Larry Allen’s career looms large even among greatest Cowboys


Across the annals of a franchise with so much storied history, there are bound to be debates.

Among the literal dozens of Dallas Cowboys enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who was the best? Do you prefer Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman? Michael Irvin or Drew Pearson? Tony Dorsett or Emmitt Smith? A current generational tackle like Tyron Smith, or a past one in Rayfield Wright? 

So many greats have worn the iconic star that you could start an argument about almost any position — except for perhaps one.

Among guards, among interior linemen, Larry Allen stands alone. It’s not up for debate that Allen was the greatest guard in franchise history — he’s perhaps the greatest guard the NFL has ever seen.

Allen, who died Sunday at the tragically young age of 52, proved that time and time again.

“During my career, I didn’t talk that much. I didn’t have to, I used my helmet,” he said during his 2013 Hall of Fame induction speech.

Consider that an understatement. Across a 14-year career, Allen was an 11-time Pro Bowler and earned seven All-Pro designations. 

He helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XXX in his second season, and then grew to become the face of dominant line play for another decade afterward. He is one of just 29 people to be named to two different NFL All-Decade teams.

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden put it succinctly with one famous quote:

“If somebody said to God, ‘What should all the guards look like?’ Then he would send Larry Allen down.”

RELATED: Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, more Cowboys legends mourn Larry Allen

There’s irony there because it’s not as if Allen was purely a guard. As a rookie, he rotated between guard and right tackle. He was starting on the right side on Thanksgiving in 1994 when Reggie White and the Green Bay Packers came to town. Dallas got the all-important win, but it was a Welcome-to-the-NFL moment for Allen.

“I had never been dominated like that before in my life,” Allen said. “So, I got in that weight room and became the strongest man in the NFL.”

The next season Allen would begin a run of seven-straight All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods. He wasn’t even fazed when asked to move to left tackle, where he was a first-team All-Pro protecting Aikman’s blind side in 1998.

Allen’s selection and development would become one of the biggest coups in the history of the Cowboys’ scouting department, helmed at the time by longtime executive Larry Lacewell. Originally from Compton, California, Allen bounced between several schools and finished his college career at Division II Sonoma State. He was the program’s first draft pick, rising from relative obscurity to become one of the game’s best offensive linemen of all time.

As Allen alluded to, his hallmark was that incredible strength. Pull up a clip of Allen’s playing career, and it’s likely going to be a pancake block. As both a pulling guard and just a straight-up mauler, Allen’s dominance was rare. He once bench-pressed 225 pounds an absurd 43 times at a Pro Bowl skills competition. 

And of course, that strength took on a new level of notoriety when Allen famously benched 700 pounds in the weight room at the Cowboys’ old Valley Ranch practice facility. 

“When a man can bench press 692 pounds, that man can launch you,” Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle said.

It was a theme for a decorated career. Seemingly every defensive lineman of Allen’s era has a story about trying to get the best of a brick wall. And let’s not underrate his athleticism, either. Any cutup of Allen’s finest moments will include his chase down tackle of New Orleans Saints linebacker Darion Conner, as he hawked down a man 75 pounds lighter than him running with a full head of steam.

If not for the availability of video, maybe these stories would all feel like hyperbole. It’s natural to lionize the feats of athletes from days gone by. But even those who didn’t witness it personally have only to flip on the footage of old Cowboys games. The proof is there.

Even on a team loaded with legends, and a franchise with more accolades than most, Larry Allen stood in rare air.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports and hosts the NFL on FOX podcast. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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