SAN JOSE, Calif. — Jared Allen’s career-long obsession with sacks, individual accomplishments and anything that made Jared Allen great has been supplanted by a more mature goal this week — all he wants is a ring.
Grateful for a re-start to the 2015 season after being traded from the 0-3 Bears to the juggernaut Carolina Panthers in September, the 33-year-old Allen is one game away from a Super Bowl ring that has eluded him in his 12-year NFL career. And whether he plays one snap or every snap, whether or not he gets one sack or four, his mission on Sunday is singular — win the Super Bowl.
“I truly have been humbled by coming here,” Allen said. “I [remember] the time Tony Dungy came to speak to us when we were in Minnesota. And he asked questions like, ‘What would you give up to win a Super Bowl?’ He asked me one time, ‘Would you give up a year with no sacks to win a Super Bowl?’ At the time, I’m like, ‘Ahh, probably not. I don’t know if I can do that.’ Just because you’re trying to be great.
“You get around a place where it’s about the team. I’ve never been a part of a place where next-man-up was so genuine. You can’t help but buy in to what coach [Ron] Rivera’s selling. So for me, at this point of my career, it’s about winning. that’s all I care about is winning the Super Bowl.”
Six days after the Bears traded him for a sixth-round draft pick, Allen started for the Panthers against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4. But in 12 starts for the Panthers, Allen had just two sacks, no forced fumbles, fumble recoveries or interceptions — and 11 victories.
That was part of the humbling experience for a player who takes extreme pride in his individual accomplishments. As recently as the opening of training camp in Bourbonnais, Allen was offended at the suggestion his reputation had taken a hit after a five-and-a-half-sack season for the Bears in 2014.
“I’m still the active leader in sacks,” he said in protest. “I still did things in my first 11 years that took guys 15 years to do. I don’t know if it took a hit. I’m still proud of what I’ve accomplished — being top 10 [in sacks] all-time. But do I have goals? Do I want to put up double digits? Do I want to lead the league in sacks again? Do I want to be the only person that has three sack titles? It’s funny, every fourth year I’ve led the league in sacks. I’m hoping that [pattern] continues.”
Allen still is the active leader in sacks with 136 — though he now shares that distinction with the Packers’ Julius Peppers. He still has eight seasons with double-digit sacks. But it hasn’t come up so far during Super Bowl week. And probably won’t. Allen has other things on his mind this week.
Reality has played a part in Allen’s awakening. After averaging nearly 13 sacks a season in his first 10 years in the NFL, he’s had 7.5 in two seasons since signing with the Bears in 2014. Even as a starter, he’s a part-time player.
“Father Time’s always going to get you,” he said. “Do I still think I can perform? Yeah. And learning to rotate was something totally new to me. I think it’s all part of life and learning. This is the worst statistical year I’ve had but the most success I’ve ever had in my career.”
Allen acknowledged he got caught up in individual achievement. “Coach [Dick] Vermeil told me when I first came into the league [with the Chiefs in 2004], ‘Football’s an individual sport. The best way you can help our team is by being the best defensive end you can be. So in my mind, I’m going to make every play. I’m always trying to top the year before. You make the Pro Bowl you want to make another. Then you’re chasing [Michael] Strahan’s [sack record] and you’re at 22 and you’re like, ‘Ahh, I got to get back [on the field].
“At some point that becomes your mindset and you’re constantly pushing to be the best. Because that’s all I ever wanted to be was the best at what I did. And I think the overall spectrum of what football is about — it’s the ultimate team sport — gets lost. I can honestly say this year has been so humbling. Because … worst numbers, most success.”
Allen acknowledged he’s a better team player now than he’s ever been. “A hundred percent,” he said. But the Super Bowl could test him. After missing the NFC Championship Game with a broken foot, he’s still not assured of playing against the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. Though Rivera sounded hopeful Tuesday.
“Having a veteran guy out there that other guys are comfortable with is going to pay dividends,” Rivera said. “He’s practiced very well. Come Friday, it’s going to be real important, but I like the path he’s on.”
Allen is resolute. “I’ve been in this league 12 years and I haven’t gotten to play in the Super Bowl,” he said. “I don’t have 12 years left to get to another Super Bowl. To not play in it, I’d have to be missing a leg.”