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Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Chiefs' Allen learning to be 'just Jared'

By Elizabeth Merrill
ESPN.com

Larry Johnson and Jared Allen
Jared Allen (right) has gone from a 2004 sleeper draft pick to stardom in Kansas City. Here he jokes with RB Larry Johnson. Says teammate Boomer Grigsby: "Jared is just addicted to having fun."

KANSAS CITY -- The doorman rises from a creaky chair because all guests have to be announced. They play bridge downstairs some nights, but life in this high-rise full of graying well-to-doers is mainly slow and quiet. It's sort of a Melrose Place meets the AARP, minus the drama. Packages come in, people wander out.

But today, there is excitement: Jared Allen, one of its most famous tenants, has a bouquet of roses waiting in the lobby. They're from his agent, Ken Harris, congratulating him on being named AFC Defensive Player of the Month.

Allen grabs the card and climbs into his Ford pickup with his girlfriend, his high school buddy, Matt Torres, and a mini pinscher named Lucy. It's time to step out.

"I hate living downtown," Allen says. "I want to be out in the country somewhere. I want to have a yard with my house and a garage where I don't have any rules.

"But it doesn't bother me. If we stay up late and decide to be loud, it's cool because they turn their hearing aids off at like 9:30."

There are signs everywhere that Allen has shed his party-boy image. Check out the half-empty 12-pack in the backseat of his F-250. It's Diet Coke. See the statistical charts. He has an NFL-leading 9½ sacks, and that's after he missed two games under a league suspension.

Scouts: Best Defense
Scouts Inc.'s Jeremy Green tackles the Chiefs' Jared Allen and other standout stoppers around the NFL this season.

•  Allen's riseInsider | Top defendersInsider
•  Under the radar

But the booze follows him everywhere, in whispered conversations at clubs, in contract squabbles with the Kansas City Chiefs. Allen says he hasn't touched alcohol in more than a year, and he has no doubt his second DUI will be his last.

Every day is a water-chugging, quarterback-crunching struggle to prove it.

"To be a great player, I totally believe you have to … take chances," Allen says. "You've got to be on that edge. I assumed I had to live my life like that. I had to live on the edge off the football field because that's how I played. I was going to have fun, go 100 miles per hour in everything I do. I didn't realize there was a separation between life and football.

"You kind of have to look at it that this is your job. A lot of people go to work and they come home and have a different life."


On a ride to the drugstore, the conversation drifts from the PR struggles of "Dog the Bounty Hunter" to mullets. They're making a comeback in Kansas City -- in some less-traveled circles, they never left -- and Allen is leading the trend.

He has a bet with his financial adviser over who can grow and maintain the best mullet by April 15. With the inspiration of a locker photo of Troy Steadman, a former Chiefs linebacker from the 1980s in full mullet, Allen ponders another haircut.

"I think a lot of people are a little unsure of what's coming at them with the mullet," he says. "They're like, 'Man, is this guy here for business, or is this guy here to party?' They really don't know.

"You shouldn't bag on it. It's an American classic. People bag on the Declaration of the Independence, and that's the cornerstone of the United States."

In 2004, Kansas City had no idea a free-spirited, fourth-round defensive end from Idaho State would become the cornerstone of the Chiefs' defense. He had nine sacks as a rookie, and bridged the divide between the high-octane offense and one of the NFL's worst defenses with random comic relief. He wore disco leisure suits and mugged for the camera cross-eyed.

For Halloween in 2004, Allen showed up in a Speedo and swimming goggles. He was trying to be Michael Phelps.

"He's got a terrific personality," Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson says. "He's got a personality you like in the locker room. He's certainly goal-oriented, but also has a fun-loving spirit that everyone enjoys."

I'm at my best when my back's against the wall. I love people doubting me. I love being the underdog. I think I've been the underdog since I came into this league

--Jared Allen

At night, the open bars flowed and the women swooned. Allen wasn't making big money, but it was a king's ransom for a 22-year-old who was shunned by NFL scouts who thought he should make a living as a long snapper. He'd just broken up with his fiancée and was young and single.

