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Monday, September 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Steve Kelley

Damon Allen nears history on road less traveled

Seattle Times staff columnist

Back in the day, quarterbacks like Damon Allen scared NFL scouts and coaches and general managers.

Yes, he could run with the receivers. He could make cornerbacks look silly, juking them into diving and missing tackles, like so many Keystone Kops. He could rifle passes that stunned the Juggs gun and he had laser-guidance accuracy.

But Allen wasn't "classic." He was untamed. He didn't stand in the pocket like some regal being. He was "only" 6 feet tall. Weighed only 191 pounds. He was missing the "measureables."

And he was African-American, and back when he left Cal State Fullerton in 1985, white coaches and coordinators seemed disinclined to give black quarterbacks that same license to create, even though white quarterbacks like Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton were allowed to scramble.

"We had to go through a lot of excuses to get into the league," former Washington quarterback Warren Moon said.

Like Moon, the Hall of Fame quarterback he followed into the Canadian Football League, Allen was a quarterback before his time. An unorthodox quarterback who came into the game when orthodoxy was worshipped.

"Everybody looked at him the same way they look at me," Moon said. "He was a little bit smaller than I am, so they were looking at his size. They kept talking about moving his position because he could move around."

Allen came before Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick forever changed the job description. As impeccable as his timing on the field often has been, the timing of his career was just this much off.

He came before a gaggle of quarterbacks, black and white, showed coordinators that quarterbacks can be played a variety of ways. They can win by scrambling. They can put heat on defenses by moving out of the pocket. They can play out of the box.

"The similarities between me and him are pretty ironic," Moon said. "He comes out of college, one of the few colleges that would give him a chance to play quarterback, and he told me the reason he went up to Canada was because he knew that I had been there and he wanted to follow in my footsteps. To go there and possibly get a chance to play in the National Football League. But once he got up there, he decided to stay."

Twenty-one years later, Allen, 43, is about to break the professional passing records Moon set in a career that spanned two countries and finished with remarkable 17 NFL seasons.

In tonight's game against the woeful Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Toronto Argonauts' quarterback, the brother of perennial Pro Bowl running back Marcus Allen, should pass Moon's mark for professional career passing yards — 70,553. Allen needs 165 yards to set the record.

"For him to play this long and still be able to be playing at this level, that right there, is amazing to me," Moon said. "I don't see his records getting broken. I mean, I just don't see guys playing that long any more. It's become a young man's game, especially down here in the NFL.

"Nowadays they're always looking for younger guys all the time to replace the older guys. I don't see guys playing at his levels. When you get up to about 38, you still have put up pretty good numbers to get to his yardage levels. At that age, 38-39, you're usually a backup. You don't get the chance to put up the numbers."

It takes someone like Moon, who has taken the same road less traveled, to really appreciate what Allen has done. The CFL is the neglected stepsister of professional football. It gets little coverage in the states and is known for its quirky rules and it's wider, 110-yard long field.

But Allen's numbers are staggering by any standards. He has rushed for almost 12,000 yards. He has won four Grey Cup championships. (Moon won five straight in Edmonton) And he has remained mobile and accurate after 21 years.

"The thing is, he could make all the throws," Moon said. "And it's not like he's 5-9 or 5-8. He's 6 feet and he can throw the ball and he can move around.

"I feel he could have played in this league if he had been given the opportunity. I mean, just based on his genes and the career his brother had, that's the kind of athlete Damon is. But he played where he got the opportunity and he made the most of it.

"He can't help that that's where he's playing. To amass the kind of numbers he's amassed and to play that long and at such a consistent level at this age, I just think it's a remarkable achievement. I don't care where you're playing."

When he left UW, Warren Moon understood the odds of making a quick trip to the NFL were steeply stacked against him. He went to the Edmonton Eskimos because they would let him play quarterback. He went north with a gameplan he couldn't have been scripted any more perfectly.

But Allen, who is playing with a broken middle finger on his throwing hand, never got the chance Moon got.

"For both Damon and me, our dream was to play in the NFL," Moon said. "We were kids growing up in the United States, so this is where we wanted to play. And when I had so much success at Edmonton early, I wanted to come back here to try my wares and see how good I really was.

"If I hadn't had the success I had early up there, I might still be up there, you never know. But if I hadn't come to the NFL, there would have been a hole in my career, and I'm sure he feels the same way. But what Damon told me was he had to go with the opportunity he had."

Allen's achievement could get lost in a crowded Monday sports calendar. His is a record for another country.

But think back to the doors that were closed to him 21 years ago and celebrate the fact he found a way to play his position, his game, his way. And play it at a very high level for a very long time.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or More columns at

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company



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