2 years after a devastating knee injury, Hinsdale Central grad Allen is a win from Super Bowl
Since the age of 7 or 8, Brian Allen believed he was destined to play in the NFL.
The 2014 Hinsdale Central graduate admits his fifth-grade football team was more important than school. Sorry, mom and dad -- it's true.
At times, some advised Allen to have a backup plan.
Nonsense, Allen thought. I'm going to beat the odds.
Beat them he did, and now Allen can play in his second Super Bowl if the host Los Angeles Rams defeat the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
Allen plays center on a high-powered offense that includes Downers Grove North product Dave Edwards at left guard, quarterback Matthew Stafford and standout receiver Cooper Kupp.
The Rams, who opened the season with a 34-14 victory over the Bears, went 12-5 and survived a harrowing divisional round game at Tampa Bay last week when Matt Gay kicked a last-second field goal to provide a 30-27 victory.
"Definitely a crazy game. Wish we would have handled it a little better," said Allen, who watched Tom Brady rally the Bucs from a 27-3 deficit. "We just never blinked, never flinched."
The same can be said for Allen after he suffered a knee injury that could have ended his career.
No stopping him
The devastating setback occurred Nov. 10, 2019, at Pittsburgh. Allen tore the MCL in his left knee, but didn't realize the severity of the injury and went to the other side of the field to begin the next quarter. On the next play -- as he braced on that knee -- he "felt it go right through my ACL."
Now Allen had a torn meniscus and fractured his tibia head.
"Kind of three injuries in one," said Allen, who was drafted by the Rams in the fourth round after playing at Michigan State.
Thus began a character-testing 18 months that easily could have broken some athletes.
Allen calls the injury "a blessing in disguise" but also acknowledges how difficult those 14-15 months were. One of the more trying times came in February 2020 when Allen contracted COVID. Forced to stay away from the team's facility for nearly a month, Allen was all alone during a pivotal part of his rehab.
"It was definitely one of the harder times of my life -- not really being happy with where I was football-wise (and) body wise," Allen said. "It's hard to be in the middle of it and think it's going to be a blessing. You want to say, 'This sucks. It's someone else's fault. Why me?' All those things."
Instead, he kept working and persevering. Although Allen didn't play a single snap in 2020, he arrived at camp determined to win back the starting role this season.
"To play nine games (in 2019) and be in that situation to not really know if it was ever going to come back -- if I was ever going to get back to that point -- that was one of the hardest things," Allen said. "Is my knee going to be healthy? When it is healthy am I going to be able to play the same that I did before?
"Was this it? Was nine games as a starting center going to be my story? At the end of the day that wasn't something I was comfortable with."
Allen won the starting job and hasn't looked back.
"He's a helluva player," Edwards said. "He's gonna have a really bright future. I think he's gonna be an All Pro, Pro Bowl-type center."
A dream realized?
Allen and Edwards are a big reason why the Rams averaged 27.1 points per game (seventh best), Stafford threw for 4,886 yards and 41 TDs, and Kupp hauled in 145 catches for an astounding 1,947 yards and 16 TDs.
While it's been a successful season, Allen knows the recent spate of mistakes must stop. Los Angeles had a 17-0 lead over the Niners in the season finale, but Stafford threw 2 interceptions and the Rams lost in overtime.
Last week, two fumbles by Cam Akers -- the second with 2:25 remaining -- opened the door for Brady and suddenly the game was tied.
"We've got to do a better job of finishing," Allen said.
That's something Allen often did on the wrestling mats at Hinsdale Central, becoming the only Red Devil to place at state all four years. He won a state title as a junior, lost in overtime in the finals as a senior and took third as a freshman and sophomore.
Now we'll see if he and the Rams can pin Arlington Heights native Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners early and often and advance to the Super Bowl.
Allen's been to the big game once before, losing to Brady and the Patriots 13-3 in 2019. This year he'd like to change that narrative and be the one holding the trophy at the end.
"It's really hard to get to this point and it's even harder to get there and to win it," Allen said. "I remember in '18, the veterans said, 'Hey, we've got a really good team this year. This isn't normal. ...
"You dream of playing in the NFL, you dream of doing all this stuff, but the main goal, the main key to the mountaintop is to win the Super Bowl. To be able to say you're a part of one of those teams is history.
"At one point in time you were a part of the greatest football team on the planet."