By Jim Gehman
He and other select rookies gathered in Chicago for the annual College All-Star game against the defending Super Bowl champions, which was the Miami Dolphins. That was also when Allen first met a man who would become his future boss at the NFLPA.
“Ed Garvey, who was the Executive Director of the union at the time, came to ask the college all-stars to strike the game,” Allen said. “The union had called a strike for the preseason and the Dolphins wanted the strike to start after that game because they got paid for that game. Ed and the board of player reps were real concerned that it would kill the strike before it started if the Dolphins played in that game.
“The (all-stars) decided to practice and to strike the game if the union, at the end of the week, felt like the negotiations weren’t going to result in a settlement. In other words, we were doing everything we could to support the union. The league called the game off and sent everybody home.
“I got to know Ed, in part, because I raised my hand and said, ‘There’s a lot of guys in this room who if you guys go on strike and then come back, we won’t have a chance to make the team. There won’t be enough time if it chews up the preseason for anybody to show what they can do.’ So, Ed said, ‘I don’t care if you guys go back to work. Go right ahead. Just don’t play in this game.’ So, that’s what we did. We played some rookies against rookies games, which nobody came to see. It was an interesting year.”
When the strike was settled, Allen was one of the all-stars in the room with Garvey who would make a team and play in the NFL. However, he’d do so for only two seasons. Why?
“In both of the seasons I played, I started out as an outside linebacker as a backup, and ended up playing in the middle as a starter,” Allen said. “They wanted to do the same thing to me in that third offseason. I was certainly disgusted by it because I didn’t think that I was a very good outside linebacker. I really felt comfortable in the middle.
“So, I went to (Bills coach) Lou Saban and said I got a job offer from the national AFL-CIO that paid more than the Bills were paying me. I said I was going to take it unless Lou could tell me he was going to start me in the middle. He said, ‘Son, take a look at the door and tell me what it says on that sign.’ I said, ‘Head Coach, Lou Saban.’ And he said, ‘As long as the word head is in front of the word coach, I’m going to decide where you play not you.’ I said, ‘Yeah, coach, you’re right. But I get to decide whether I play and I quit.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re right about that. Good luck.’ And then he traded me to Green Bay.
“Six weeks later I’m down in Washington getting my indoctrination training for this job with the AFL-CIO and (Packers coach) Bart Starr tracks me down in my hotel room and says, ‘Well, you’ve just been traded to the Green Bay Packers. Congratulations.’ I said, ‘Coach, I don’t play football anymore.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I know. But I’m sure we can work something out with your employer where you can finish the season because we just lost our middle linebacker and we really need you to come up here.’ I didn’t take him up on his offer.”
In 1981, Allen did take the NFLPA on its offer to be an assistant to the Executive Director, Garvey. Over the next 25 years as the Assistant Executive Director, and later the President of the NFLPA’s new licensing subsidiary, NFL Players, Inc., Allen was able to participate in many things that helped build the union to what it is today. What makes his most proud of that experience?
“A lot of things, but they involved a lot of other people,” Allen said. “It was a team effort and we had a great leader in Gene Upshaw that whole time. It was a great group of people and some of them are still there.
“But certainly, the creation, along with my wife, Pat Allen, who was the chief operating officer, and establishment of NFL Players, which we called Players Inc. It created such an important resource for the union thanks to the support of all the players and the staff that Pat built up at Players Inc.
“And I’m really proud of the work that I did with (Senior Director of Benefits at the NFLPA) Miki Yaras-Davis in improving pension, disability and insurance benefits for players in negotiations over the years. I was part of the team that was involved in the free agency lawsuit in Minneapolis, the (Freeman) McNeil case that led to free agency in the NFL. I chaired the agent seminars for six or seven years. I was part of that effort to create regulations that would improve the quality of the representation the players were getting. So, there were a lot of things.”
Six years ago, Allen followed his roots and returned to Penn State where he is a Professor of Practice in the School of Labor & Employment Relations. It’s a position which allows him to not only educate, but enjoy interacting with students.
“It keeps you young to be around young people that are so intellectually curious and passionate about the things that you’re passionate about. I thoroughly enjoy the ones that get fired up about the subjects that we teach in the school of labor and employment relations,” Allen said.
“I teach them what I spent 45 years learning how to do. I teach a course on American labor unions. I teach collective bargaining. I teach our introductory course which covers human resources and employment relations. It’s a lot of fun to be back where I got my degree. I’m basically teaching some of the same courses I took when I went to school here as an undergraduate.
“The department has really grown and been very successful in online education. In fact, the Penn State World Campus is partnered up with the NFLPA to provide online courses for players.”