Tap into your gas tank — Marcus Allen shares how love, hardwork & determination made him who he is today

Eric Oliver - Print  |

On Dec. 9, 1981, NFL Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen made his father, Harold Allen, cry.

Mr. Allen, still in college, heard that over the phone. He wasn't there to see it because he was at the New York City-based Downtown Athletic Club receiving the 1981 Heisman trophy, naming him the best player in college football.

When Mr. Allen called home to tell his parents of the accomplishment, his mom rejoiced, jumping up and down, screaming. When he asked to speak to his dad, she said "'He can't come to the phone right now,' 'What, why?' I replied. 'Well he's crying.'"

"Now my father never cries," Mr. Allen continued. "You have to understand I know how important that was to him. You think back, he was the oldest of 11 kids. His dad died when he was a young person and then your son becomes a Heisman trophy winner. He made that decision that if he ever had kids, he was going to have a better relationship."

Mr. Allen was brought into this world by Harold and Gwendolyn Allen in 1960 in San Diego. Growing up, the Allens treated their children like gas tanks.

"My parents filled us up every single day with love, encouragement, tough love, discipline. Every single day. They didn't let anybody else. Because the main ingredient they were putting in our gas tanks was love" Mr. Allen said. "I'm a product of that and everything I accomplished was as a result of what my parents did."

Mr. Allen knew he wanted to be a professional football player when he turned 10 years old. By 11, he knew he wanted to win the Heisman. He already had the speech written.

"I was living 'The Secret' before 'The Secret' was even written," Mr. Allen joked.

He took his parents' love and determination and brought them to the gridiron, determined to take his parents on a journey for the investment they made in him.

In high school, one of his coaches wanted to line Mr. Allen up at quarterback. The only problem is he didn't want to play quarterback. He went under center and fumbled the ball eight times. The coach saw what he was doing and kicked him off the team promptly after that.

Mr. Allen went home thinking his dad would be livid. He wasn't, it was the opposite. Harold Allen said "That's between you two."

Mr. Allen said that moment helped define his career. He talked to the coach, got reinstated and played QB. He started running the ball and was recruited to Los Angeles-based University of Southern California as a defensive back. When one of the RBs was injured, he was subbed in and ended up on the offensive side of the ball.

"My dad did not rescue me and I'm thankful he didn't," he said.

Mr. Allen was selected 10th overall in the 1982 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Raiders. He played 11 seasons for the Raiders before playing five more seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

During his career, Mr. Allen was named the NFL Rookie of the Year, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Comeback Player of the Year and the NFL's Most Valuable Player. He is a six-time pro bowler and Super Bowl XVIII champion and MVP. He is a member of the college and NFL Hall of Fame, and the USC Trojans retired his #33.

One game still sticks out to him. He was 13 years old and in Compton, Calif., for a Pop Warner game. His team won when in San Diego, and now they had to go to Compton. The opposing team, the Comets, were draped in red, black and green.

"Those black power colors. They were menacing. And I played one of the best games I ever played as a 14-year-old kid. I said 'I can play anywhere. I always had confidence and I never had fear. I never doubted myself because my parents loved me," he said.

Mr. Allen spent his whole life playing for the name on his back, and it's something he hopes others do too.

"Whether it's business, sports or healthcare, I hope you provide your kids with all the necessary things it takes for them to be great and then they take you on an amazing journey because that's what it's all about," he said.

Marcus Allen was a keynote speaker at Becker's Spine Review 15th Annual Spine, Orthopedic & Pain Management-Driven Conference on June 22 in Chicago.


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