The following appears in the September issue of California Sportsman:
By Chris Cocoles
Jared Allen, who made quite the impression on the football field chasing down quarterbacks, just can’t seem to sit still living the good life in retirement.
Bay Area native Allen, who has a legitimate chance to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a long career as a dominating defensive end, is as active as ever these days.
He’s dabbled in curling, forming a team with fellow ex-football players who tried to qualify for the Winter Olympics in the sport. He, his wife and their daughters own a restaurant in Tempe, Arizona (he also wrote a wild-game-themed cookbook during his playing days). He once violently sacked Johnny Knoxville during a stunt as part of Knoxville’s and buddies’ Jackass film franchise. He loves horses and riding enough that when he announced his retirement in 2016 via Instagram, shortly after he and the Carolina Panthers – he also played for Kansas City, Minnesota and Chicago – came up short in Super Bowl 50, he literally rode off into the sunset on his mount. And he’s tirelessly dedicated himself to helping wounded veterans purchase accessible homes after returning from combat.
“You realize how much we take for granted and how much we don’t understand what’s going on, and just the sacrifices our men and women make while we sit back here and have our opinions,” says Allen, who turned 40 this past April.
And one of Allen’s biggest post- football passions? He’s a dedicated sportsman whose hunting skills are outstanding. (Fishing? We’ll get to those mishaps.) But from the time he grew up on a Morgan Hill horse ranch, through a stellar football career as one of his era’s most feared pass rushers and now a restaurateur, philanthropist and living the good life hunting, fishing – at least when he’s lucky enough to catch something – and being a husband and father, Allen has rarely slowed down along the way.
“I can’t complain about a thing; my career was great; life was great,” he says. “I got to do it my way.”
JARED ALLEN’S NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE CAREER BY THE NUMBERS 187 total games played
136 career sacks
FOR A GUY WHO is great at storytelling – be it a football, childhood or hunting memory – don’t get Jared Allen started when asking for his favorite fishing tales. There just isn’t much to share.
“Every single one of them,” he quipped when asked about the number of unpleasant memories he’s endured.
“We did a lot of fishing when I was younger, and honestly while I know how to fish, I just have the worst luck,” Allen admits. “It’s a running joke with my friends and my family that we can be out on the trout farm and everybody will catch fish but me. If I go fishing with you, you’ll probably limit out and I won’t catch anything fishing the same bait in the same hole.”
Still, when questioned how one of the best defensive linemen of his era could be as good at football as he is bad at fishing, Allen managed to come up with a story of a good day on the water, in his favorite getaway at Lake Tahoe, where Jared, his wife Amy and daughters Brinley, 10, and Noel, 7, own a property (they primarily reside in Nashville, Tennessee, these days).
“We finally had to charter a boat last year to go out and catch fish,” says Allen, who sure enough posted an Instagram photo of himself and a buddy holding up a bunch of fish.
“We went out with Tahoe Sportfishing and we nailed it and limited out on kokanee and Macks. It was a great day. We had fish for days. Phenomenal. That water is so fresh. Tahoe is just amazing.”
But that was after a series of misadventures on the big Sierra lake. “I’d go out on my kayak, I’d set up everything and be fishing with people and (Amy) would say, ‘Are you ever going to catch dinner for us?’ I’d say, ‘Hey; it’s just not in my cards to be an avid fisherman.’”
He also talked about fishing with his best buddies from college – Allen played football at Idaho State, a small Football Championship Series school (formerly known as Division I-AA). They would often go to the Salmon River during getaways from the university’s campus in southeast Idaho. You can probably guess how it went down.
“I said, ‘Guys, I know how to fish but I have the worst luck fishing. Everybody will limit out but me. That’s been my life growing up.’ And we were steelhead fishing morning to night and I hooked three. And every time the line broke or something happened,” Allen says. “So I got skunked. Lee and Matt caught their limit, no hands down. And Lee’s exact words were, ‘I thought you were exaggerating. Or I just figured you did not know how to fish. But you do know how to fish. You put the time and effort into it and you truly have the worst luck.’” The good news? He’s had much more successful times hunting compared to his fishing misery.
648 total tackles
503 solo stops
IF A KID WANTED to get his hands dirty and savor what the outdoor world had to offer, you could do worse than the life Allen had growing up. He lived on his dad Ron Allen’s horse farm in Morgan Hill, south of San Jose. And frequently he spent time exploring the land around his grandfather Raymond’s spacious property in Rio Dell, located near the Eel River in Humboldt County.
