By: Craig Peters
Jared Allen's ride to the Vikings Ring of Honor ended on horseback at U.S. Bank Stadium.
How else could be so fitting?
The former Vikings defensive end followed a specially produced tributed video with riding out through the Vikings tunnel on a jet-black Friesian gelding named Coolio.
Allen's tailored Purple Jacket, one of the three hallmarks of becoming a Vikings Ring of Honor member, cloaked a Western-styled white button up, and that mullet flowed below his black cowboy hat. He also wore a signature belt buckle that had been presented to him the night before by the Vikings — a one-of-a-kind item for one of a kind.
He sat tall, proud and grateful for the moment culminating in a halftime ceremony hosted by former teammate Ben Leber and featuring Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf, Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and Owner/Vice-Chairman Lenny Wilf, who waited for Allen's arrival on the movable stage.
"We all know Jared Allen's personality, his energy, his charisma, but I've got to tell you, he was one of the most fiercely competitive players I've ever been around, playing with or against," Leber said. "He's also one of the best trash talkers I've ever played with. And if you ever go after his knees or try to hit him low, he's going to let you know. We could use the word 'special'; we could use the word 'unique', but we all know Jared Allen is truly one of a kind."
Mark Wilf noted the three identifying factors: the Purple Jacket, a custom ring and permanent display of the individual's name and number at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"Jared, you will be forever remembered as one of the greatest Vikings of all time," Zygi Wilf said. "Now, we are proud to officially welcome you into the Vikings Ring of Honor."
A banner covering Allen's name was unveiled, just to the left of 2021 Vikings Ring of Honor inductee Kevin Williams, who joined forces with Allen for all six of the cowboy's years with Minnesota.
Their names will vigilantly look out as permanent reminders of the impacts they made for Minnesota.
Allen opened his comments by thanking his "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," adding "without Him, I'm truly nothing."
"To my beautiful wife and kids, thank you for supporting me on this crazy ride we call life," Allen continued. "You are truly my rock and my backbone. I love you to the depths of my soul."
Allen then thanked Vikings Ownership and the organization for believing in him "at a time in my career when the team I was coming from didn't believe in me as much."
"I cannot thank you for the relationships we've built, the memories we've had and just the overall commitment to me as a player, as a human being and always making Minnesota feel like home to me. I am forever in your debt and in gratitude to the Wilf family," Allen said. "To all my coaches, all my teammates, this is not just me up there. I could not do it without the likes of Ben Leber, without Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, Chad Greenway, Antoine Winfield. I'm missing some people. I hope when you guys see my name, you see yours right next to mine.
"It is a tremendous honor to be up there next to Kevin," he added some six-and-a-half years after literally riding a horse over a snow-covered field and into the sunset.
Allen told Vikings.com in an interview earlier this year that the "riding off" retirement was suggested by his wife Amy, who suggested he should "do it like a Charlie Chaplin film."
"Don't even say anything — just ride off into the sunset, right? So that was the plan," Allen recalled. "We get to Iowa, the storm followed us [from Chicago] the entire way. There's no sunset. So the poor horse, you know, had to deal with it. So I had to take a few takes because first time I did it, I rode off and my youngest daughter yells in the background to my oldest, 'Daddy, don't fall off the horse!' I thought we should have left that in there, but [my buddy] had to take a couple of takes to get it right.
"But it worked out," he added. "I never even knew what 'trending' was, and all of a sudden, I was trending on the Internet or the social media sphere. So I guess it worked out well."
Folks in these here parts know that sunup to sundown can change dramatically from winter to summer, but they also know Allen's drive from kickoff to the game clock's final tick didn't each fall.
The Vikings defense channeled Allen and repped him well Sunday, totaling four sacks, including takedowns on the final two plays of the game to improve Minnesota to 6-1 for the first time since 2009. Za'Darius Smith recorded three of those sacks — and paid tribute after his first with Allen's calf roping celebration — on his way to garnering NFC Player of the Week honors.
