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The Numbers Don’t Lie
Coming out Cal State-Fullerton, Allen was a two-sport star, playing football and pitching his school to the College World Series championship in 1984.
As Cal-Fullerton’s quarterback, Allen played well enough to receive Heisman trophy votes, but not nearly enough to surpass the winner that year — Boston College’s Doug Flutie, who would eventually join Allen in the CFL.
While Flutie got his shot at the NFL, Allen, at 6-feet-1, four inches taller and possessing a stronger arm than the plucky Flutie, got no love from the NFL.
“I remembered Warren Moon coming up to Canada, and what it did for him,” recalls Allen. “Playing quarterback was important to me, and I knew at least here, the opportunity and responsibility would be upon me to succeed or fail.”
If you don’t know or care whether or not Canada had its own style of football, then you should know it was the only place where Black men were given the opportunity to play the most important position on the field.
Long before the NFL got off its anal image tip with Black men not being intelligent enough to lead, ballers such as Condredge Holloway, Chuck Ealey, Roy DeWalt and Moon had won Canada’s football championship — the Grey Cup — and had successful careers.
The Canadian game is different, and to NFL intelligentsia, different never seems to imply better. Even when the American collegiate draft is held, many Black quarterbacks looking to get to the next level still get labeled as “projects” or told to “go to Canada”, inferring an inability to readily master the American game at the highest level.
“The playing field is longer and wider, putting an emphasis on mobility and speed,” said Allen. “That ‘out’ pattern you’d throw on an American football field has to travel 20 to 25 yards more. You’re also looking at 12 men on defense as opposed to 11 in American ball.”
“So you’re reading defenses and sometimes calling audibles within 20 seconds every play, with one less chance to move the ball (three downs in CFL as opposed to the NFL’s four).”
Given these parameters, the job description of a CFL quarterback means having to think and react faster, have the capability to make stronger throws more often, and have enough mobility to avoid defensive pressure, because everyone up here can run.”
When asked if the NFL has a negative mindset about CFL passers, Allen smiled. “Listen — all I know is, it doesn’t matter what league it is — if you can ball, you can ball.”
And straight balling is what Allen has been about. For 23 seasons, in Aaronesque fashion, Allen has passed and run, played his share of championship games, and won three Grey Cups, two of them playing head-to-head against teams led by Flutie.
Allen won his most recent Grey Cup quarterbacking the Toronto Argonauts to the Grey Cup in 2005 — at age 42. In 2006, Allen passed Moon’s combined NFL/CFL mark for most total yards passing, and coming into this season, has thrown for over 72,000 yards, making him the CFL’s all-time passer — with his closest competitor over 20,000 yards away.
Add to this the fact Allen has eluded and attacked defenses for over 10,000 yards rushing confirms him as a baller of legendary status.
But there’s still that anonymous thang goin’ on. Last year, Canada’s The Sports Network (TSN) created an expert and fan poll of the 50 Greatest Canadian Football League players in the modern era.
In spite of being the all-time greatest passer and greatest rushing quarterback in CFL history, Allen ranked 14th on the final poll. The number one player? Doug Flutie.
While the Flutie-Mays and Allen-Aaron style similarities on the gridiron are evident, they are not lost on some of the league’s officials.
“Damon Allen is a one-of-a-kind talent, and his accomplishments, especially becoming the league’s greatest passer, are tremendous,” says CFL spokesman Perry Lefko.
“When you take into consideration all the great players that have come through this league in its history, and the average career for any football player, to do what Damon Allen has done is truly amazing.”
Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen, during a recent Super Bowl week, predicted his younger brother would one day make noise in the NFL without having to set foot on an American football field.
“It does not surprise me that Damon has been able to maintain such a high standard of play all these years,” said the elder Allen. “From way back when we played out in the streets as kids, Damon had the physical and mental skills to play sports.”
“He still has that wiry, athletic body, and he was always deceptively strong.” When asked if Damon would’ve made it in the States as a field general, Marcus replied, “Oh, hell yea! It would’ve had to be a team that wasn’t locked into what the perceived perception of ‘prototype’ quarterback was — but I haven’t seen many do what my brother has done on the gridiron.”
They say figures don’t lie — and numbers like Allen’s may not be ignored in America. Could Damon’s achievements be one day recognized in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Marcus’ eyes lit up before I could finish the question.
“To be the only brothers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be very cool — but I’m positive if that doesn’t happen, Damon is a sure bet to get into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame anyway. So I believe the Brothers Allen have got that thing covered (smiles).”
Statistics as well as events from other American professional football leagues like the American Football League (AFL), All-American Football Conference (AAFC) and United States Football League (USFL) have been incorporated for recognition at the Hall.
Peter Fierle, Information Service Manager for the Hall, says covering Canadian football has never been considered. “Our focus has always been on American football,” said Fierle. “We don”t recognize records of leagues playing outside of the U.S. “
But Lefko hopes America, in the form of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will give Allen his props. “A lot of talent came and went through Canada, but Damon Allen stayed here.”
“Given the enormity and probability that his record would likely remain in place for a very long time, I feel one day such an achievement would be recognized throughout all of football.”
Allen, who was offered a chance to go two-sport in Major League Baseball, has never looked back on his choice. “I have no regrets whatsoever about staying and playing in Canada .”
“I feel blessed that I have been able to do something I love, do it well, and if there are accolades after everything is over and done, I can walk away knowing everything done on the field spoke for itself.”