“That’s where I grew up and got the love for the outdoors,” Allen says of the trips to play on his grandfather’s spread. “And obviously horses were a big part of my life growing up.”
Going fishing was also commonplace amongst the Allen family. But it wasn’t until Jared started his pro football career that he whetted an appetite for hunting. Frankly, save for some hunting when hanging around with his grandfather, Allen didn’t have the financial means to get into the kind of big game hunts he longed for. But while playing for his first National Football League team, the Kansas City Chiefs, teammates like offensive lineman Jordan Black and others got him to come along.
“And then I got into bowhunting and met Tim Wells through (his outdoor TV show) Relentless Pursuit. I absolutely fell in love with bowhunting and started predator hunting with him,” Allen says. “I really do prefer bowhunting, especially for whitetails.
I’ll also try to bowhunt turkeys this year. The timing didn’t work to do an elk bowhunt this past year. But that’s probably the next one I want to go to.”
Raising a family just around the time his football career ended made it more problematic to get out in the field consistently. But now retired from the game and with his daughters being older – “They love to fish and they’re going to start riding horses. They’re not quite old enough but my parents are going to start teaching them” – Allen’s had more time to cross off bucket list hunts. Last season, Jared’s birthday present to his father Ron was an elk and whitetail hunt in Montana. Ron’s best friend and his son joined the party.
Ron scored a whitetail but missed out on multiple attempts on a bull elk – Jared was lucky enough to harvest one – but it just means they’ll go out again soon as another chance for Ron to fill his elk tag.
“It was fan-tastic! We had a great outfitter and they were great guides. It was so much fun,” Jared says of the bonding experience.
“It was an absolute blast and I love Montana – just to be out here and hunting elk, which are such cool animals and so tough. They’re hard (to hunt); they’re down in the open land and in the sagebrush. You’re trying to get close enough for a shot. You really test your shooting because you have to be able to be comfortable to shoot 400, 450, 500 yards if you need to, and obviously you’re trying to get them in.”
Montana has become Allen’s go-to destination for big game hunts, but a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to hunt red stag on a trip to New Zealand was also memorable. And for his 40th birthday gift this year, Amy gave her husband an upcoming bird hunting adventure in Argentina.
But to Allen, there’s something special about hunting those elk in Montana. The experience with his dad and the desire to go back and make sure he also takes a big bull is strong.
“Most of our shots were right around that 300-yard range. So it’s not for the faint of heart, as far as some of these guys aren’t as comfortable shooting over 150 or 200 yards,” Allen says. “So it’s definitely a different element, right? Those things are tough as nails. You have to have a well-placed shot and often well- placed multiple shots.”
“It was an absolute blast.”
171 tackles for loss
32 forced fumbles
EVEN AS HE SPENT much of his youth riding horses, fishing and savoring the outdoors, Allen’s passion for the sport he made a career out of took root when he starred on the gridiron in high school, first at Live Oak in Morgan Hill and then Los Gatos High.
“This is a kid who didn’t understand why he had to go to school because all he wanted to do was play football,” Ron Allen told San Jose’s The Mercury News years ago when Jared was preparing to play in the first of his five Pro Bowl games, which bring together the best players in the NFL. “But when I told him he would have to eat, sleep and drink football from that moment until draft day, dang if he didn’t do just that.”
But it wasn’t an easy or traditional path from Morgan Hill cowboy to Minnesota Viking legend. Allen, now a Christian, understands he hasn’t always made it easy on himself. There was an incident when he was allegedly involved in a prank of heisting school yearbooks. He transferred from Live Oak to Los Gatos High, and the perceived red flags scared off some big-name schools from recruiting him (the University of Washington pulled back a scholarship offer).
He ended up starring for the smaller school, the Idaho State Bengals, parlaying his All-American career in Pocatello to become a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, which was the start of an iconic 12-year stint in the NFL.
And there have been other missteps, namely three instances of being charged with driving under the influence, once in college and twice after he started his pro career in Kansas City.
Enough was enough with that reckless behavior. And now that he is a loving family man, Allen says the regrettable decisions he made as a young man were actually needed.