The celebration is so iconic that Arizona's J.J. Watt also did it after recording a sack against Minnesota. Watt heard a few protective boos but explained after the game it was his way of paying tribute.
That competitive intensity, combined with his larger-than-life personality, genuine relationships with fans and sincere commitments to the community, all helped him reach the Vikings Ring of Honor.
A long way from Pocatello, Idaho
Back when Allen spoke to the 2022 Vikings at their U.S. Bank Stadium practice in July, only two people in Section 113 knew just how far the cowboy had ridden.
Allen delivered a message to the team at the request of first-year Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, who then introduced a highlight video. At the end of the sacks montage, Allen learned he would be the 27th inductee (and seventh defensive lineman) to the Vikings Ring of Honor.
Vikings first-year Assistant Head Coach Mike Pettine could only smile during the okey doke and think back to the first time he met Allen in Pocatello, Idaho.
Pettine was in his first year among the lower level of Ravens assistant coaches, having made the jump from high school to the NFL through a role in the team's video department for the previous two seasons. That meant his pre-draft scouting territory was off the beaten path to try to find diamonds in the rough.
But Pettine, 37 at the time, made the trek across the country to Idaho State. He laughed that he was "very paranoid that I wanted to do everything right. You know, the expense report filled out correctly. And I just wanted to make sure that when you're sent out that you're accomplishing what you want to accomplish."
There was some sentiment of perhaps sneaking another roster spot by finding a long snapper who could also be a reserve defensive lineman.
"Maybe a dozen" scouts watched Allen long snap that day at Idaho State. Pettine recalled all but one departing after the final rep. One scout lingered for a few more minutes before bolting. That left Pettine, Allen and a tight end who had been asked to stay so that a defensive workout by Allen could be better assessed.
"I want to say we were doing a drill where he had to engage and shed him as a blocker, and I think Jared pretty much torched the T-shirt off his body," Pettine said. "It struck me then this was a guy with high energy, loved to play.
"In my mind, I'm thinking this guy is really good, but maybe it's my lens that I'm used to dealing with high school guys, and probably everybody's going to look good," Pettine said.
The game tape had led Pettine to wonder if Allen might take off a play here and there that headed the other direction, but "just to see him in person, that energy and look in his eye, you could just tell how much he loved football."
Pettine's route back to Baltimore involved driving down from Pocatello to Salt Lake City, Utah.
"It was like driving in a postcard, like almost drove off the road a couple of times because you're literally like, 'Oh my God, this is beautiful.'"
Had he sent a postcard-sized scouting report, it would have been "positive for the most part," like his complete report, which he still has. But the Ravens had just drafted edge rusher Terrell Suggs in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft and were more interested in an intermediary between nose tackle Tony Siragusa and Suggs who would keep linebacker Ray Lewis free to make plays.
"He put me through all the paces, and I'll never forget the question he asked me," Allen recalled. "I was kind of caught off-guard. He asked me if I would be OK basically sacrificing myself for Ray Lewis. And my answer was NO [laughs].
"I'll never forget that question," Allen added. "He said, 'Listen, you know, we need guys that can take on blocks and let Ray run.' Like, I don't know if I'm that guy. Hey, I'm not I'm not 300 pounds. I'm not 'Goose,' you know? It was an intense workout, too. And yes, I remember it vividly."
Allen was candid with Pettine about some immature mistakes he had made along the way, the kind that can land an All-Pro talent at a college 580 miles from the closest NFL franchise (Denver) and metaphorically further away. He remained convinced he had what it took.
"I always knew I was playing in the NFL. It was my one goal in life," Allen said. "I told my dad when I was 8, I was going to play in the NFL. So there was never an option not to, to be honest. So, I mean, I wouldn't say it was cockiness. It was just confident. I just knew that's what I was going to do. I mean, I tried to screw it up a lot of times along the way, but the good Lord got me in the right position."
Kansas City to Minnesota
The Kansas City Chiefs decided a fourth-round pick was worth extending that opportunity to Allen.
He made them right with 9.0 sacks as a rookie, 11 in 2005, 7.5 in 2006 and an NFL best 15.5 in 2007 when he earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors the first time.
