SUNDAYS ARE FUN AGAIN . . . : Marcus Allen Has New Life : Happy in Kansas City, He Is Trying to Put Feud With Al Davis Behind Him
The last time the Raiders saw Marcus Allen, it was December and he was trudging off a field in Washington, again denied a chance to finish off a winning drive he had started.
The last time they saw him, if they looked closely, he was gesturing toward the press box.
Allen won’t say exactly what the gesture was and still doesn’t know if Al Davis saw it. He hopes so.
“It was nothing obscene,” Allen said. “I would never do something like that where somebody could see me. But I just wanted to let Al know, one last time, that I knew what was going on.”
The Raiders will see Allen again Sunday when they visit the Kansas City Chiefs.
It has been only eight months, but they will hardly recognize him.
His uniform, now adorned with the bright red and gold of the Chiefs, matches his demeanor. He smiles a lot, laughs a lot.
And, for a change, he plays a lot.
In two of the Chiefs’ three games that were not blowouts, Allen has averaged 15 carries and 85 yards.
He is coming off his best regular-season rushing performance in nearly five years, 91 yards against the Denver Broncos two weeks ago on Monday night.
Allen also counsels the younger players in the locker room and generally exerts the sort of leadership that holds teams together.
Gone, apparently, are the days when he felt as if he were coming apart.
“You never forget what happens to you, but you have to get past it, you have to move on,” said Allen, the Raiders’ best running back for 11 years. “You try to stay busy enough that you don’t have to dwell on what happened.”
He laughed. “The biggest difference between here and the Raiders? Easy. Here, I’m happy.”
There , in Los Angeles, are memories of the organization’s refusal to play Allen on much more than third downs in the four seasons after Allen’s 1989 holdout.
The lack of playing time caused a simmering feud between Allen and Davis, the Raiders’ owner, that finally erupted on national television during a Monday night game late last year. In a taped interview, Allen derided Davis at halftime of the Raiders’ game against Miami in mid-December.
“‘What do you think of a guy who has attempted to ruin your career?” Allen said in the celebrated interview, later adding, "(Davis) told me he was going to get me and he has. . . . I think he has tried to ruin the latter part of my career, tried to devalue me and tried to stop me from going to the Hall of Fame.”
Davis, more than a month later, denied Allen’s allegations. In an interview with Steve Springer of The Times, he said, “What (Allen) said were blatant lies. It was done in a cheap and sneaky way.”
When asked about Allen’s charges again this week, Al LoCasale, Davis’ executive assistant and speaking for Davis, said that Coach Art Shell had made all field decisions concerning Allen. He said that sometimes Allen had not played because the team had better running backs, and that other times Allen was not physically able to play.
“Art is our head coach--and a darned good head coach--and what Marcus did was just not fair to him,” LoCasale said. “Just remember how Art was quoted after all this happened. He said Marcus was a liar, and furthermore, he was a cancer on the team.”
Davis and Allen were finally separated when Allen fled the team, thanks to the free-agency clause in the new collective bargaining agreement reached by management and the players’ organization last spring.
But that feud lives on, if not in Allen’s carefully chosen words, then in the disapproving tone of his voice when he briefly discusses Davis.
“The reason I never said anything before the interview is because I had nowhere to go, no free agency,” he said. “I had to keep quiet because I wanted to keep my job. Heck, if I could have left, I would have said something six years ago. It was hard keeping quiet, but I did what I had to do to survive.”
He added: "(Davis) would never say anything because he is smart like that. He wanted me to say something, to put the onus on me.”
The feud also lives on when Allen discusses, partly in sadness, partly with glee, that Monday night interview.
“I was standing on the sidelines watching the clock tick down to halftime thinking, ‘Oh, man,’ ” Allen said. “Then we went in the locker room and we were going over the plays and I’m thinking, ‘Man, right about now on television, the stuff is hitting the fan.’ It was weird.
“I couldn’t say anything to anybody because I did not want to create a distraction. And I did not create a distraction, no matter what the Raiders say, because nobody in that locker room saw it or heard about it until after the game.”
When asked why he chose a Monday night game as his forum, Allen smiled.
