At Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa in 1984, no one could catch Marcus Allen. Not even the parking attendant.
“I would usually catch a cab to the stadium, but for the Super Bowl, we had rental cars,” recalls Allen. “So my teammate Odis McKinney and I took my car to the stadium, thinking there was going to be parking for us. And there wasn’t. So we pulled up to the parking gate and said, ‘We’re playing in the game. We’re the Raiders. Where do the players park?’ She says, “Well, sorry, if you don’t have a parking pass, you can’t get in.’ So I backed the car up, pulled next to the curb, and it was like mental telepathy. Odis and I looked at each other, didn’t say a word. He grabbed his bag, I grabbed my bag, I put the car in park, and we took off running to the locker room. To this day, I don’t know what happened to the rental car.”
It set the stage for a lot of unsuccessful attempts to stop Allen on that day. The second-year back out of USC, who liked to run with the ball away from his body, like a man holding a Nerf football away from boys, rushed for a then-record 191 yards against the Redskins in a 38-9 rout, including a scintillating 74-yard U-turn dash that also set a Super Bowl record.
“I just know it was 12 seconds to go. And then I remember the voice of [NFL Films narrator] John Facenda saying, ‘There’s Marcus Allen, running with the night.’ Ha ha ha.”
Years later, Raiders fans would vote the play, 17 Bob Tre O, the greatest moment in franchise history. For Allen, who became only the third Heisman Trophy winner to also be named Super Bowl MVP, it was just the beginning of a Hall of Fame career that would include six Pro Bowls, an AP NFL MVP award and 123 rushing touchdowns (an NFL record at the time). How talented was the 6’2” star? The guy even passed for six touchdowns.
So with the NFL Playoffs kicking off this Saturday, we caught up with Allen in New York, while he was getting the word out about a Super Bowl can series from Bud Light. Here’s what he told us about his only Super Bowl appearance—as well as those cans, that Dr Pepper commercial and why he won’t be seeing Concussion…
First things first: What are you doing with these Super Bowl cans and Bud Light and all that? Fill us in.
Well, Bud Light, in honor of the 50th Super Bowl, has unveiled their Super Bowl can series. So they’ve highlighted the past winners of the Super Bowl. Like, the Steelers have won six Super Bowls, so there are six cans. If you’re a fan, this is great, this is what you want. This becomes a collector’s item. But poor Buffalo, man. They had four straight Super Bowl appearances, but they don’t get a can.
They should make a half-can for the Bills.
Haha, the runner-up can. We’ll talk about that.
Speaking of Super Bowls, do you ever get tired of talking about Super Bowl XVIII?
No, it’s a part of my journey, so I don’t mind talking about that. Go ahead. Whatever you want to talk about.
When you think back to it, what jumps out at you initially?
I always tell people—what is it, REM? The fourth level of sleep? I had the most incredible night’s sleep you could possibly have the night before the Super Bowl. I was walking on air the next morning. As peaceful and tranquil as you can get. You know when you talk about the mind, body and spirit? They were all one. I slept that well.
It was really cool. I just smiled at the parking lot incident and everything else that happened in pregame and stuff, and then got in the game and played and it was just time travel, the whole game.
Were you guys super confident going into the game? Did you expect to dominate?
We were very confident. We were playing very well. We peaked at the right time. But we also played the Redskins earlier in the year and they barely beat us at their place, and we had like four or five guys who didn’t play. I didn’t play. I had a hip pointer and so they held me out. Mike Haynes didn’t play and I think our starting safety didn’t play. So we had quite a few starters that didn’t play, and they barely beat us in Washington? They had no shot. That’s what we were thinking.
And you were right.
Yeah. And nothing was a big deal because I was just so peaceful. For example, I fumbled the ball the first snap of the game. I saw it roll away in slow motion. And my fullback fell on top of it. But I just looked at it. It was like no big deal. I mean, most guys probably would’ve panicked. You know, the first touch in the Super Bowl, and you fumble? But I was like, whatever. I went back to the huddle and I was like, that didn’t matter. It was just one of those days, man. The mind, body and spirit were connected, the trinity.
And then of course your carry with 12 seconds left in the third quarter is famous—a 74-yard touchdown, which set a record for the longest run in Super Bowl history. You reversed fields, which is like a no-no for running backs to do, right?
