Writer Tom Scanlon
Photographer Bryan Black

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]uarterbacks! Everyone who has ever played football – at positions other than quarterback – knows they get all of the attention. One good way to snatch the spotlight, however temporarily, is to burst out of your defensive stance, swat and speed past protectors to pummel the golden-boy quarterback into the turf.

When the team you like does it, there are few things more exciting than the quarterback sack. And so, if Jared Allen was on your team – Minnesota, Kansas City, Chicago or North Carolina – you loved him. Feared by quarterbacks in his time with the Vikings and Chiefs, Allen was one of the best sackers in the history of the NFL. He ranks No. 11 on the all-time NFL sack list with 136, peaking with 22 quarterback slams in 2011.

Injuries slowed him down over the last two seasons with the Bears and Panthers. In February, after playing in his first Super Bowl, Allen retired from football. And, wouldn’t it figure, though he had a classic ride-off-into-the-sunset video announcement on Twitter, the thunder of Allen’s retirement was stolen by a quarterback: Peyton Manning’s bon voyage.

You would hardly know Manning is retired with all the commercials he is doing. One of them has an old-time bench sitter telling Manning how boring and dreary retirement is – not for Allen.

Though he walked away from the most popular sport in the world at age 34, and though he made millions and was adored by nearly as many, as this football season heated up, Allen insisted he was glad he wasn’t a part of it. This is a stark contrast from some of the horror stories we’ve heard of athletes who cling to the game as long as possible, then are completely lost when they have to leave it. And, while it may not be the same as the everyday person going to sort their retirement benefits out with one of the Social Security office locations in Louisiana, or wherever is closest to them, people can really struggle with adjusting to life without the structure that comes with having a job.

“Football never defined me,” Allen says, in his raspy, forceful voice while at his restaurant, The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen in Tempe. This place has a “Man v. Food” menu, with the likes of the Sasquatch Burger (a loaded bacon burger, stuffed between a grilled cheese sandwich), meatloaf, fried bologna sandwich, cheese curds, etc. Additionally, the sports bar is something of Allen’s public man cave, where he is known to mingle amongst patrons watching football on multiple screens. He looks even younger than 34, and could even be mistaken for an Arizona State University recent graduate.

His football-never-defined-me statement might be a shocker to some. Fans were thrilled by the intensity and take-no-prisoners style he brought to the game, and some of the great names in NFL history have given him rare praise.

An ESPN story a few years ago had a panel of Hall of Famers debating which former players would join them in Canton. Mike Singletary, the ferocious Bears linebacker, raved, “Jared Allen is going to will himself to get to the quarterback. I don’t know how he does it, I can’t even really explain it, but he lines up, and the next thing you know, he’s got the quarterback. The mentality and relentlessness that he approaches the game with is second to none.”

Mike Ditka, a physical tight end and intense coach, had even higher praise: “Jared Allen plays every down, hard and physical. He could’ve played in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. He brings it on every play and gives all he’s got.”

James Lofton, a former wide receiver, also brought old-school praise: “You transport him back to the ’60s, Jared Allen could have played anywhere up and down that line.”

With praise like that from some of the greats, many think Allen will someday be fitted for a Hall of Fame gold jacket. Which brings us back to his contention – if it isn’t football, what does define you, Jared Allen?

“First and foremost was my faith,” he says. “My football talent was 100 percent on His time. And my family is a thousand times more important than football. My identity wasn’t founded in that. I loved football – the way I played, I gave everything I’ve got and knew when I walked away I wouldn’t regret it.”

Sure, sure, you might be thinking, that’s what they all say, and then they come crying back! Unlike one of his most famous teammates, the perennially retiring/unretiring Brett Favre, Allen swears he is done for good.

“My main focus,” he says, “is my foundation.” That foundation, Homes for Wounded Warriors, has built or remodeled seven homes for disabled veterans since 2009 and currently has seven more homes under construction. Allen also keeps busy with his bar and restaurant, as well as a few other projects.

These days, instead of storming after quarterbacks, he is chasing his two young daughters around his DC Ranch home.

But wait a second, Allen: What about your old Minnesota Vikings, who are having a sensational season? What if they call you late in the season, and beg you to suit up for a Super Bowl push?

“Can they guarantee me a Super Bowl victory?” Allen answers, with a wry smile.

“Am I in shape? I never say never to anything,” he adds with a laugh, shooting a look at his hometown buddy and business partner, Dylan Vicha. “I’ve been saying I’ll come back to play football, but only as long snapper.”

Kidding and long-shot scenarios aside, Allen’s cleats will stay way back in one of his North Scottsdale closets.

“My last game was the Super Bowl,” he reflects. “The only thing better would have been if we had won. But I’ve got a beautiful second-place ring to remind me of my failures every day!”

That’s the kind of self-deprecating humor that makes you realize Allen will never have a bad back from carrying around a big ego. He comes off as a regular guy, who loves the three Fs: food, fishing and family. Though not in that order, as his family comes first. Allen met his wife, Amy, at his restaurant, and they now have two girls, Brinley and Lakelyn, ages 5 and 2.

Part cowboy, part hunter, part athlete, Allen was living a carefree-but-directionless life until Amy came along. He was something of a millionaire millennial, making big bucks and living an intense lifestyle during the football season, then coming to Arizona in the off-season and crashing on Vicha’s couch.

“People used to say, ‘You realize you play in the NFL, you should probably buy a house,'” Allen says, chuckling at memories of those old times.

Though Allen has built his own house, he remains tight with Vicha, his partner in The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen and the foundation.

“People say he’s the brakes to my gas,” Allen says. “He’ll be like, ‘We’ve got to have the funds before we build another house.’ I’m like, ‘We’ll figure it out – let’s build it!'”

The former football star adds that he has always kept his circle close. Rather than keeping a clique of jocks, he says three of his best friends go back to his high school days, south of San Francisco.

Don’t let the hunter-jock exterior fool you, though; Allen is a blue-collar philosopher, and gave this retiring from football thing quite a bit of thought before, during and after he put the shoulder pads and helmet away.

“I took care of what I was doing on the field, but I knew when football stopped being fun I would walk away,” he says. “I knew I was done two years ago, when I ruptured my L5 (vertebrae) twice. I had never dealt with an injury before. I listened to the good Lord on that one.”

He didn’t want to hang on and collect a paycheck while playing beneath his standards, and certainly didn’t want to leave the game without a plan.

“It’s sad to see people retire and not know what to do with themselves,” he says, before spinning off in some deep reflections. “When someone (from the sporting world) passes away and the only thing they say about him on ESPN isstats – man, that’s depressing.

“There’s success, and there’s significance. I want to be significant to my kids, my wife, my friends, and keep football in perspective.”

Chuckling at himself, he concludes: “That’s a long way around of saying I’m good with retirement.”