QB experienced, not old

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

Damon Allen has an advantage.

The Argonauts' quarterback is 42 years old.

He has played in 335 Canadian Football League games. He has thrown more often for more completions, yards and touchdowns, than any other quarterback who ever tied a spike north of the 49th.

"We're talking about twenty-something years of professional ball," teammate John Avery said. "You have seen every defence you can possibly see. Every type of athlete, every type of blitz, every type of coverage. You've seen everything."

And so Damon Allen knows an obstacle when sees one.

When he came into the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1985, he heard the phrase "running quarterback."

It was and still is a label reserved for African-Americans.

"Those are all the hidden stigmas they put on people early in their careers -- that you're a running quarterback," Allen said yesterday as the club wrapped up preparations to play in Edmonton tomorrow.

"I'm a quarterback that can throw and run. You have to give a person an opportunity to do both."

Now, of course, there is a more openly condoned generalization applied to Damon Allen.

REAGAN-ERA QB

He is old. Older than dirt. Damon Allen started playing in Canada midway through the Reagan Administration and if people can put you in a box by mentioning how well you run, they can also put you in a box by mentioning, repeatedly, how old you are.

Playing as well as Allen is at his age is rare, but hardly unknown.

George Blanda had his last productive season as an Oakland Raider quarterback at 43 and retired at 48. Nolan Ryan pitched at 46 and no-hit the Jays at the age of 44. When Gordie Howe was 41, he scored 44 goals. All bets go out the window with Gordie, he scored 15 goals playing in the NHL at 51.

So are the constant references to Allen's age trivializing. Some of his teammates think so.

"I mean, so what?," Avery said.

"If you're one of the top one or two in the league, why should age be a question? It's different if he's taking snaps and his rheumatism is acting up, you know what I mean?"

Were it not for the prodigious stats Allen racked up over his 20 other CFL seasons, this season might rank as his best.

Last week, he shook off a sore ankle that had resulted in him missing the first half and threw for 246 yards against the Montreal Alouettes.

Allen's pass completion rate of 67.2% is second only to that of Dave Dickinson of the B.C. Lions. Allen trails only Dickinson in efficiency rating. He has thrown only five interceptions, second-best among all starters.

There is, in a man as smart and savvy as Allen, a tendency to think his age is used to diminish him, just the way his mobility was used to characterize him as a running quarterback and, by inclination, a less than whole quarterback.

But how great must Damon Allen be to be this good at 42?

"Why don't they (people) just say it that way?" he says without a hint of irritation. "It's the way they say it, I think. It really takes away from the person playing football."

The sweet truth is the elements Allen acquired over 20 years, not his natural athletic gifts, have kept him around. It's like Darwin said: Evolve or die.

"I was talking with Fran Tarkenton," offensive co-ordinator Kent Austin said, "and he said: 'You know Kent, quarterbacks don't learn to play their position until they physically can't play any more.' "

Allen is the rare exception whose body held up long enough, whose passion for the game remained strong enough, whose team was good enough, for his experience to be deployable.

"That's the advantage," Avery said.

"There's nothing anyone can do to confuse Damon Allen. He's the most calm, relaxed guy I've ever seen in the pocket. Have you noticed that he never looks around in the pocket? He moves, he can feel things happening around him, but his eyes are always downfield."

Ever aware of his surroundings, Allen measures the slights about his age, while trying to remember esteem for him is heightening, not lessening, in the twilight.

"There's the one part of me that doesn't like it and there's another part of me that appreciates it," he said.

"I was talking to my brother Marcus and he was saying: 'You should also learn to embrace it,' which I do. But I also hate it too.

"It's a fine line for me."


Videos

Photos