Remembering Larry Allen, one of the greatest of all time

There are 378 Pro Football Hall of Famers. In my 28 years as a selector, only a handful were no-brainer, first-ballot selectees.

I'm speaking of the players whose designated presenter stands up and says, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I present. . . ." and the selectors clap. It's the "upper room" that Deion Sanders has referred to in recent years.

Emmitt Smith, John Elway, Jerry Rice, Bruce Smith, Sanders and Peyton Manning are those in my time as a selector that I remember needing only an introduction.

Larry Allen, who died on Sunday at the age of 52, could have been one of those.

Allen was my first formal Hall of Fame presentation, and I was too scared of messing it up to stand up and sit down, with Allen also pitted against another offensive guard candidate in Will Shields in the Class of 2013. But Allen was that great to be worthy of that treatment.

The legendary John Madden, considered the authority on offensive line play, thought so much of Larry Allen that he wanted to talk to me before my Hall of Fame presentation of Allen. The Cowboys PR staff set up the interview.

Madden told me Allen and John Hannah were the greatest guards of all time.

“Larry Allen is the real deal," Madden said. "I don’t think anyone wanted to go against him, and I don’t remember any battle Larry Allen ever lost.”

But Allen wasn't just a guard. He started at four offensive line positions and is one of only three offensive linemen ever to earn Pro Bowl berths at multiple positions. He was invited to 11 Pro Bowls, 10 with the Cowboys, and he was All-Pro six times.

Allen gave up an average of only 3.2 sacks per season, best of any offensive lineman in his era, and he had only 13 holding penalties in 207 career starts, including the playoffs. Opponents were known to get “Larry-itis” the night before they had to face Allen.

"He was a HOF offensive lineman who dominated opponents regardless of the position he played," his former quarterback, Troy Aikman, said in a statement Monday. "Off the field, he was gentle giant who loved his family."

During Allen's rookie season of 1994, Saints linebacker Darion Conner intercepted Aikman near midfield in the first half of a game in New Orleans. Conner had no one between him and the goal line, but Allen chased down Conner from behind.

Dan Dierdorf, the television analyst for the game, called it, “one of the most impressive athletic feats I have ever seen.”

“Somebody threw an interception in practice the week before, and I didn’t chase the guy,” Allen said. “[Offensive line coach] Hud [Houck] chewed me out pretty good in the meeting room when we were watching it on film. I guess in the game, I didn’t want to get chewed out like I did in practice. So I tried my best to get him.”

Allen arguably was the strongest player ever to play in the NFL with a 700-pound bench press, a 900-pound squat and multiple wins in ESPN’s Strongest Man contest at the Pro Bowl. “The Lift,” as it still is known in Dallas, can be found on YouTube years after the 326-pound Allen lowered and then raised the bar loaded with 700 pounds. He still contends he could have lifted more if not for injury concerns.

Immediately after the soft-spoken and loveable (off the field) Allen learned he had made the Hall of Fame, he asked if he could hug me. I disappeared as the giant of a man lifted me off the ground and whispered, "Thank you."

I said, "Larry, you did this all yourself. You are one of the greatest of the all-time greats."

He was, and he always will be.

RIP, Gentle Giant.