By Bob Padecky
The movie has yet to be made. That it hasn’t happened is an incredulous oversight. It’s like trying to convince someone that you missed the recent Lunar Eclipse because you were playing a really hot game of checkers.
The movie’s opening scene would frame it all. Larry Allen is sitting in his momma’s house in Compton, the Los Angeles suburb filled with violence, homes with iron bars protecting windows and too many young lives on the borderline. At 10 Allen was stabbed eight times trying to stop a beating of his younger brother. Allen attended four high schools in four years in four different cities. His grades were poor. His father had little influence. Now 20, Allen is unemployed, with no prospects. For all intents and purposes his life has hit a brick wall.
The phone rings. It’s this football coach from some place called Sonoma State University.
The movie fades to black.
The next screen image is this: It’s 22 years later, Larry Allen is standing in the bright sun of Canton, Ohio. Allen is giving his induction speech into The Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is given a standing ovation, from an adoring crowd, from the other Hall of Famers. He is wearing sunglasses to hide his wet eyes.
No wonder Allen is the headliner of SSU’s June 21st fundraiser for athletics.
“Larry is Sonoma State’s most famous alumnus,” said Frank Scalercio, the SSU football coach who made that phone call, now a Special Assistant to the school’s Vice President.
In the best of times, sports offers hope, the hope for a better game, a better team, a better season. Allen trumps all of that. Sports can offer hope for a better life. Sports can be truly an agent of change. No more compelling example of that is Allen’s. He went from a life no one would want, to a life admired and coveted, filled with a wife, three kids and financial security for even his grandchildren.
That’s not a journey. That’s an epic quest, the kind that feels apocryphal. Like Larry Allen is a piece of fiction. As if what Scalercio did in 1991 didn’t really happen, it’s understandable. It does take some explaining.
“For six weeks, I was on the phone daily with Vera,” Scalercio said of Allen’s mother. Scalercio was tying to assuage mom’s fears. SSU would be a good fit. It was a place that offered what Compton couldn’t: safety, peace and a future. Scalercio has seen Allen at Butte College, a junior college in Oroville. Poor grades there sent Allen back to Compton. Tim Walsh, SSU’s Head Football Coach, told Scalercio to stop investing so much time on Allen. His grades were holding Allen back.
“Plus, Larry was just one player,” Scalercio said. “It was a lot of effort to make on just one kid, but Vera and I had developed a friendship.”
Yes, he’ll admit, Scalercio made it personal.
Scalercio prevailed, convincing both Walsh and Vera. Send Allen to the gym when he arrives, Walsh told Scalercio. The gym was Walsh’s way of gauging athleticism. Allen drove from Los Angeles, parked the car and walked into the SSU gym. He has white pants, white shirt and white shoes, street shoes by the way. He looked like a vanilla popsicle.
“What can you do with the basketball?” Walsh asked Allen. Walsh snickered. Other SSU football players snickered. Allen was 6-foot-3, 320 pounds. Humans that size tend to have the agility of a wooly mammoth. This was going to be fun, to see this oaf move. Hope he doesn’t hit his head on the stanchion.
Allen took two steps and dunked the basketball with a force so dramatic it felt like air was being sucked out of the gym. The gym went quiet. It was a sign of awe and respect and wonder.
“I felt a sense of relief,” Scalercio said. “No one believed what I said about this kid.”
Walsh told Allen, yep, he had a place on the team. No worries, big guy. Glad to have you.
Allen’s first season was 1992. SSU was playing Portland State. Dave Cox, now owner and operator of YSN365, was a cable producer then for Post-Newsweek. He was taping the game for TV.
“Larry is pulling down the line of scrimmage,” Cox said, “and this defensive back rounds the corner to hit Larry. Larry hits him so hard, the kid flies backward through the air. I have it on tape.”
Cox sent that clip and a few others a year later to ESPN. Even though he played at tiny Sonoma State, Allen was getting a lot of attention as a possible high draft choice. But ESPN, as well as other media outlets, had no video of Allen. ESPN saw the tape and that’s when the buzz started. Oh my, who is this guy that can do things seen in the SEC or the Pac-10 but is at a small Division II school? Maybe he was just lucky.
Watch Larry Allen (#73) Blocking at SSU vs Portland State in 1992
On 1994 Draft Day, of course, the Dallas Cowboys took a lot of heat for drafting this unknown kid from unknown Sonoma State in the second round. Nine offensive linemen were drafted ahead of Allen.
“I had to win every play,” Allen told me when he was elected to the Hall of Fame the day before the 49ers played Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII. “I wanted them (opponent) to tap out (surrender).”
Allen came to that philosophy quite simply. When he was a kid growing up in Compton, Allen would get beaten up coming home from school. Vera would look at her son and tell him to get tougher. The third time he returned home Allen said he wasn’t beaten on any more.