Tony Richardson was in his 10th of 11 seasons with the Chiefs when Allen was a rookie in 2004. Richardson teamed with Allen for two seasons before joining the Vikings (2006-07) and capping his 17-season career with the Jets (2008-10).
"It's funny, kind of a term that people use, but Jared came into the league as an old soul, so it's funny, when I was in Kansas City, we had a great defense, a lot of great leaders, and he just fit right in," Richardson said Saturday before a "Jared Allen: Unroped" event at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. "It was amazing how guys adapted to him quickly. You wouldn't think he was a rookie, because sometimes in the first year a guy is named 'Rookie' the whole year, and during his rookie year, everyone was, 'That's Jared,' and he fit in. He was just one of those players, the bigger the moment, the greater he played. He just never flinched, and it's hard to find guys like that, but that was Jared Allen."
When Allen and the Chiefs couldn't work out a long-term deal, he asked to be traded.
"It was a crazy deal because I never wanted to leave Kansas City. I loved the fan base. I loved everything about that," Allen said. "I just felt like the organization wasn't giving me the same I was giving them. And it was kind of hard once you lose that faith in somebody or that organization that they don't really have your back, for me at least, it's hard to go out there and be that player."
The Vikings became a suitor, even if it meant sending multiple picks to the Chiefs and making Allen the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL at the time.
Minnesota initially held the No. 7 overall pick in 2003 before a snafu led to the team picking at No. 9. The Vikings chose Kevin Williams one spot before Baltimore selected Suggs.
Williams excelled for the Vikings at defensive tackle alongside Pat Williams in forming "The Williams Wall," which stuffed running backs in their tracks. He totaled five First-Team All-Pro selections, but the Vikings felt they needed a big-time difference maker rushing from the edge.
"I'm trying to ask somebody to give me a contract that's, you know, never been given to anybody on the defensive side of the ball, at least. And give up a bunch of picks and why they should do that," Allen recalled. "I just think the relationships, you know, that ended up forming, through that process obviously ended up being lifelong — we're still great friends."
The Vikings leadership, which included current Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski and former General Manager Rick Spielman, who held the title of Vice President of Player Personnel at the time, entrusted Allen, and he returned the investment. Brzezinski tried for multiple months to work out a deal with Chiefs leadership to allow the defensive end to visit Minnesota before completing the deal.
"One thing I remember is you looking Zygi in the eye and saying, 'I won't let you down,' " Brzezinski told Allen Saturday, vividly recalling the moment from 14-plus years earlier. "I also remember I drove you from Winter Park down to the hotel that night, and I'm like, 'This guy, he is special. Obviously the talent on the field is one thing, but he's an incredible person.' "
Allen ripped off six consecutive seasons with at least 11 sacks, including 14.5 in 2008 and matching the total in 2009. Those two years are the most recent in which the Vikings have won consecutive division crowns.
"When we traded for Jared, his impact on the team was immediate," Zygi Wilf said. "His talent as a pass rusher was a perfect addition to the defense and helped make us one of the best units in the NFL. The type of teammate he was in the locker room and person he was within the community were as equally important as his play on the field. He belongs in the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor."
View photos of Vikings Legend Jared Allen during his 2022 Ring of Honor induction ceremony at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Allen set the Vikings record for sacks in a season with 22 in 2011, a mark currently tied for third in NFL history. He ranked in the NFL's top 10 in sacks in each of his six Vikings seasons, and his 136 career sacks rank as the 12th-most in NFL history (since 1982 when sacks became an official statistic). Allen is tied for the NFL record with four career safeties, all coming with the Vikings, including two in 2008, which is tied for the most in one NFL season.
"He took advantage of every inch of ability he had, but the bigger the lights, the better the stage, the more he was going to make some plays," Richardson said. "It was pretty special to watch."
During his Vikings tenure, Allen averaged .89 sacks per game played (85.5 sacks/96 games), the highest average in Vikings history. He was a cornerstone for three consecutive Vikings defensive units that ranked in the NFL's top 10 from 2008-10 (Nos. 6, 6 and 8).
