Monday, the Atlanta Falcons chose to extend starting free safety Ricardo Allen with a three-year deal, putting him with the organization through 2021.
It was a vital move to retain a player who many feel is the quarterback of the defense, one of the best at his position and a locker room spark plug that leads, teaches and inspires in equal measure.
But, before we talk about how important Allen is to the Falcons, I’d like to talk about his balls.
Well, not those kind of balls. We’ll get to them in due time.
No, I’m talking about the actual Allen Family Jewels.
When Allen was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons as a feisty fifth-round cornerback out of Purdue, it was timed right around when the team had accepted the Hard Knocks slot on HBO. Now, traditionally, the Hard Knocks team turns out to be a lemon, a Chronicle of Narni-Yeesh, the most heartwarming and gut-punching tale of survival for a team that winds up going 6-10.
The rookie corner was one of Hard Knocks’ notable faces. He studied film with his wife when he wasn’t on the field vying for a roster spot, and had an infectious personality, like many of the show’s beloved underdogs who wind up on the drama bubble by season’s end.
He also got nailed in the gonads so hard that they swelled up very large, to the point where got the nickname “big balls.” He said that one of them was “four times the size as the other,” which isn’t ideal for a ball. It’s rare that someone can inspire actor Liev Schrieber say the line, “Sometimes a big pair can come in handy,” but Ricardo Allen did.
The guy from Hard Knocks with the swollen testicles.
If the Falcons had won that Carolina regular season finale in 2014, and Arthur Blank had given Mike Smith and company another year to try and rectify with a vengeance...again, then it’s entirely possible that this is all Allen would’ve been: a fun subplot on a decent season of a show people aren’t known to revisit all that often.
That’s one of the sad parts about the NFL. Some rising stories are cut short for various reasons; it really is a league of blessings and curses. During Smith’s era, Allen was a fifth-round seeming draft bust who nabbed a spot on the practice squad. If there isn’t a regime change, who’s to say where Allen winds up.
We know what he is now, and knowing him, he’d probably be the grand success story of another franchise who picked him up after the Falcons didn’t extend him a futures contract. He could’ve been a decent slot corner somewhere. Heck, who knows, maybe even one of those fancy hybrid-safety/linebackers people are so fond of. As it pangs you to say, Allen also could’ve been one of those guys who just never hit the right opportunity. We’ll never how how many potential starters just didn’t get that right situation to sharpen their iron, or find that part of their game they had inside them all along. The “F” doesn’t stand for fair.
But, for Allen, for the Falcons, for us, when Dan Quinn came to town, things changed.
Allen wasn’t going to be the punchline of a Hard Knocks episode. He was going to be something more.
We can speak ad nauseam about how good of a job Quinn has done in Atlanta. We can drone on about how he changed the culture, how he revamped the scouting and development departments, how he’s on his way to being the most winning coach in Falcons history, how he’s pulling the franchise out of a historic failure with grace and determination, how he’s rising to be one of the best all-around coaches in the league.
But, for everything Quinn has done right, nothing stands out more than him giving Allen a shot at free safety.
Going into 2015, let’s face it...no one thought Allen would man the job. Going into training camp, no one actually thought he would win the starting position. Going into that first Eagles game, no one thought Allen would be the one to give the Quinn era it’s first major memory; a stirring game sealer of an interception against the Eagles that gave the underdog Quinn Falcons their grand entrance to the league.
Going forward, no one knew what he was going to be capable of.
Throughout 2015, Allen, of course, stood out. Even when the honeymoon phase ran out of steam and the fast and physical carriage turned back into a moldy pumpkin, Allen stood out. He was smart, a hell of a tackler, had great coverage skills and clearly had room to grow. As time went on, and that magic 2016 season waded on, Allen became more than a cool story; he became the leader of a young defense desperate for one. Only in his third season in the league, he became the field general and the cerebral captain of a team headed toward a Super Bowl.
Of course, the destination was not nearly as good as the ride there, as the Quinn Falcons suffered what will surely be their toughest moment in the Super Bowl 51 collapse. Allen was one of the few Falcons defenders who was on the field for about 99% of the plays, and if you go back and watch the final James White touchdown, he’s the one that darts across the field and tries to drag White out of the way from sticking in the poisonous sting that won the day.
But, curiously enough, that last-ditch effort wasn’t even the most impressive thing Allen did that night.
He became the face of the Falcons in the postgame press conference, the one who stood in the rubble and fielded the questions after disaster struck.
If you were able to summon the courage to scroll through social media soon after the loss, you’ll recall that the Falcons, like all the other Super Bowl losers, had to fulfill their obligatory press conference duties after the game. Allen was the loudest voice coming out of the devastation, delivering what felt like the words too painful and too defeating for many to really muster in the moment. Better men have been able to say less.
Of course, he spoke of the pain, the confusion, the longing for what fell out of grasp.
But, it’s this quote that sticks out, per the MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas.
“I will start training, probably, in two days,” safety Ricardo Allen said. “Because apparently it ain’t good enough.”
There’s no doubt Allen was good on his word. We all know how he played in 2017. We know he’s been honored by the press as a friendly face in the locker room just as he’s been nominated for the league’s sportsmanship award. We all know how he’ll play in 2018. We all know how great he is and what he means to this organization.
On the worst night in Falcondom, Allen had the biggest balls of anyone in that stadium, of even Tom Brady and Julian Edelman. He stood firmly against the tide and looked the questions straight in the face, and gave his heart, and his word. It’s the same heart he gives every Sunday when he steps on the field, and the same word we know is ironclad in trust and fulfillment.
Ricardo Allen is why Dan Quinn’s Falcons are what they are. He’s why it’s possible for 28-3 to become a distant memory one day. He’s why the Brotherhood exists. He’s why we’ve been able to be objectively optimistic about this team consistently in a way we haven’t in quite some time. He’s the reason this is one of the special teams going right now.
It’s because Allen has big balls. And a big heart. And a big ability to lead. And a big legacy he’s leaving in this locker room, and in this organization.
Allen is why the Dan Quinn Falcons are special.
Wednesday, the Falcons did more than sign their free safety to a new deal.
They opened their Super Bowl window up by about three more seasons.