MANKATO — New Vikings defensive end Jared Allen gets paid big money to flatten big men. He wears a cowboy hat and a beard that makes Chuck Norris' look like used sandpaper. His regimen includes mixed martial arts, jujitsu and boxing. He led the NFL in sacks.

There is only one question to ask this kind of man's man: Can you describe your blankie?

"On one side, it's brown and red, almost like a plaid layout,'' Allen said, squinting into the sun after Saturday morning's practice. "The other side has blue, with little strings on it, and 'All-Pro' written on it in little footballs.

"Grandma made me my first blankie. They wrapped me in it when I was born, and I had it up until I was 14, when it got all torn up.

"I wouldn't let it go, so my dad's customer made me a replacement.''

Discovering that Allen sleeps with his blankie -- which he also refers to as his "b'ankie" -- is like finding out Superman crocheted his own cape, watches "Will & Grace" and unwinds with lilac-scented candles after saving the world. (As Jerry Seinfeld said, "Not that there's anything wrong with that!'')

"It's my little slice of home,'' Allen said. "What I really like is, even when it's hot, my blankie stays cool. It's always the perfect temp. You just cuddle up with it.''

Do his teammates tease him? "Nah,'' he said. "I'm secure in my manhood. I'm human. And anyway, they're just all mad because they don't have blankies.''

Allen is supposed to be more than a security blanket for the Vikings. He's supposed to be a net that catches quarterbacks and running backs like a seine in the sea.

What we know for sure is Allen can talk. Let's just say the Williams Wall -- defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams -- now has a speaker attached.

"I've always been like this,'' Allen said. "That comes from my childhood. This is what I've always wanted to do, ever since I was 8. I grew up watching my older brother play, and my dad played, and for me it's always been about sports, so I figure if you can't have fun doing it, don't do it.

"Life is too short to have bad days, and a frown on your face.''

So Allen goofs around. He talks about his b'ankie. He yaps at teammates. He tells fans he's handsome, and signs bunches of autographs.

At Idaho State, he taped the entire freshman team to a goalpost. When he was a freshman, the seniors taped his helmet to his locker before his first game, "using little pieces of tape, so it took me 20 minutes to get 'em off. I got them back."

"I took all of their clothes out of their lockers, switched their locks -- it pays to be friends with the equipment guy -- and put all of their clothes in a ball and hung it in the middle of the locker room.''

With the Chiefs, he was the team practice joker. Coach Gunther Cunningham was deaf in one ear, so Allen and his buddies would walk up to him in the middle of a game and mime words, until Cunningham ripped his headset off to hear. Then Allen would shake his head and walk away.

"Halloween was my big thing,'' Allen said. "I'd walk in late to meetings on Halloween, wearing something interesting. One year it was Michael Phelps -- full Speedo action. One year it was Borat.

"I like Halloween. I have to see if I can pull off something here.''

He's already pulled off an NFL rarity -- dominating at defensive end at 260 pounds. Allen says his MMA training has developed his core strength and cardiovascular fitness, allowing him to play fast and with great leverage.

That's your new defensive end, Vikings fans -- he kicks butts, takes names, then cuddles with his b'ankie.

Can he hook up some of his teammates? "Nah,'' he said. "You can't just claim a blankie. A blankie has to have some significant meaning.

"Otherwise, it's just a blanket.''

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •