MANKATO, Minn. — Look around training camp in Mankato or a Sunday home game at the Metrodome and there are still reminders of the hard-charging, fun-loving attitude Jared Allen brought to the Minnesota Vikings in 2008.
Allen’s fans wear shirts with the four-time Pro Bowl selection’s No. 69 printed on them. But unlike with other players’ apparel, Allen’s nameplate on the back is often replaced by “Sax Machine” or “Mullet Militia.” The shirts, created by Allen’s own clothing company, reflect the larger-than-life persona of the onetime mullet-wearing pass rusher.
Allen admits that he gets a good laugh from the shirts.
“First of all, Sax Machine was just hilarious,” Allen said recently during his fifth training camp with the Vikings. “That thing was funny. A play on Kenny G, everybody knows that.”
Allen still likes to have fun. But the mullet — which Allen had referred to as a “lifestyle” — is gone, replaced by a trim cut and a receding hairline, which the defensive end isn’t too happy about. Thirty-years-old, married and with a daughter, Allen has matured as he’s grown older and gone through life’s trials.
Plus, he’s as dangerous as ever on the football field. Perhaps his changes off the field have made Allen more effective on it. The mullet was gone in 2010 as he prepared for his wedding. Focused as ever, Allen followed through with his best season in 2011, racking up 22 sacks, just a half-sack shy of the NFL single-season record.
An all-around season that included a career-high 86 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, four fumbles caused, four fumble recoveries and an interception helped Allen finish second in Defensive Player of the Year voting. That type of season would normally feed into the persona Allen had brought with him from Kansas City. However, Allen isn’t worried about his persona.
“For me, I’m just constantly trying to grow as a man, grow as a father, grow as a husband, grow in my faith,” Allen said. “I don’t think you ever stop growing, personally. I’d be 100 years old, hopefully, and still trying to learn new things. For me, there’s no persona, there’s no nothing. It’s just me having fun. It’s just what it is.”
Allen came to Minnesota in a trade days before the 2008 draft with the Vikings giving up four draft picks, including a first-rounder and two third-rounders. Allen’s lifestyle might be one of the reasons he was available.
He was an elite pass rusher, coming off a 15.5-sack season for the Chiefs in which he was named an All-Pro. But he was also arrested twice within five months in 2006 on DUI charges. He was suspended four games during the 2007 season and also feuded, sometimes publicly, with then Kansas City general manager Carl Peterson.
Allen became a Vikings fan favorite immediately, and his fun-loving attitude and mullet were part of the attraction. He has had at least 11 sacks in each of his four seasons with Minnesota and has been a first-team All-Pro in three of those seasons.
There also haven’t been any legal issues for Allen since the trade. Employing a lesson he learned from former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, Allen no longer puts style before substance.
“I understand who I am,” he said. “Coach Herm Edwards was an instrumental part of my life and my career. Herm used to say, ‘I’ll take good men. I’d rather have a team full of good men because they’ll be good football players.’
“It’s true. That’s what I try to tell the young guys, ‘When you have your personal life in order off the field, it just makes your on-the-field life so much easier because you can concentrate on work.'”
The growth in Allen is evident in his words. He has committed off the field to his family. He’s active with the Wounded Warriors and juvenile diabetes charities. In 2009, Allen was part of a USO tour in Iraq.
When it comes to football, he is driven to be the best defensive player in the NFL. He trains tirelessly in the offseason, using mixed martial arts to increase his stamina, strength and speed. Allen doesn’t participate in Minnesota’s voluntary offseason workouts but instead stays in Arizona, sharpening a regimen that has served him well.
“It’s been a blessing,” Allen said of mixed martial arts, which he’s used for six years. “It’s totally different the way the worlds cross. Fight training pushes you on a personal level past your mental blocks. That’s what’s cool about it.”
Allen has the individual accolades. He says his focus now is helping the Vikings reach the ultimate team goal of the Super Bowl. A Super Bowl run — however far off that seems following a 3-13 season — would certainly have more Vikings fans joining the “Mullet Militia,” or maybe the “Skullet Militia.”
“I mean, mullets are awesome,” Allen said. “Let’s be honest, if I could grow one again without my hair falling out … I’m balding rapidly fast. So when I’m bald, I’m going to have a skullet. That will be pretty funny. Like the cul-de-sac look, that will be cool. You’ve just got to have fun.”
A more mature Allen? Sure, but he’ll always be having fun.