There comes a time in every movie star’s life when the studio starts sending out scripts for him to play character parts. Once-gorgeous leading ladies are asked to play homicidal old hags. Once-handsome leading men are wanted to play aging priests or philosophical drunks.
There is no record of any of them doing it gracefully.
The world of sport has its equivalent, the brash young rookie taking over for the fading superstar. It’s the nature of things.
But what if the superstar is still in the full bloom of his glory? Would the studio have come to the young Errol Flynn and asked him to play the best friend?
Would it have offered a young Bette Davis the role in “Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte”? If it had, the next scene would have made the last days of Pompeii look like a picnic.
In football, consider that Marcus Allen, the Raider tailback, is a Star--with a capital S.
Consider that he’s only 27 years old. Consider that he’s one of the finest specimens ever to climb into a football uniform. Consider that he has all his eyes and teeth and ears and matinee-idol good looks, and that only a few players could ever play the game as well as he does. Not did, does.
He is strong, swift, shifty and plays the game with a high degree of intelligence.
He hasn’t lost a step, he doesn’t need a face lift. It was only a short while ago that he was winning the Heisman Trophy, the Rose Bowl, the Super Bowl, and any other bauble for excellence lying around. At least 26 of the 28 NFL teams would give him the football and star role right now. He’s still box office.
Yet, he’s being asked, in effect, to play the star’s best friend, the sidekick part. Tonto. The guy who says, “Right, Boss!” or “Want I should pinch his head off for you, Luca?”
Not the butler, exactly, but not the guy who gets the girl, either. Below-the-title billing. Best-performance-by-a-supporting actor stuff.
He’s asked to ride shotgun for the newest star on the horizon. America’s newest sweetheart, Bo Jackson.
Now, if this were Hollywood, the next scene would have Marcus throwing things in his dressing room, howling for his agent, demanding to be taken off this picture, let out of his contract. The axiom in Hollywood is, never share a scene with a dog, a baby, a boy with freckles or Shirley Temple. Or Bo Jackson.
But Marcus Allen surprised the world by slipping into the character part without a whimper, a threat, or even a mild temper tantrum. Even though it’s like playing someone’s father.
Bo Jackson is only two years younger than Marcus Allen and maybe a step or two faster. And 15 pounds heavier. But he’s five years less experienced and 60 touchdowns behind.
It is also considered an axiom in football that no backfield is big enough for two superstars. There’s only one football.
So, the world expected the ultimatum, “Trade me or him!” from Marcus.
It was not forthcoming. Marcus Allen took time out from a practice session at the Raider camp in El Segundo to explain his uncommon willingness to step gracefully out of the limelight, to move into a supporting role:
“Six years ago, when I came into this league, they cut a guy (Mark van Eeghen), and the then-star runner, Kenny King, stepped aside for me, took the blocking role.
“I always thought he handled that with a lot of class and I was impressed, and every chance I got to block for him, I busted my (tail).
“Now, it’s my turn. I could see where Bo could help this team. That, combined with the fact the season wasn’t going very well and we needed to make some changes to help us win.
“So, I went to the coaches and I basically suggested I move to fullback so we could get Bo in the game.
“So, we put that game together.
“Now, I don’t like playing fullback. I didn’t like it at SC. But even though I don’t like the position, I’m going to be the best fullback I can.
“I’ll tell you something. I can do it. How many ballcarriers in the league can block as I have? Eric Dickerson couldn’t do it. Most runners wouldn’t do it.
“There would be a lot of things for me to get upset about. But we don’t need any more negatives on this club. As far as I’m concerned, I left my ego at home. Well, I left part of it at home. I left just enough so as not to distract the ballclub.
“Fullback is a physically demanding position. I’m not used to lining up in a three-point stance. You don’t have the options at fullback you have at the halfback position. You don’t have the freedom. You can’t express yourself.”
It’s a blue-collar position in the NFL, a lunch-pail job.
“I’ve sacrificed an awful lot personally for the good of the team,” Marcus added. “Writers have asked me if it gets me down, and I haven’t said a damn word. If there’s any displeasure with the situation, I’ll wait till the end of the season. I would never go public on them.
“The alternative? The alternative was to shuttle us in, substitute for each other. But I’m not a part-time player, and Bo is not a part-time player.
“That doesn’t do the team any good. It’s like they had one player.
“Listen! I can play anywhere in football, anywhere they put me.”
It was not the first time Marcus had fallen on a hand grenade for the team. Recruited at USC as a high school quarterback and defensive back, the coach, impressed with his offensive abilities, put him in the backfield. As a blocker for Charles White. The future Heisman winner and Trojan all-time season record-holder for rushing--with 2,342 yards--was a path-clearer.
So, Marcus has been there before.
The question is, is he miscast as a blocker? Should he be saying, “I work alone, Kid.”?
Or is Jackson and Allen one of the all-time great show-biz teams, like Veloz and Yolanda, Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald, Astaire and Rogers, Laurel and Hardy? Or maybe, even, the Two Horsemen?