MINNEAPOLIS — One thing about Jared Allen, he’s never lacked for confidence. So when asked earlier this week to deliver a self-analysis of his abilities as a father, Allen lit up.
“I’m good at everything, man,” the Pro Bowl defensive end said. “I love holding my daughter, spending time with her, watching her fall asleep. Sometimes I just stare. I’m figuring all this out pretty quickly. But I’m still in awe.”
With each sentence, Allen’s smile grew wider, his tone more excited.
Who would ever have thought the Vikings’ formerly mullet-haired, rambunctious, candid resident wild man would derive this much delight from a conversation on diaper changing?
It’s been a little more than seven weeks now since Allen and his wife, Amy, welcomed their daughter, Brinley Noelle, into the world. And while Allen thinks it’s too extreme to say his life has changed dramatically, he’s willing to concede his perspective has sharpened.
A 2-11 season? Yeah, it’s frustrating beyond belief. But every night that Allen leaves Winter Park and heads home, he gets a refreshing pick-me-up as he watches his daughter’s eyes dart around the room and light up and turn into a smile.
“The best way to describe it is you gain this understanding of the true, absolute meaning of unconditional love,” Allen said. “I love my wife more than anything. And to create something together is amazing.”
To be clear, before this piece grows too mushy and sentimental, Allen remains a menacing defensive end, an energetic locker room leader who has a chance to chase down the NFL’s single-season sack record in the next 15 days. He remains one of the most outspoken and beloved Vikings thanks to his often rowdy personality. It’s just that nowadays he’s a little different than he used to be.
Special teams coach Mike Priefer can see that much. Priefer first met Allen at the 2004 NFL combine. Priefer was a coach for the New York Giants at the time, Allen a promising long snapper from Idaho State. Before interviewing Allen, Priefer reviewed the big man’s personal file with a lengthy and eye-catching docket of off-field transgressions that made Allen seem like some combination of John Blutarsky and Frank the Tank hopped up on Monster.
“It was one thing after another,” Priefer said. “Eye-catching stuff. I remember going right down the list. ‘Did you really do that?’ and ‘You did this?’ And Jared would just kind of smirk and own up. ‘Yep. I did all of that.’
“His list of sins was quite active. But I loved him. In my opinion, parts of that wild side can be a good thing.”
“Jared’s still a fun-loving guy who loves to speak his mind,” Priefer said. “But as a father now, you can see how much he’s matured. He’s found a way to keep the crazy channeled in the right direction. He’s always been a guy who loved life. With a happy marriage and a daughter now, you can tell he loves it even more.”
Allen will readily own up to that, too.
Sure, the sleep deprivation has been, in his words, “startling.” But it’s worth it.
Even at seven weeks young, Brinley has already started to develop a personality. Like her mom, Allen said, she has this amusing habit of sleeping with one arm over her head.
Like her dad?
“I’ve got great eyelashes,” Allen said. “She has those, too. Plus, she scowls like me when she’s not happy.”
“Back in the day I would have never thought of myself getting to this stage,” he said. “You’re young and dumb and you think you’re going to be that way forever. Now, I’m amazed at the joys I get with my life being where it’s at now.”
Two weeks ago, for example, Brinley had the chance to spend a Sunday at Mall of America Field. Sure, the Vikings got Tebowed and lost 35-32 on a last-second field goal.
“But that was really cool,” Allen said. “To have Brinley there on the sideline, to take a picture together, that’s a special memory. Wins and losses will come and go. Before long, I’ll be retired and everyone will forget about me. But I’ll have these memories with my daughter and my wife.”