He towers over his teammates, a six-foot-six hulking mass of muscle who crushed his body for 11 NFL seasons. Two years and a global pandemic in, the curling jury likes what it sees of former five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen.
Allen is competing this week at the 2021 U.S. Nationals in Wausau, WI, throwing second stones for Team Todd Birr out of Blaine, MN.
The Birr squad is struggling at 0-6. They lost one game by an 11-0 scoreline. Third Jason Smith—a 2010 Olympic competitor—has a wonky leg, and had to leave their fourth match before the fifth-end break.
Through it all, Allen does his job—throwing stones, brushing, listening to his skip’s commands, boosting his teammates and engaging in the little things that make a competitive curling team click.
“The process was to play a bunch, get my legs for the first couple of seasons,” says Allen. “Then Covid hit and there really weren’t any expectations.
“I’m actually very pleased with what I’m doing, based on not having ice (access) before this event.”
In early 2018, the former Minnesota Viking was watching Team Shuster compete at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, and pondering a longtime bet with a friend that he could make the Olympic curling team someday. He’d already contemplated another sport where Team USA had scored few medals: badminton.
Allen and his buddy—NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger—started researching what this might entail. Through his friend Lou Nanne, the NHL general manager and coach, Allen got in touch with the man who would be his first curling coach: John Benton, who competed in the 2010 Olympics and is a contributor to The Curling News.
The original all-NFL curling team was Allen at skip, third Michael Roos and second Keith Bulluck (both ex-Tennessee Titans) and lead Bulger (ex-St. Louis Rams). Benton was the coach/alternate in that first season.
“As a coach I had always wondered, could we take a professional athlete and develop him or her into a top curler?” says Benton, who is the alternate for Allen’s Team Birr in Wausau. “I think many of us have wondered about this.
“Despite the stated goal of making the Olympic team in 2022, that team was quite focused on the single idea of seeing just how good they can get in four years, while understanding the two primary advantages they have are time and money. These are things the vast majority of curlers don’t have.”
Fast-forward to 2021 and Allen and Bulger remain the curling diehards, with Allen now teamed with Birr, the 2007 U.S. champ and world bronze medalist.
In watching Team Birr compete live on USA Curling’s YouTube stream, one can see Allen’s slide and delivery mechanics are in place … in fact they seem right on schedule, possibly ahead of schedule, for a second-year player thrown into the deep end.
In monitoring the live chat of one game in which the top-ranked Korey Dropkin foursome defeated Birr 7-2, the comments from U.S. curling diehards help paint a picture ... and it’s mostly positive.
• He seems to love curling and wants to seriously get better and succeed at it, so more power to him. If he’s enjoying it and wants to keep going, then all the better.
• I’ve been a fan of his for a long time—he has the mentality of a top-tier athlete and has always been willing to put in the effort needed; he knows that curling requires that same tier of dedication.
• I think Jared is a good ambassador for the game but his story will be told as to how quickly he made it to the national level. We all know many better club curlers that would love to be in his spot.
• I played against Allen and his NFL team at Nutmeg 2/3 years ago. Regular guys, that come off the ice muttering like everyone else how shots didn’t come off. Curling culture engulfs everyone in its web.
• I applaud Jared for taking his losses and moving forward. He has improved a lot in a short amount of time. I respect the guy because he respects the game.
TCN contributor Matt Sussman also chimed in. “We get hung up on how good he is, forgetting that the win is that he enjoys it. Don’t forget, Marc Bulger is building a curling facility in Tennessee as a result of this.”
“It’s about constantly getting better,” says Allen. “Being able to make the shots when our team is counting on them. Knowing where you can miss and where you can’t.
“The physicality of it is getting easier, because you progress and your technique gets better, and it’s just about making shots, making shots, throwing rocks, throwing rocks.
“Now it’s about understanding ice, knowing those ice changes, making sure you hit the broom every time, how to make different shots.
“And for me, the constant learning phase that never gets easier is ‘why is he calling this shot’ and understanding what the back end is doing.”
One question remains … is Jared Allen having fun on the curling ice?
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t having fun,” Allen declares. “I hate losing, losing sucks. But I have to keep realistic expectations.
“I always have a philosophy, don’t be the guy. Don’t be the reason your team loses.”
He laughs, and heads to the locker room. The ex-football star has another three-hour curling game coming up. He’s doing the work. That, and his respect for the Roaring Game, is winning Jaren Allen a legion of new fans.