NEW ORLEANS -- In football, just like life, it's the dash that counts.
That little hyphen between the beginning and the end.
What did you do with your dash?
That's how people are judged and that's how players are judged when it comes to their worthiness for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This year's group of 15 modern-era finalists has many worthy candidates because of what they did with their dash and one sure-fire no-brainer in former Dallas Cowboys guard Larry Allen, an 11-time Pro Bowler who was voted All-Pro seven times in 14 seasons (10 in Dallas, two in San Francisco).
His dash has two bookend moments. The first came his rookie year in 1994 in a game against the New Orleans Saints when quarterback Troy Aikman threw a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Darion Conner, who had no one between him and the goal line. That was before the 325-pound Allen chased Conner down from behind.
The last moment came most fittingly this week by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, a six-time Pro Bowler, who was humbled as a rookie in 2007 when Allen played with the 49ers in his last year in the league.
It was a training camp practice and Willis, brimming with confidence and cockiness, figured he would just knife by Allen to make a tackle. He ended with a moment right out of the movie The Blind Side when Allen blocked him across the field.
"I saw Larry Allen and I was like, 'I'm going to put a move on him and go get the ball carrier. That's what I did in college,'" Willis said. "I'll never forget: He pushed me and I swear, I was like I started on one side of the field and ended up on the other side of the field."
"The worst part was hearing my coach say, '52, Mississippi, what are you doing?'" Willis recalled. "I was like, 'You see how big this dude is?'"
Big, dominant, explosive, strong, athletic, overwhelming and jaw-dropping.
That's what Allen's dash was about.
And that's why he is a no-brainer pick for the Hall of Fame.
The numbers say so.
He started at four offensive line positions while becoming just the third player in history to earn Pro Bowl berths at multiple offensive line positions when Allen made it as a tackle in 1998.
He even created the new position of nickel tackle one season when he started at guard and moved outside on passing downs.
According to Stats Inc., Allen gave up only 3.2 sacks per season, the best ratio in history. He was selected to the All-Decade team of the 1990s and 2000s. Of the 14 players in NFL history to be selected to two All-Decade teams, 12 are in the Hall of Fame. Allen and 2013 fellow nominee Warren Sapp are the others.
Allen might also be the strongest man in NFL history with a 700-pound bench press and a 900-pound squat.
At least so says John Madden, Hall of Fame coach, legendary announcer and pre-eminent authority on the big uglies. He calls Allen and Hall of Famer John Hannah the two best guards to ever play the game.
"He's definitely a Hall of Famer," Madden said. "There's no doubt. There are some that are definite Hall of Famers. Some that are maybe Hall of Famers. And some that aren't Hall of Famers. He's a definite Hall of Famer.
"He had everything. I mean, first of all you look what he did. Did he dominate? Yes, he dominated. There was no one that he couldn't handle, or no situation that he couldn't handle. He was big and strong and fast. When you say strong, he may have been the strongest guy who ever played. If you were to have a game and you were going to choose up sides and you weren't sure exactly what the game was or the rules were, boxing or wrestling or football, you'd choose Larry Allen. I'd take Larry Allen on my side. I don't think anyone wanted to go against him."
Madden couldn't recall any great battles in the trenches with Allen and a defender because "I don't remember any battle Larry Allen ever lost. I don't remember anyone giving him a tough time. There weren't any great battles, because he was superior."
Former Cowboys guard Nate Newton, a six-time Pro Bowler, saw the dominance from Allen up close.
Regarding his play on the field, Newton said Allen had no equal.
"He could run block. He could pass block. He could pull," Newton said. "He was a 10 on every scale. There was nothing he couldn't do. He had strength, agility, feet, work ethic. He is a top-five lineman of all time who could play in any era. Face mask or no masks."
And to make matters worse, according to Newton, is that the soft-spoken Allen, known as a man of few words off the field, would incessantly let you know how bad he was beating you on the field.
"On the field, he would say things to you," Newton said with a laugh. "He had a filthy mouth, especially when he was with [former tackle] Erik Williams. He wasn't just going to beat you down physically. He would mouth you down. A defensive lineman would get a full conversation on the field and then see him off the field all Larry would say was 'Hi' or 'OK.'"
Newton echoes Madden in calling Allen a no-brainer, telling the Hall of Fame selection committee to not waste any time debating the undebatable.
"That decision is too simple," Newton said. "He's automatic. There are no second thoughts. You don't need to take notes. Just write his name down."
His dash demands it.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.