The best quarterback you have never heard of is tiptoeing toward the most impressive benchmark you have never considered, which raises a question: If a football record falls and no one in the U.S. hears about it, is it still a record?
This is the conundrum facing Damon Allen, who is the most prolific passer of his time but has never been acknowledged for his achievements in the land of his birth. After more than two decades Allen is accustomed to the anonymity. Even in his hometown of San Diego, when the subject of his career comes up--you may already have guessed that he plays in the Canadian Football League--someone invariably asks, "Ever think of going pro?"
Allen could point out that he has been a pro since 1985, one year after his older brother Marcus starred in Super Bowl XVIII, but that would be as immodest as mentioning that he is closing in on the professional record of 70,553 passing yards, which Warren Moon totaled in six seasons in Canada and 17 in the NFL. Allen thinks he could have the mark in a season and a half if he keeps playing, a realistic possibility considering that the Toronto Argonauts' quarterback, who has a 2 1/2-year-old grandson, is a mere 42. "Warren played until he was 44; Steve DeBerg came out of retirement at 44," Allen says. "There isn't a long list of quarterbacks in their 40s, but with athletes taking better care of their bodies and with technology, guys are playing longer. And it's not like I'm hanging on. Teams have wanted me. In a way, that's humbling."
More efficient in his 40s than he was in his 20s, Allen has been doing most of the humbling these days. With a 48--0 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last Saturday, the Argonauts strengthened their hold on first place in the Eastern Division and Allen continued perhaps his finest season. He threw for 247 yards--he is now 3,210 behind Moon's mark with seven games left in '05--and two TDs, giving him 22 touchdowns on the year with only 10 interceptions. Trapped in the middle of the tiresome "athlete or quarterback?" debate when Michael Vick was still scrambling for a pacifier, Allen, the alltime rushing leader among CFL quarterbacks, might not break many long scrambles anymore, but he's hardly a statue in the pocket. And his arm strength is undiminished. "I've always been a Damon Allen fan," says Don Matthews of the Montreal Alouettes, the CFL's winningest coach, "but he's gained maturity as a passer in recent years. He's reading defenses, dumping the ball off, showing great patience. He's become a more sophisticated quarterback."
Allen ran a pro-style offense at Cal State--Fullerton, where he set an NCAA record for most consecutive passes attempted with just one interception, at 329. His college program is now defunct, which is what Allen might have been if he had tried to play in the NFL out of college. He was a stick figure at 6'1" and 157 pounds when he signed with the Edmonton Eskimos, beginning a seven-stop CFL career. Some of his CFL contemporaries--including Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia and Dave Dickenson--scratched their NFL itches, but Allen never received what he considered a bona fide offer. NFL teams only called to see if he might consider playing wide receiver or defensive back.
"But in a sense I did play in the NFL--for 16 years," Allen said. "What my brother went through, I went through."
Marcus Allen had never seen Damon in a Grey Cup until last November, when his baby brother, the Throwin' Grandpa, passed for 299 yards, threw for one score and rushed for two others as Toronto upset the British Columbia Lions. In his five Grey Cups, Allen's teams have won four, and he has been the MVP twice. "At this stage of my career it's not about records," Allen said. "It's about championships. And I think we've got a good team again, one with a shot."
That attitude truly is one for the aged.
International Arms Dealers
Damon Allen, the CFL's career leader in passing yardage, is closing in on the North American record. After the Argonauts' 48--0 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last Saturday, Allen trailed Warren Moon by just 3,210 yards. Here are the most prolific passers in North American history. --David Sabino