“Any time you can avoid hiccups along the way would be great. But it’s the same thing I tell my kids: It’s only failure if you don’t learn from it. I’d probably tell my younger self to grow up faster. It took me until I was 26 to grow up,” Allen says.
“But I think life is about lessons; you become who you are based on the lessons that you learn. I think we’ve all known people in life who have had these things handed to them – those silver spoons and trust- fund babies who have never had to do anything for themselves. They don’t really have any character and they’ve never learned anything. Me, I would love to take away those hiccups in my life. I would love to be able to learn lessons without having to break the law to do it.”
“I’d tell myself to grow up and learn responsibility sooner than later, but would I be the same man if I didn’t take those lumps? I don’t know. Would I have the same humility if everything was easier in life? Would I be able to pass on things to my kids? Would I be able to be more empathetic towards other people and understand the true meaning of a second chance or a third chance, and the true meaning of success and significance if you don’t fail? I don’t think I would.”
Failure has never coincided with his football prowess. He was productive right out of the chute after Kansas City drafted him. And after four strong seasons with the Chiefs, his best years were in Minnesota after a 2008 trade to the Vikings.
He recorded at least 11 sacks in each of his six years playing in the Twin Cities (Allen finished his career with 136 sacks, unofficially ranking him tied for 16th all-time in a stat that’s only been recorded since 1960).
Royalty to the fans of Vikings Nation, in late July while visiting his former team’s training camp, Allen found out he’ll be honored at a home game on Oct. 30 as an addition to the Vikings Ring of Honor. (He was also a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist this year and is sure to get inducted sometime in the future.)
In a press release, Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf called Allen “A special player in Vikings history, and now and forever, he’ll be a Vikings legend in our Ring of Honor.”
His teammates in Minnesota also praised this pending honor. Vikings star wide receiver Adam Thielen entered the NFL in 2013, Allen’s last year in Minnesota before signing with the Chicago Bears. Thielen, himself now a two-time Pro Bowl wideout, never forgot the energy Allen brought to his own game and rubbed onto others.
“I’ve always tried to emulate that, whether in meetings or the locker room, on the field. He brought it every single day,” Thielen said in a press conference when asked about Allen. “He was a fun guy to be around because of the energy, always joking around, messing around, but when it was game time, he was going. He was still messing around a little bit, but when that ball was snapped, it was a different guy.”
And he’s a content guy now that he’s retired – happily retired – from football. Sure, Allen would have loved to win a Super Bowl after coming up short in his only appearance in the NFL’s biggest game (and it just happened to be played near his hometown at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium, where Allen and the Panthers lost 24-10 to the Denver Broncos).
He was “absolutely” satisfied with how his career played out after it ended that night in the Bay Area. If not for some injuries in his golden years, he probably would have reached his goal of 150 career sacks, but this is a man at peace with the game he excelled at.
“Tell you what: If you would have told me when I was 18 that I’d play for 12 years and be considered for the Hall of Fame, I’d have signed on that dotted line many times over,” Allen says. “I left on my terms and every time I went to a new team it was on my terms. I really was blessed and couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
5 Pro Bowl appearances 4 All-Pro seasons (2011 The Sporting News defensive player of the year) 2 receiving touchdowns scored on two catches during the 2007 season with the Chiefs. He also scored two defensive touchdowns with the Vikings, a 52-yard fumble return in 2009 and a 36-yard interception return in 2010.
ALL THOSE DAYS ALLEN spent with his grandfather – Raymond Allen passed away in 2009 – continue to shape who the retired football star is now. Raymond spent 23 years in the Marines. Thus, during the prime years of his football career, Jared Allen started the charity organization Homes for Wounded Warriors (homesforwoundedwarriors .com) around the time of his grandpa’s death.
“My grandfather and whole family has (been involved) in the military, so I just knew we had to do something to repay that. When I came back from a USO tour, that’s what I knew my mission was going to be (to remodel injury-specific, accessible, and mortgage-free homes for wounded service members),” he says.
“For me, I’ve taken so much from this country and been blessed so much from the freedoms that we’ve had and what we’ve been able to do, I felt like it was my obligation as a patriot to give back and make sure that when our men and women come home, that they’re taken care of. No one deserves the American dream more than them. To be able to provide that for them has been a dream come true. And we’ve gotten so much more than we’ve given out to it.”
