Jared Allen's dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete all started with a bet.
The former Viking and All-Pro defensive end made a wager with his friend Brandon Moles after Moles told Allen he couldn't make the U.S. team, no matter what sport it was in.
That bet was five years ago. And after spending 12 NFL seasons honing his skills from a three-point stance, Allen is working on a different type of stance — in a completely different sport — for an event that won't take place for the next few years.
Allen is currently competing in the USA Curling National Championships in Denver, which started on Sunday and go until Saturday.
Rachel Blount of the Star Tribune recently caught up with Allen, who is competing in his third U.S. championships, about his curling journey and his quest to qualify for the 2026 Olympics in Milan-Cortina, Italy. Blount wrote:
"[Allen] will play in this week's U.S. championships as part of a team skipped by Minnesota native Jason Smith, chasing a berth at the world championships in April. A man who once made his living with brute force is now immersed in a sport that requires finesse and delicacy, on an unlikely quest to go from curling newbie to Olympic rock star in record time."
"I thought curling was going to be a lot easier than it was," Allen told Blount. "But I'm one of those guys who, once I start something, I'm going to see it through. Our goal at nationals is to beat as many teams as we possibly can and see where we land."
View photos of Vikings Legend Jared Allen during his 2022 Ring of Honor induction ceremony at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Allen's Olympic journey began in 2019, just a few years after he retired from the NFL. He formed the All-Pro Curling Team with former NFL players Marc Bulger, Michael Roos and Keith Bulluck. Allen also sought the help of Minnesota native John Benton, who was the lead of the Duluth team that represented the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
Benton coached the team of ex-NFL athletes and has been impressed with Allen's dedication to the winter sport.
"I knew the first time he called me he was going to stick with it," Benton said. "A lot of people underestimate what it takes to get to the Olympics in this sport. Jared isn't goofing off. He's putting in the time.
"Some people thought he would make a joke out of it. But he took to the sport pretty quickly," Benton continued. "And he's one of those guys who, when he says he's going to do something, he really works hard at it."
At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, Allen naturally took a little bit to get accustomed to competing on ice. But Blount noted that some of the All-Pro's skills that were developed on the football field could be applied to curling. She wrote:
"Allen said he brought a sharper competitive edge to a sport that can be passive, as well as the ability to learn quickly. But the hulking, raw power that once intimidated opposing quarterbacks had to be used in more subtle ways."
"It's so different than what we're used to as football players," he said. "I think that's what's kept me so intrigued.
"Like the short game in golf, it's a game of finesse. You have to think two shots ahead," Allen continued. "And you have to learn how to control your body, your emotions, your heart rate. That took some time to reset."
Allen's team consists of Smith — who competed on the 2010 team with Benton and John Shuster — and Hunter Clawson and Dominik Maerki. Currently ranked 89th in the men's World Curling Federation, Team Smith is one of the eight groups on the men's side battling this week in hopes of Olympic glory.
Blount added although Allen is just getting started on his Olympic path, time is running out. She wrote:
"The clock is now winding down on Allen's Olympic bid. Though his bet didn't specify a time frame, he said he won't continue his pursuit past the 2026 Games, citing the immense amount of travel and practice involved."
Team Smith started the competition in strong fashion on Sunday, though. They stunned the team led by Shuster — who also won a gold medal in 2018 — 10-6 in the opening game of round-robin play.
All eight teams will face each other before the top four advance to the playoffs on Friday. The championship finals will be held at 1 p.m. (CT) Saturday, with the winner representing the U.S. at the world championships in Ottawa, Canada from April 1-9.
This week's games are livestreamed on the USA Curling YouTube channel; live scoring, standings and the schedule can be found here.
Final standouts from Senior Bowl game
The offseason checklist for NFL teams got a little bit shorter over the weekend as the 2023 Senior Bowl game concluded the week-long event in Mobile, Alabama.
The National team cruised to a 27-10 victory against the American team on Saturday in the 74th edition of the game featuring more than 100 draft-eligible prospects.
Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener completed 12-of-19 passing for 139 yards and a touchdown to earn MVP honors.
Ryan Wilson and Josh Edwards of CBS Sports broke down the game and identified a few players who stood out.
Defensively, Wilson and Edwards wrote Virginia cornerback Anthony Johnson continued to shine on Saturday after a solid 2022 fall season.
"Johnson was one of our favorite players to watch in the fall. He's big, moves well for his size, and consistently battles for the ball at the catch point. There will be questions about his speed in the coming weeks, and perhaps that may affect where he's ultimately drafted, but his playmaking ability was on full display Saturday when he pick-sixed a throw from Malik Cunningham."
On the other side of the ball, Wilson and Edwards added Northwestern running back Ethan Hull and Purdue tight end Payne Durham showcased their skills in multiple ways. They wrote:
"[Hull] was as steady as any player here, and that steady-as-she-goes approach was on display again on Saturday. Hull had 74 rushing yards on 10 carries and added another 11 yards on two receptions. Hull does everything well, and while he's not the fastest, or the most explosive back in this draft, his versatility will be an asset at the next level.
"We talked Thursday about the progress Durham made during the week, and the sure hands that showed up this season for the Boilermakers were here in Mobile too. He had just two catches for 24 yards on the stat sheet, but one wasthisclose to being a touchdown — instead, it was just a good back-shoulder catch on a good throw from Cunningham.
"Durham also made a touch catch in traffic — and then there was the catch that didn't show up in the box score; he hauled in a pass from Cunningham to successfully complete the two-point try after the National team scored its second touchdown."