“Vera kept sending Larry back out there,” Scalercio said. “She wasn’t interested in excuses. She wanted results.”
Results-oriented Allen became. The results were stunningly dramatic, otherworldly, and incomprehensible.
“I saw Larry grab Shaun Rogers by the throat, lift him and throw him to the side,” said Brad Poppinga, a Green Bay linebacker in a YouTube video.
Rogers is a 6-foot-4, 350-pound defensive tackle for the New York Giants.
Both literally and figuratively Allen fought his way out of the inner city.
“At the time we had the program,” Scalercio said, “we recruited a lot from the inner city in L.A. Some kids made it. Some didn’t. There could be a lot of distractions, temptations. Vera wanted Larry out of there. Remember: Larry took advantage of the opportunity. He put the work in, with us and then the Cowboys. Larry has earned everything he’s got. Everything.”
YouTube has become a Larry Allen repository. Type: Larry Allen Darion Conner and you’ll see 340-pound Allen chasing down and catching the Saints linebacker FROM BEHIND. It took 60 yards but Allen did it. Type: Larry Allen Greg Lloyd and you’ll see Allen leading a sweep by blasting the best run defending linebacker at the time in the NFL. Type: Larry Allen Brady Poppinga and you’ll hear Poppinga talk about Allen “roaring like a bear” and “looking like a burly bear who wants to eat us.”
Ask Scalercio about what Allen did to Scotty Regan, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end from Humboldt State. Allen hit Regan so hard that Regan lost consciousness before he hit the ground. When Regan hit the ground he tore the ACL in a knee and missed the rest of the season.
“When I tell people my Larry stories,” Scalercio said, “it’s not that they don’t believe them. They do. They just can’t imagine them.”
A 340-pound human does not do a 4.8 40-yard dash. A human does not bench-press 705 pounds, but there’s a YouTube video showing Allen benching that weight in the Cowboys’ locker room. One teammate whooped and dove across Allen when he benched the weight.
No one treats a fellow Hall of Famer like a rag doll, but that’s what Allen did to Warren Sapp. A video clip has Allen steaming through Sapp like he was tissue paper. Sapp even joked at the New Orleans Hall of Fame announcement that it was a wonder he got elected after people saw the clip.
“You have to remember Larry is playing against exceptionally strong, fast, agile athletes,” Scalercio said. “And he was running through them.”
That Scalercio had a large hand in Allen’s fortunes is not to be undervalued, but Scalercio will take the compliment only so far.
“Larry did the work,” Scalercio said.
When Allen arrived at SSU, Scalercio had Allen write down his Wish List. What did Allen want for himself? Of course there was the NFL,but there was something else.
“Larry wanted to be a father and have a good family,” Scalercio said.
Allen, 42, wanted to give his kids a stable life that he never had. Now a resident of the tiny East Bay community of Blackhawk, Allen is a doting father. His son, Larry III, is a 6-foot-5 320-pound major college prospect at De La Salle High School in Concord.
Allen has the American Dream. He can claim with pride he earned it. His name is on the Cowboy Ring of Honor. He is a member of the SSU Athletic Hall of Fame, the Division II Hall of Fame. He has those 11 Pro Bowl awards, those seven consecutive All-Pro honors, and a member of the All-Decade Teams from both the 1990s and the 2000s. He has that Super Bowl XXX championship ring, one that he never removed from his hand.
But what Larry Allen doesn’t have is a movie about himself. It may take awhile. May take forever. Allen is not a politician. He is not given to speeches, oratories and self-proclamations. If you met him for the first time you would have to ask him if he played football. He would say yes. Then you’d have to ask where.
Larry would probably say, “Oh, around.”
Then again, one wouldn’t have to go through this question-and-answer session if it was happening in Texas.
“They treat me like a celebrity there,” Scalercio said. “ ‘Are you the guy who coached Larry in college?’ is what they’ll ask. If I say I am, I never have to buy another drink or any food. The beers and the food keep piling up in front of me. I have to tell them to stop. I can’t drink that much or eat that much, but they love their Cowboys down there. And they love Larry.”
They love Larry so much Cowboy fans couldn’t care less if a movie was ever made about his life. Why? The answer is simple. In Texas, Larry Allen is more popular than any ol’ middlin’ movie star.
Bob Padecky feature writer for ysn365.com.
Great rags to riches story with local Sonoma County flavor.
When I was coaching Wrestling at Butte College, we would watch him play. What an amazing talent. I'm surprised the article has very little mention of his career there.Congratulations Larry Allen.
What a great article! Thanks for sharing it with us Bob! (And YSN365)
Probably at the top of your work, Bob. Well deserved, and well done.
Congrats to Larry the Great! Good job Coach Frank…
One of the nicest people you will ever meet!!! Janelle his wife is wonderful and they have 3 super kids!!! We miss them terriblely in Dallas