Michael Downs: Team MVP? It's Larry Allen
03:00 PM CST on Friday, November 19, 2004
Former Cowboys All-Pro safety Michael Downs offers insight, analysis and a peek behind the X's and O's every Friday exclusively on CowboysPlus.com. Downs, a Rice graduate, played safety for the Cowboys from 1981-88. Send questions for Downs' consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org
There haven’t been many shining stars for the Cowboys this season. The veteran players brought in during the off-season have performed well at times. But no one has played exceptionally. With little hope for the playoffs, Bill Parcells may begin to look at younger players. Just this week, many experts suggested the player shuffle should have started in the second half of the Eagles game Monday night.
One player I have watched throughout the season is tackle Larry Allen. There should be no shuffling here. In his 11th year as a Cowboy, I would vote for Allen as the Cowboys’ MVP. Tight end Jason Witten would be a distant second.
Without fanfare, Allen has played consistently well each week. Not too many members of the media have noticed or at least talked or wrote about his performance. Just a few months ago, it appeared Allen was on his way out of the silver and blue.
Allen struggled through the 2003 season with injuries. Parcells even publicly questioned Allen’s desire and commitment to the team. His willingness to play while injured spoke volumes to me.
In this era of multimillion dollar contracts, you see a number of players who will sit out Sundays with seemingly minor discomforts. Pre-game and game analysts openly criticize such decisions. In part, I would agree with many of those questionable situations. I do believe that if a player can play, he should. Not playing when you are able is selfish.
On the other side, I know that many reported injuries are more serious in nature. In those cases, a player would be foolish and, again, selfish to play. He could end up shortening his career, and he could hinder the team’s effort to win on Sunday.
A year ago, I questioned Allen’s decision to play hurt. I still have visions of him limping off the field. I can see the medical staff asking Allen questions while he was grimacing with pain.
In 1988, I had a similar season. Early in the season, I suffered a torn groin muscle. Victor Scott was my backup, but he was already out with an injury. I played the rest of the season basically on one leg. Of course, I didn’t play well, but I felt an obligation to the team. Just like Allen’s situation, my performance was questioned at the end of the season. Those questions hurt. I will admit that it’s a little bit of ego, but it’s more about pride and commitment that inspires players to play hurt. Coaches must know this even if the public doesn’t.
I’m proud and little bit surprised that Allen has played so well this year. The great thing about his recovery is that Allen is a good guy. Physically, Allen is intimidating. Personality-wise, he is a soft, gentle husband and father. In an interview, Allen once told me of the special relationship he had with the grandmother who raised him. As he put it, “She was my heart.”
Allen credits his grandmother for keeping him out of trouble in the gang-infested streets of Compton, Calif. I didn’t expect such sentiments from this giant of a man. Unfortunately, Allen’s grandmother died during training camp his rookie season. He was so devastated that he was ready to walk away from football for good.
Eleven years later, we all can see what a shame that would have been. Allen has had a Hall of Fame career. He is arguably the Cowboys’ all-time best offensive lineman. This season has solidified his greatness.
Allen also told me how he approaches every season and every game. He explained that even after the two Super Bowls, the All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, he still must “respect football” the same way he did as a rookie.
“There is always someone trying to replace you. And each week there’s a guy on the other side of the line trying to beat you," he said. "So I have to be a little afraid so that I will continue to work hard.”
I never questioned his work ethic, not even last year.
This week against an outstanding Raven defense I expect the same thing from Allen that I have grown to appreciate. He will give his all, injured or not. I hope his teammates are watching him as closely as I do. Larry Allen has a lot of physical ability, but he has a much bigger heart.
Q: The Cowboys' young defensive backs were overmatched Monday. Can they overcome the shellacking they received?
DOWNS: Darby, I don't think they will overcome their performance on Monday night for at least two reasons.
First, the secondary has had to shuffle players. Imagine coordinating a group of individuals who must be in step with one another, but each week there is a new member in the group. Players must learn each others' strengths and weaknesses. It often takes weeks, if not seasons, to achieve this.
Secondly, the secondary can't be feeling real confident right now. Mentally, the players will press to make plays, which could result in more mistakes. The secondary may look better this week against the Ravens because Baltimore's quarterback and receivers are not skilled. Overall, though, we can expect much of the same.
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Q: Are the Cowboys' defensive backs playing physically enough against their opponents?
DOWNS: No. There were a number of plays throughout the season when they lacked a physical presence. Other than Roy Williams, the secondary seems undersized and not aggressive.
As a defensive back or any defensive player, you must have a "I will do whatever it takes to stop them from scoring" atttude. That's not to say that everyone will be a Ronnie Lott-type of player. But the Cowboys' secondary seems to be almost polite in its effort to keep the opposition out of the end zone.
"My words should not inspire you. Looking at your hands with no rings should inspire you". - Michael Irvin