When Larry Allen retired after the 2007 season, there was never any question he would end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after the mandatory five-year wait.
A dominating 14-year career, including 12 with the Dallas Cowboys, when he was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times made Allen a no-brainer to be enshrined alongside the all-time greats of the game.
He is considered by many to be the greatest guard in NFL history and was named to the NFL All-Decade teams of the 1990s and the 2000s. He was also a key member of the Cowboys’ 1995 Super Bowl title team.
The only questions were how long the soft-spoken and shy Allen would speak when it was his turn Saturday to don the famed gold jacket and whether the stoic mountain of a man would shed a tear.
And just as he did throughout his career, an admittedly nervous Allen broke the mold, delivering a surprisingly lengthy, emotional and personality-filled speech of 16 minutes, 2 seconds.
It was hard to see tears behind the sunglasses he wore, but the numerous sniffles and pauses to catch himself were proof enough that it was heartfelt as he thanked the many people who played a role in his success, including his late mother, Vera; Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; his wife, Janelle; and many former coaches and teammates.
Allen wowed the audience of 11,500 at Fawcett Stadium with a number a funny one-liners and words of wisdom that captured the essence of his career while touching on a 40-ounce beer, steroids and dip tobacco.
“During my career, I didn’t talk that much, but I didn’t have to, I used my helmet.” Allen said in his opening statement.
After thanking Jones for being a father figure, Allen thanked his wife, telling a story about their first date.
“On our first date, she cooked for me,” Allen recalled. “She cooked me two chickens, french fries and baked me a cake and gave me a 40-ounce [beer.]
Allen paused and laughed before saying: “I knew then that was my wife right there.”
He soon followed with a story about his mother and how he was stabbed as a kid growing up in Compton, Calif. His mother made him fight the boy for three straight days until he won because she “wasn’t raising no punks.”
“That was one of the valuable lessons I learned in my life, never to back down from anybody,” Allen said. “I carried that lesson throughout my career. I just knew I had to win every play. That’s the reason why I’m here today.”
He went on to his grandmother, Berkeley Dotson, who owned three restaurants in Los Angeles and taught him to work hard.
“When I was 14, she sat me down and said ‘Larry, you need to find out what you are good at and go do it,’” Allen said before he looked up, laughing. “I did that, Granny.”
Allen recalled running and jumping into the swimming pool at his apartment complex when he was drafted by the Cowboys in 1994.
Known for his brute strength and bench-pressing 700 pounds, Allen also made it clear that “I did it naturally.”
“What’s funny is once I benched 700 pounds, they tested me twice a week for the rest of my career,” Allen said, laughing.
Finally, Allen said the mission of achieving respect from his teammates, opponents and the NFL was complete.
“I just can’t wait to see my [Hall of Fame] bust, I hope it has some dip in it,” he said in reference to his love for dip tobacco.
Cowboys coach and former teammate Jason Garrett said many of their former teammates had called all day taking bets about the length of Allen’s speech.
“He was amazing,” Garrett said. “I thought he was fantastic up there. For someone that doesn’t like to speak a whole lot, I thought he captured the essence of his career and all the people who are close to him. It was emotional just watching him. I loved it. I was just happy for him.”
Said Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones: “That’s probably more than he has said in 12 years with the Cowboys. I thought it was amazing. I thought it was Larry Allen through and through. I was so happy for him. It pulled on your heart strings. What I loved about it was everybody could see what Larry Allen was all about.”