The boots, the 10-gallon hat, the calf-roping sack celebration – all of Jared Allen’s cowboy stuff was legit.
So it was fitting that Allen announced his retirement from the Carolina Panthers on Thursday by posting a video on Twitter – shot by his wife on their Western ranch – showing the defensive end riding off on horseback.
There was no sunset, as Allen mentioned in the 20-second video.
Not every player can be John Elway or (probably) Peyton Manning and exit on a high note.
But Allen had a wild, 12-year ride that included stints with four teams, 136 regular-season sacks, two DUI arrests and one Super Bowl appearance.
Allen’s final game was Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif., not too far from where he grew up on his father’s horse and cattle ranch.
And though he didn’t get a sack on Manning in the Broncos’ 24-10 victory, Allen had a hit on the ‘Sheriff” in a game that had eluded Allen during his first 11 seasons.
But make no mistake, getting to the Super Bowl wasn’t enough for Allen.
During an interview with the Observer shortly after the Panthers acquired him from Chicago in September, Allen said: “I’m sure every guy that’s ended his career without a ring, that’s probably a little sore spot. I’ve had as much personal success as you could ask for. ... But the ultimate goal is the ring.”
Allen will leave the NFL without a ring, but he should have a bust in Canton.
He’s tied with Julius Peppers for No. 9 on the all-time sacks list. Seven of the eight guys ahead of him are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or will be this summer (Kevin Greene), and Jason Taylor will be eligible next year.
Allen, 33, collected sacks like calluses.
His 22 sacks in 2011 for a bad Vikings team fell one short of Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL record. During a seven-year stretch spanning his final year with Kansas City and his entire six-year tenure with Minnesota, Allen had seven double-digit sack totals and racked up five Pro Bowl berths and four All-Pro selections.
‘As good as almost anybody’
Former Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross, who faced Allen a handful of times, believes his former adversary belongs in the Hall of Fame.
“Sacks are a very important statistic in the NFL,” Gross said. “He’s been as good as almost anybody.”
Panthers fans did not see Allen at his best or his healthiest.
He had a hitch in his giddy-up almost from the moment he arrived in Charlotte in Week 4 as a replacement for Charles Johnson, whose injured hamstring sent him to the short-term IR.
Allen pinched a nerve in his back at practice during his first week with the Panthers, causing him to make his Carolina debut at Tampa Bay without feeling in his foot.
He missed the Panthers’ trip to Seattle in October, just the third game he’d missed because of injury in his career. Allen returned the following week, then sacked Philadelphia’s Sam Bradford and the Colts’ Andrew Luck in consecutive home games.
Those would be the only two times Allen roped calves as he ended the regular season on a nine-game sack drought.
Impact in locker room
But Allen found other ways to contribute, mentoring Kony Ealy and some of the other young defensive linemen and offering advice when he could.
“Jared really had a great impact in this locker room,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said last week. “There was more to it than just bringing a guy in that had all these numbers. But who he is as a football player I think really helped that group of guys.”
Chas Alecxih, a defensive lineman on the Panthers’ practice squad, tweeted Thursday: “I didn’t know him for very long but having my locker right next to @JaredAllen69 this season was an awesome experience.”
Allen said throughout the 15-1 season that the Panthers’ locker room was the best he’d been a part of and he was having a ball. But the injuries weren’t much fun, and contributed to Allen’s drop in production.
He broke a bone in his right foot during the playoff victory over Seattle, and expressed his frustration the next week when Rivera held him out of the NFC Championship Game vs. Arizona.
Allen wanted to play. He wanted to contribute.
He wanted to cowboy up.
Leaving on his own terms
Allen got one more chance in Super Bowl 50, which ended with a Broncos defensive end accepting the MVP trophy and Manning getting treated to a gold-confetti send-off.
But Allen got to leave the game on his own terms – in the saddle atop a chestnut horse.
Setting aside the stats and wild stories from Allen’s youth, Gross gave Allen the best compliment an athlete can receive when he called him a “sportsman.”
Gross said Allen was always well prepared for their battles, and he’d never take a play off. But he also would talk and joke with Gross throughout the game, one veteran to another.
“He had a good understanding of the spirit of the game. He’s a little bit old-school with everything he does,” Gross said. “Maybe at a time when guys would take their helmets off and shake hands and go have a beer after the game, that’s probably when he should have played.”
Raise a glass to the Cowboy.