Well, the beauty of my coach [running backs coach Ray Willsey]—and he’s no longer with us, but I love him—is he never told me not to do that. He never told me not to do anything. So I never played looking over my shoulder. He always said, “Marcus, you can do that, just make sure you know down and distance and you get back to the line of scrimmage, that kind of thing.” He never said, “Don’t do that.” And I’ve heard a lot of guys say, “Don’t do that.” So I was liberated. I was able to play with freedom. So as a result, I was just playing. And I was just playing in the Super Bowl as well. So there was no fear, no trepidation, nothing.
Do you remember the down and distance?
No, I don’t remember. I just know it was 12 seconds to go. And then I remember the voice of [NFL Films narrator] John Facenda saying, “There’s Marcus Allen, running with the night.” Ha ha ha.
Was that a play that you guys ran a lot?
Oh, that was one of our stable of plays. We always ran power. Power left, power right. I mean, that’s what we did. In this case—you know, nothing is ever guaranteed in football. You know where you’re supposed to go, but then some people do things that sort of change the course, so you go off script. And again, I went off script earlier in my career, so just because the game was big I didn’t change anything. Believe me, I just did what was instinctive. I was being instinctive. If somebody can tell you precisely what they were thinking, they’re lying. The fact of the matter is, I don’t know what I was doing, I just did it.
You don’t have time to really think in that situation.
No, you don’t. You’re just reacting to everything. But I do remember everything sort of slowing down. I made the U turn and saw the guy coming up, came back around and everything came to a slow down. And then down near the 20-yard line, everything was back to normal speed.
Was that the greatest touchdown of your life?
I guess it would have to be when you think about the magnitude of the game. And then what it ended up winning me, which was the MVP. I’ve never said yes, but now I’m saying yes because you become an MVP, which is a completely different journey for you now. In fact, I think this year they’re honoring all the MVPs at the Super Bowl. So I mean certainly that run—I guess you can say that.
It wasn’t a super close game, so it’s not like it was the game-winning touchdown, like other touchdowns you’ve scored. But it was the Super Bowl.
Well, I don’t know, maybe you guys got bored, but it was entertaining to us! Ha ha ha. I mean, it was dominance. You know that. You look at that game. It was dominance.
So how’d you get home?
Oh, I just got the team bus home. And I remember going to the team party and just staying for a little while. Just smiling the whole time. And then I said, “I gotta go to bed,” because I had to get up early to be on the Today show with Bryant Gumbel.
So you didn’t party too hard.
No, I didn’t party at all. You think your celebration is going to be going crazy, but I didn’t do that at all. I kind of just smiled and took it all in.
Switching gears: You played in the NFL until you were 37, which is unheard of for running backs. How are you feeling these days?
I’m a freak, man. Compared to everybody else, I’m really blessed and lucky there.
Do you have a secret?
I always just felt younger than my age. And of course, you don’t play the game without taking big hits. You take them, but I didn’t take as many as most people do. I was pretty good at picking shoulders and getting skinny and giving as little of my body as possible. That’s the only reason I guess that I feel like I do. I mean, I broke my wrist and it bothers me sometimes. My right arm doesn’t straighten out. But there’s nothing wrong with my legs.
Have you seen or do you plan to see Concussion?
I have not seen it. I had a few concussions. But we had a culture of not reporting those things. And I built up a tremendous amount of currency with my trainers. When I told them that I was fine, they believed me. And the culture then was play hurt, never leave the field, do whatever you have to do. And so I think there’s been an evolution on the players’ part as well as the teams starting to recognize this thing too. I’m not one of those people that says it was just the league that allowed that. So I’m not going to see the movie. Because it’s a negative against the league. Has the league been perfect? No. But I don’t think they have disregarded the players or anything like that. I’m a big supporter of the league, so I’m not going to watch the movie.
You’re good in the Dr Pepper commercial too, by the way.
Can I tell you something, man? That guy is so good. Because there’s no script. We were just improvising. But he was great. The director said, “Marcus, he’s bothering you, but just be nice to the guy.” So that’s kind of how it came out. I wasn’t even supposed to say anything. I was just supposed to sit there and act annoyed.