats. It was all about did you win, or did you lose. That’s what this team is about; did you win or did you lose?”
Allen’s assimilation to the team has been seamless and much of the welcome mat in Carolina that was rolled out for him was from the easygoing locker room, led by quarterback Cam Newton.
Like it or not, what you see is what you get. The touchdown celebrations, the happy kids holding footballs and the group photos are all legit. The people inside the jerseys with numbers on them are more important.
Who leads Jared’s new, really successful team?
“It really is everybody,” Allen said. “Probably the biggest character is Cam. That guy is hilarious with most of the spotlight on him. There are a bunch of guys with their own personalities and everyone has their quirks about them, but it all works together. No one is trying too hard, no one is trying to be funny or trying to be in the spotlight. Guys are just being themselves and that’s generally how it is.”
So, is this a last rodeo for the calf roper in Allen?
Peyton Manning may have stolen Allen’s thunder by co-opting his sack dance and effectively trademarking the phrase “last rodeo.”
The rumor mill has it Manning wants to go out with the consummate stamp on his career.
So does Allen.
Will the defensive end come back next year? You get the feeling that, if the Panthers win, he can walk away on his own terms. But he’s not yet willing to hedge his bet.
“I really don’t know,” Allen said. “Those are conversations I’m going to have with my wife, my kids and the family. That will be what it is when it is. I am honestly just present, I am focused on the moment and I want to go out and have the best game I can possibly have, best game of my career, on the best stage and help our team win a football game.”