With the Panthers favored to win Super Bowl 50 and defensive end Jared Allen practicing, as he says, “without limitations” in the foot he broke last month, the stage seems to be set for a magical ending to Allen’s decorated 12-year career.
The four-time first-team All-Pro would retire as a Super Bowl champion shortly after sunset in a stadium that’s only minutes from where he grew up as a two-time Pop Warner national champion.
Not so fast, people. Allen, who posted 85 1/2 sacks during a six-year stint in Minnesota, said he hasn’t decided what he’ll do beyond Sunday. He also said he won’t base any decisions on where he stands on the NFL’s career sacks list. With 136, he’s tied for ninth. With only 5 1/2 more sacks, he’d move past Michael Strahan into fifth place.
“You can’t chase numbers forever,” Allen said today at the San Jose Hilton, the Panthers’ Super Bowl 50 hotel. “I never entered this game saying I wanted X amount. When you get close, you think about it. You say, ‘OK, I’m a mediocre year away from this.’ But every year that happens, you get a year older and with injuries and stuff, you can’t count on it. I take it for what it is. I’ve had a blessed career and we’ll see what happens and where it goes from there.”
Allen said he’s unsure whether the Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors will consider him a Hall of Famer when he’s eligible five years after he retires.
“That’s not for me to decide,” he said. “My career was never driven to that. Obviously, that’s one of the greatest individual honors. If I could have gotten to 150 [sacks] maybe I had a better shot. Two in one year [this season]! That’s not going to help you. But you know what, again, to be honest, I really don’t think about it.”
Allen wanders between saying he doesn’t think about it and he does think about it.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he 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. I just submit to that. 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.”
On the all-time list that tracks sack totals since they became an official stat in 1982, Bruce Smith ranks No. 1 (200), followed by Reggie White (198). They’re in the Hall of Fame. No. 3 is Kevin Greene (160), who will be considered once again on Saturday as a finalist for this year’s class.
Former Viking Chris Doleman is fourth (150 1/2) followed by Strahan. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
“When I was able to pass Derrick Thomas [126 1/2] and then when I was able to pass LT [Lawrence Taylor, 132 1/2], those were pretty special moments for me. Those were two guys who were not just great pass rushers, but phenomenal players. My target was the 150 range because you get up in that range, it’s special. And get past [Michael] Strahan because Strahan is another phenomenal guy.
“Fourth is [Chris] Doleman. I’m good friends with Doleman. I was able to edge him out in Minnesota [for the single season sack record of 22]. I was hoping to edge him out in total sacks, too.”
As for the Hall of Fame, well, Allen said he’s already gotten memorable feedback on his career from some of the greatest defenders in NFL history.
“It would be absolutely amazing to go into the Hall of Fame,” Allen said. “But when I get an email from a guy like Jack Youngblood telling me I’m playing the game right, that, in my opinion, is more meaningful. When I get to form a relationship with a guy like Dick Butkus, who is in my mind one of the greatest if not the greatest defensive players to ever play. And when I see him, he knows my name and respects the way I play the game. That’s what it’s all about.”