And as hunting has become more and more of a passion for Allen post- football, the notion of harvesting game inspired his and Amy’s restaurant venture, The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen near the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe. Naturally, the eatery has a fishing/hunting lodge motif. (Jared has also penned a wild game recipe book, aptly named TheQuarterback Killer’s Cookbook).
Jared and Amy are both passionate about cooking (he loves to grill, she’s Italian and a whiz in the kitchen). But just as important is the type of food they’re putting into their bodies.
“We’re very into food – organic food. We’ve been on a pretty hardcore organic (diet) during the last five years or so. We’re conscious of putting quality food into our bodies. We’ve really gone down the rabbit hole in organic eating. I love to garden and love to grow as many vegetables as I can. So having that hunting lifestyle just adds the ability of knowing where your food’s going.”
He’s even trying to convince the kids to eat more wild game. “I had to kind of trick them at first, but now they know and eat venison burgers. I haven’t gotten them into venison steaks yet. They still draw the line on that,” says Allen, who someday will teach Brinley and Noel to shoot.
And if you’re hunting with him, there’s one other variable to remember. Want to harvest a monster animal? Fine. But it should be considered table fare more than a trophy.
“I think it’s important that I’m an avid kill-what-you-eat hunter. I’m not a sport hunter, though I love the sport of hunting, although I don’t really call it that. I love the activity of hunting,” Allen says.
“I don’t necessarily have to harvest something. For me, just being in the woods and the anticipation; trying to put a plan together and executing it on an animal. (But) you show respect by eating what you harvest.”
Whether it was chasing quarterbacks or now chasing elk and deer, there’s a purpose to Jared Allen’s process. CS
Editor’s note: For more on Jared Allen, check out his website, jaredallen69inc .com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@JaredAllen69).
FOR THE LOVE OF LAKE TAHOE
Editor Chris Cocoles talked to Jared Allen about both of their experiences in the Lake Tahoe area (Allen’s family spends plenty of time there at their vacation home).
Way back in the B.C. (Before Covid) days, when many of us still worked in the office, my then co- worker Christina called to my attention a news blurb she saw online.
“The (Seattle) Seahawks are expected to sign Jared Allen,” she said about the veteran All-Pro defensive end who was linked to our favorite football team and a player I admired for his tenacity.
Allen was near the end of his great career, but he still could have helped the defending-champion Seahawks get back to the Super Bowl in 2014 (they made it anyway!), but alas, he signed for more money with the Chicago Bears. Fast forward to 2022 and I was chatting with Allen for the profile running this month (page 18). You can guess what my first comment was to the 40-year-old likely future Pro Football Hall of Famer …
“I really wished you would have signed with the Seahawks.”
“It was close,” Allen teased. “I tell people all the time that probably my biggest regret of my career was not signing with Seattle and not taking the money and going to Chicago.”
It turns out that regret is not the only common ground we shared. Both Allen and I grew up in the Bay Area and made several trips up I-80 to Lake Tahoe.
Since I’ve moved away from the Bay Area and now have experienced the international travel bug, my visits to Tahoe are sporadic these days, but Allen, his wife and two daughters own a home at South Shore, so Jared can rekindle childhood memories and make new ones with the family.
“We love it. I grew up skiing there and would go in both the summers and winters. Tahoe summers are amazing. We get the mountain bikes out. And the fishing is fun. We started setting crawdad traps in the summer. It’s been a fun deal to go out there and be on the lake,” Allen told me. I too carry plenty of nostalgia about crawdad fishing on the lake as a kid.
“We’ll go out by Emerald Bay and set out traps overnight or sometimes camp on the boat and drop them. But I found out the hard way – and I hate to say this – that crawdads still need air. We caught some in the morning – we probably had about 25 – and I filled up the cooler with water without thinking when I shut the top, and they all ended up dead. But we used them for bait for the next day’s crawdad pots.”
As a regular Tahoe visitor, it’s easy to understand why anyone would love to return regularly. Certainly Allen, who stays busy in retirement owning a restaurant and running a charity to help military veterans buy their own homes, is at home in the high Sierra when he goes back.
“It’s a place where you go out and spend all day on the water doing stuff. You don’t even realize what you’re doing; it’s just hop on the boat in the morning and go fishing, come back to the dock and my daughters will fish for bluegills there. Then we’ll go water skiing; it’s an absolute blast.”