SAN JOSE, Calif. – So Jared Allen arrives via trade from Chicago in Week 4, walks into the Carolina Panthers locker room for the first time and guess who he sees first?
“Roman Harper,” Allen says with a shake of the head. “I said, ‘Dude, you got my ring.’ He said, ‘Let it go!’ ”
Harper was with the Saints when they beat Allen and the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game six years ago en route to winning Super Bowl XLIV.
Allen said that loss will sting forever. But maybe not as much if the Panthers beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 in Allen’s hometown on Sunday.
And, yes, the defensive end will play and “make an impact,” he said. He broke a bone in his foot in the NFC divisional playoff victory over the Seahawks and insists he’s practicing “without limitations.” He now thanks Panthers coach Ron Rivera for holding him out of the NFC Championship Game despite Allen’s initial protest.
“Me and [former Vikings coach] Brad Childress were laughing about that,” Allen said. “Brad texted me and said, ‘Hey, Ron did the right thing by keeping you out.’ I told him, ‘Yeah, but me and you might have had to have a closed-door meeting on that one.’ My younger days, things might have been different. … I could have had a setback and I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
Allen was sitting minutes from where he spent his childhood growing up on a ranch and helping the Gilroy Browns win back-to-back Pop Warner national titles.
“I won my first national title at Townsend Field right here in Santa Clara,” Allen said. “We actually lost the game, but the team from Texas had illegal players so we got awarded the national championship. I was 11 years old wondering why these dudes from Texas showed up with mustaches.”
Allen grew up on a nearby ranch and went to Los Gatos High School. He brought his dog to the Super Bowl because he knew his high school coach would watch him.
“My mom also lives like 15 minutes from here,” Allen said. “But she has cats.”
Considering Allen’s age (33) and slumping sack totals, Sunday would seem like a magical way to end a decorated 12-year career. With kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. local time, Allen literally could rope his final imaginary calf after sacking Peyton Manning as the California sun sets.
“I really don’t know what I’ll do,” Allen said. “Those are conversations I’m going to have with my wife, my kids and the family. I want to go out and have the best game of my career.”
Allen hasn’t had a sack in 10 games, a career-long drought. His only two sacks this season came in Weeks 6-7 and moved him into the top 10 in career sacks with 136, including 85 ½ in a six-year stint with the Vikings. He’s only six sacks from moving past Michael Strahan into fifth place, although he’s also tied with Green Bay’s Julius Peppers and only 1 ½ ahead of Denver’s DeMarcus Ware.
Four of the top five players on the list are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including former Viking Chris Doleman, who is fourth with 150 ½.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Allen said. “I was hoping I could have gotten into the top five this year. I really was. But circumstances [prevented it]. I believe the good Lord has a plan. But I’d be lying to you if I told you I didn’t know who was on the list ahead of me and where they stand.”
Asked about the Hall of Fame, Allen sounded as if he had posted his final total.
“If I could have gotten to 150,” he said, “maybe I would have had a better shot.”
Allen said he’s still capable of playing at a high level, but injuries slowed him the past two years. He also played out of position in Chicago’s 3-4 scheme early this year before being traded to a Panthers team that uses him as a role player in its defensive line rotation.
On the other hand, Allen said he’s never had more fun. He also called this the tightest locker room he’s ever experienced, including the one in Minnesota in 2009, which he called a close second.
“This year is so humbling for me,” he said. “Probably the worst statistical year I’ve had, but it’s the most success I’ve ever had in my career. But it’s like Pop Warner, when all you cared about was whether you won the game.”