After years of silent dominance, Allen’s speech sounds perfect note

Posted Sunday, Aug. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton To those of us in the media who attempted to probe the football mind of Larry Allen each week during his 14-year NFL career, the encounters were futile.

It’s not that Allen was surly or unprofessional. The problem, I was enlightened one day — by Nate Newton, of all people, as I recall — was that beneath Larry’s 325 listed pounds, he was shy.

He pulverized defensive linemen. He pancaked approaching linebackers. He bench-pressed 700 pounds.

But he was shy, reluctant to talk about himself or the path he had carved through the opposing defense that day.

At some point during Allen’s Dallas Cowboys career, therefore, I joined the group of media intruders that stopped asking him to speak after a game. Larry Allen, we decided, communicated eloquently enough just by the dominating way he played on the field.

During his induction speech Saturday night at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Allen told the story of what he said was the best advice his father ever gave him.

“He taught me never to get mad, but to get even, to control my temper,” Allen said. “I used that in the game of football. I knew that if I lost a play, I had 45 seconds to get even.”

And invariably, Larry Allen would.

Among the media peanut gallery, the pre-event over-under on Allen’s induction speech was about eight minutes. The smart money seemed to suggest to take the under.

But when his moment came Saturday, the man who was such a giant, silent pillar around the football field was visibly moved by the honor. He thanked his family and his former teammates and coaches. He told a few jokes, some of which poked fun at himself. He even warmed a heart or two by zinging the expansive ego of Deion Sanders.

Allen spoke for 16 mostly captivating minutes. Who knew that this would be the night when Larry Allen finally jumped offside?

In the course of his speech, he notably thanked his grandmother, Berkeley Dotson.

“She was a hard-working woman,” Allen said. “She taught me you have to work for what you’ve gotten. When I was 14, she sat me down and said, ‘Larry, you need to find out what you’re good at and go do it.

“I think I did that, Gran.”

The brochures and TV ads trumpet the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a place “where greatness lives.” No matter how indifferent you may be to football history, no matter how callous you may be to the old teams and the men of yore who played the game, the museum will disarm you by the way it tells its story.

The Canton Bulldogs. The Green Bay Packers. The Dallas Cowboys.

Jim Thorpe. George Halas. Tom Landry. Aikman, Irvin and Emmitt.

Truth be told, when I first visited the hall in the early 1980s, I was underwhelmed. The exhibit rooms had a cheap, 1960s look, especially the painted-glass gallery that housed the player busts.

What a disappointment. This was no Cooperstown.

A two-year, $27 million expansion and renovation project, however, has given Allen, fellow 2013 inductee Bill Parcells and the other pro football greats a home they deserve. The bronze busts of the hall’s 280 members now sit, dramatically lit, in a rotunda that seems more like a chapel.

There now are 14 former members of the Cowboys (including Landry and Tex Schramm) in the Hall of Fame. The number swells to 21 when you add those who were with the Cowboys but played or coached most of their careers elsewhere — Parcells, for one.

Having been to a few of these Canton induction ceremonies over the years, I am always pleasantly surprised by the number of players who seem genuinely humbled by the honor. Even a big guy like Larry Allen, who came from a rough-edged upbringing and grew into the toughest, strongest and, yes, silently greatest offensive lineman in the game.

As he thanked people Saturday night, it was apparent that Allen was concurrently paying homage to the Jerry Jones-era Cowboys. He ran through a litany of former line teammates that included the late Mark Tuinei. He tossed in a quick Hall of Fame endorsement for Charles Haley. He thanked his Cowboys teammates who preceded him into the Hall — Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Sanders.

And he thanked his coaches, from Barry Switzer to line coach Hudson Houck to the late Joe Avezzano.

Finally, Allen thanked the Hall of Fame people “for letting me be a part of this outstanding fraternity of men.”

It was a great speech from a guy whose pro football career personified greatness.

“Today, my mission is complete,” Larry Allen told the crowd and the TV audience. “I played hard, whistle to whistle, to make my opponents submit.

“Today, I’m submitting to you.”

The applause for him echoed — loudly — in the night.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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