"Jared played with a passion, energy and drive that few players are able to match for as long as he did," Mark Wilf said. "He raised the level of play for everyone around him with his relentless approach, and he set a positive example with his engagement in the Minnesota community. We are excited he will join the Vikings Ring of Honor and forever be remembered as a Viking."
Back in 2008, Pat Williams had picked up Allen at the airport. The automobile ride was the start of a lifelong friendship between Allen and the "The Williams Wall." There may have even been some testiness about playing the run 'round here when Pat and Kevin were assessing their future teammate.
The relationship grew into a kinship — a brotherhood.
"We sat down and hit it off right off the bat," Kevin Williams said before Saturday's program. "To this day, I can call him, we haven't talked in weeks and can just catch up just like that and fall right back where we never missed a beat. He's infectious to be around, his energy and everything, so it was great for our room because we had me, the mild one, and then you had Pat and then you had Jared and all the other young guys. It was a great mixture in the room and really blended and worked well."
A complete circle
Allen felt an authenticity from Ownership through the fans here that enabled him to be himself, thrive on the field and grow off it. Coming to Minnesota brought things full circle for Allen, whose mother is from North Dakota.
"I'm like 60 percent Norwegian, so these are my people. From day one, the fans have been great. It's been amazing," Allen said. "It's been a community.
"Fans just accepted me and understood that as I grew in this community, it just kind of made it a bigger bond of being able to give back, and to be a viable part of the community was really cool," he added.
They'd show up to The Jared Allen Show featuring the cowboy and hosted by Mike Mussman — a precursor to today's Vikings Country — hours in advance to get in the autograph pool and stay for the laughs.
"One of the main reasons I played this game was for the fans. If it wasn't for you guys showing up every Sunday, it wouldn't be worth being out here, so from the rafters to the suites, I hope you guys know you're a part of this," Allen said Sunday. "I hope you felt the energy and passion I put in here because I respect the fact you spent your hard-earned money to come watch us play a game for a living. I could not have been the player I was without the energy that was brought every single week. You've always made Minnesota feel like home. You've given me a lifetime of memories, so let's kick it into high gear."
Teammates are obviously proud of Allen's on-field accomplishments and his recognition, but that's been outdone by the man he's grown into beyond being their brother. He's a loving husband and father so happy to be joined by his family for that moment on the field.
"I was transitioning out of the league, and I remember seeing Jared, and I was so proud of him when he came over to the Vikes, to see the evolution of Jared, because I had seen funny times with Jared but then to see Jared the husband, Jared the father, Jared the man, because he was always about his business and his craft, but then he took it to another level," Richardson said. "I'm so proud of him. You just knew there was greatness. There's still some wildness in him — he still has that twinkle in his eye, but yes, it's amazing to see the man Jared has become."
Leber explained how his and Allen's families coincidentally happened to vacation together at the same Bahamas resort, offering an up-close look at Allen's commitment to his family.
"We all know the energy and passion he brought to the game, but to see him as a husband and father to his two beautiful young girls, it was awesome," Leber said. "It really was. I honestly really didn't know that side of you up until that point. He's come so far in his life. To watch him dote on the three women in his life every day, all day, as if they're the queen and princesses in his life, it really was special. 'Dang Jared, I've got to step up my dad game.' "
Allen is the seventh former Vikings defensive lineman to earn his place in the Ring of Honor. His addition brings the Vikings Ring of Honor to 27 members. Previous inductees include Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Jim Finks, Bud Grant, Paul Krause, Fred Zamberletti, Jim Marshall, Ron Yary, Korey Stringer, Mick Tingelhoff, Carl Eller, Cris Carter, Bill Brown, Jerry Burns, Randall McDaniel, Chuck Foreman, John Randle, Scott Studwell, Chris Doleman, Matt Blair, Joey Browner, Ahmad Rashad, Randy Moss, Dennis Green, Steve Jordan and Kevin Williams.