It is the same smile he uses when he explains that he has kept a diary of his troubles with Davis, saving his stories for a book he hopes to write.
“Timing,” he said. “Everything in this world is timing. I could finally leave, so I could finally talk.”
Allen’s close friend, O.J. Simpson, still can’t quite believe that a five-time Pro Bowl running back became an outcast.
“How can that exist in this country?” Simpson asked Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, where he was working a game for NBC. “If you go back four years, Marcus was on track to put up some serious numbers, some career numbers that would have ranked him among the best ever.
“Then he got short-circuited. By the only person in the game he had a problem with.”
Indeed, in 1985, Allen led the NFL with 1,759 yards and also set a league record for most yards rushing and receiving with 2,314. He was voted the league’s most valuable player, and the best was yet to come.
In ’85 and ’86, Allen set an NFL record with 11 consecutive games of 100 or more yards rushing.
But in 1987, Bo Jackson showed up. A year later, Allen was asked to become a fullback. He could have been as outraged as his many admirers around the league.
He played his position and said nothing.
“I was sold on him from that minute on,” said Marty Schottenheimer, coach of the Chiefs. “Can you imagine, a great runner like that, going to fullback and not saying one word? He was obviously a guy who would subordinate his personal goals for that of the team.”
In the summer of 1989, after a couple of injury-plagued years, Allen held out for all but the final week of training camp, hoping that Davis would increase his $1.1-million salary to something closer to Jackson’s $1.356 million. Particularly because Jackson didn’t show up until after the baseball season was over.
Allen, who never publicly complained during his holdout, eventually showed up in time for the first game, with a contract that was unchanged.
And things never were the same again.
Last year, even though he was sound, he did not start once and carried only 67 times. He will equal that mark if he carries 21 times Sunday in the Chiefs’ fourth game.
“When he started having his problems, I told Marcus to be quiet, that everything would probably resolve itself,” Simpson said. “In retrospect, I may have been wrong. Maybe I should have told Marcus to be a jerk. Maybe things would have different.”
Simpson emphasized that he “was a big fan of Al Davis, that I always wanted to play for Al Davis, that I knew he always treated guys right.”
But now, Simpson said, his opinion has changed somewhat. Judging from the number of Allen admirers around the league who claim they would never play for the Raiders, Simpson is not alone.
“Al Davis is still Al Davis, but I look at him different now,” Simpson said. “He is still an excellent football man but, like everybody who has been doing this a long time, like a Tom Landry, he may have lost his fastball.”
Simpson said that the worst thing about the feud, besides its effect on Allen’s career, was that it was unfair to those who still believe in the Raider mystique.
“To me, it was embarrassing to all the fans and everybody who knew what was going on,” he said. “That one man could have all that power, to do that to Marcus and then to all the fans who want to see the Raiders win . . . I can’t believe the glaring unfairness of it all.”
Simpson said that in the beginning, he refused to take sides.
“Who was right, who was wrong, I didn’t even try to analyze that,” he said. “But for them not to move him when they knew they weren’t going to play him, that was not right.”
It finally ended for Allen on the Raiders’ last drive of last season, after he had gained 27 yards at the start of an 80-yard push in the final seconds against the Washington Redskins.
When Vince Evans completed a 50-yard pass play with Willie Gault to the Redskins’ eight-yard line, Allen was taken out. Evans eventually threw a touchdown pass to Tim Brown and the Raiders won, 21-20.
“And I was supposed to at least be the short-yardage back, right?” Allen said, laughing derisively. “Right.”
So he made his gesture, shed a few tears, and now is trying to make a new home in a high-rise apartment above the fashionable Country Club Plaza section of Kansas City.
“When I first came here, I thought everybody had 20 acres and tornadoes,” he said. “But I have learned that there is a lot more, a lot of culture, a lot of history. It’s really nice.”
Not that he still doesn’t own a house in Los Angeles.
Not that he won’t hug his old Raider teammates on the field early Sunday morning.
Considering that the entire Raider team gained only 71 yards in their last game, more than a few of them might tell Allen how much they miss him.
That is, if they dare be seen talking to him.