"A lot of people think he was totally into partying," Chiefs fullback Boomer Grigsby said. "Jared is just addicted to having fun."

In February 2007, five months after he was charged with driving under the influence, Allen pleaded no contest and spent two days at the Johnson County Jail in Kansas. It was his second DUI in a year.

The Chiefs refused to offer him a long-term contract, though Allen says he was led to believe they would get one done. Shocked and hurt over this perceived lack of loyalty, he wanted out of Kansas City. He sold his house, and said he wanted to be traded.

Peterson high-tendered him, leaving Allen stuck for a year in a city he loved but a situation he wanted to escape.

"I've never looked back at anything," Allen says. "I'm at my best when my back's against the wall. I love people doubting me. I love being the underdog. I think I've been the underdog since I came into this league."


The Mexican restaurant Allen used to go to is empty and closed. He points his truck south to Baja 600, on the edge of the Plaza. There is no place to park, but a man at the door says he can pull in right next to the restaurant.

Margaritas are being poured at the bar. Allen orders iced tea.

He met his girlfriend, Jordan Parrish, at a bar this summer in Arizona. She was the only other one who wasn't drinking. Maybe it was fate -- Parrish was her friends' designated driver that night.

She didn't know he was a football player, and wasn't sure it was safe until her dad Googled Allen's name. Allen seemed to like that, the anonymity of it all. She wasn't interested in him because he played football. He asked if she'd fly to California with him to attend Tony Gonzalez's wedding the next day. She said no. Allen liked that, too.

"It is the chase," Allen says. "But I also like the fact that she wasn't drinking. So I'm like, 'OK, this isn't some drunk Arizona skank.' So that was cool. And she didn't fall for any of the [cheesy] things that I was saying.

"I haven't had a girlfriend in years. I wasn't at a point in my life to have a girlfriend. Hell, I didn't think she was going to be my girlfriend. It's the ones you don't expect."

Allen makes a point to order bottled water when he goes to the bar. That way, no one offers to buy him a drink and nobody wonders if he's fallen off the wagon. But he still gets those wary looks, especially when he's dancing on a couch or chortling in the middle of one of his stories.

Mostly, it's from strangers who don't seem to know. That's just Jared.


A waitress wants to know about dessert, and Allen says no thanks. He's indulged enough today. He lost 25 pounds in the offseason, and found out one of the best things about not drinking is getting up in the morning ready to lift weights, not glasses of Alka Seltzer.

Most nights, he's at home watching "Scrubs," in bed by 10 p.m. He's rooming with John Welbourn, an offensive lineman who also wasn't sure he'd be back in 2007. They seem to be so out of place, these big boys in a two-bedroom apartment.

Jared Allen
Jared Allen is trying to live a quieter life off the field: "I was going to have fun, go 100 mph in everything I do. I didn't realize there was a separation between life and football."

"I think he needs to get out of that place," Grigsby says. "I don't like to go there because I feel like it's a library and I have to whisper in the halls."

On the football field, life has been anything but quiet. He had 2½ sacks in 10 minutes against Cincinnati and was responsible for the benching of left tackle Levi Jones. He's forced two fumbles and has been the leader of a massive turnaround for the defense.

"Certainly my sense is that we don't want to and won't lose Jared Allen," Peterson says. "We drafted him, invested time and money and coaching into developing him. He's been a marvelous player, and he's gotten better each year.

"We're not going to lose him."

Allen has been a tough negotiator before. One time in high school, he led a strike against his summer-job employer (which happened to be Torres' father) for better wages. It lasted for most of a day. He even refused lunch.

"We got a raise to $15 per hour," Torres says. "And we got to play basketball every afternoon."

In this deal, Allen appears to be in the driver's seat. And the road ahead is clear. He parks his truck near the apartment. There's nothing wrong with staying in.

Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmail.com.