NFL oldies like Allen carry on with class These players remain rooted to simpler era of substance, not flash

November 10, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

They will remember Marcus Allen in years to come for a lot of reasons.

For being one of the finest all-purpose running backs in NFL history.

For his goal-line gift of getting into the end zone on something more than brute strength.

For his spectacular 74-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XVIII that helped the Los Angeles Raiders bury the Washington Redskins, 38-9.

But one thing future historians will not find when they access highlight tape is Allen mugging for the cameras or showboating in the end zone after a touchdown.

Just hasn't happened. Not with his old team, the Raiders, or his current team, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Allen, who has packaged power, speed and grace in a wondrous 15-year NFL career, has steadfastly refused to join the burgeoning parade of self-indulgent heroes.

"I'm an old-fashioned guy," he says. "Guys ask when I'm going to dance, and I won't. I came in during the best era, when it was real football. Now, even though it's real, they shackle us with so many rules and regulations."

Allen is a throwback to a rougher, tougher, simpler era in pro football when there was less flash and a lot more substance. At 36, he is a prominent member of the over-35 club, a group of elite players still performing at a high level.

We're not talking quarterbacks and kickers here, even though veterans like John Elway, Dan Marino and Nick Lowery are all record-holders in their own right. We're talking about the grunt guys and skill players who require more than a strong arm or an accurate foot to get the job done.

Players like Clay Matthews of the Atlanta Falcons, the oldest active player in the NFL at 40 years, 8 months. A Pro Bowl starter at 33 with the Cleveland Browns, he has played 271 games, third most in NFL history. This is his 19th season, but first at defensive end after a career at outside linebacker.

Still productive? In the past two weeks, Matthews registered 4 1/2 sacks and forced a fumble.

Players like his 35-year-old brother, Bruce Matthews, the left guard for the Houston Oilers. Bruce has started every Oilers game for the past nine years and needs a scant two more to surpass Elvin Bethea's club record of 210 games played.

Productive? Matthews was voted to his eighth consecutive Pro Bowl last season, but did not play because of injuries.

Players like 35-year-old receiver Henry Ellard of the Washington Redskins. Ellard is fourth in career receiving yards, fifth in career catches. He's on a pace for his seventh 1,000-yard season. If he makes it, he joins James Lofton as the only two players with 1,000-yard receiving seasons at the age of 35.

And players like Allen, who has a shot at three NFL records today against the Green Bay Packers. Just by playing his 200th game, he will set a mark for most games by a running back, previously held by Mosi Tatupu of the New England Patriots.

Allen already shares the other two records -- most career catches by a running back (566) with Roger Craig, and most rushing touchdowns (110) with Walter Payton.

If he topples those as well today, Allen said he would allow himself only "a moment of reflection. If it all works out and we win the game, to break the records would be icing on the cake."

One thing is certain: Should Allen get his 111th rushing touchdown, he won't launch into a choreographed dance for the cameras. When he dived over the line for No. 110 last week, he landed head-first in the end zone -- and momentarily lost the ball.

"After that, I was trying to stalk the guy with the ball, trying to get it from him," he said. "Every touchdown since 100, I've kept."

Touchdown celebrations are one noticeable difference in the way the game is played today, he conceded.

"I'm all for a player expressing himself," Allen said, choosing his words carefully. "[But] I think sometimes they get a little carried away. That's a difficult thing to assess. I haven't elected myself judge and jury."

He does admit to longing for the old days, though, when he was a young star with the Raiders, before his fallout with owner Al Davis.

"Things are sort of contrived now," Allen said. "Everybody is doing something to get noticed. Back in the days of Lester Hayes and Ted Hendricks, there were true characters. I'm glad I had a moment with those guys."

No one has played the game quite like Allen. At 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds, he is equally adept at the power game as he is in the speed game, where he is deceptively fast. He is one of the best backs at catching the ball, one of the best blockers.

Before he won the 1981 Heisman Trophy at Southern California, he was a blocking fullback for Charles White.

"When I first came in the league, I wanted to be a great player," he said. "I didn't set my sights on any specific goals, or leading the league in any category.

"I have my own style. That's why I lasted as long as I have. Sometimes it's power, sometimes it's glide. Sometimes it's little bitty things here and there. But more than anything else, I know the game as well as any quarterback on the field."

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