Former NFLers turned curlers take shot at Olympic rings
Jared Allen and crew begin bonspiel career against reigning Olympic champ John Shuster
What started out as a harmless bet with his buddies about a year ago now has former NFL defensive end Jared Allen on a curling odyssey he hopes ends at the Olympics.
That bet included Allen becoming an Olympian — he contemplated badminton but settled on curling.
Allen phoned a few of his football friends, NFL retirees Marc Bulger, Keith Bulluck and Michael Roos, to gauge their interest in joining his curling dream. It wasn't long before the four got serious about making a run for the 2022 Olympics.
"We kind of gave ourselves a timeline with all this. The first six months to a year we're going to learn what we can learn," Allen said. "We're dead serious about it. I guess we're going to see if football players can become world-class curlers."
They've hired American curler John Benton to coach them. Benton competed at the 2010 Games for the United States. The team practices two to three times a week — they even fly from wherever they are in the United States to curl out of their home rink, the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minn.
"I love this sport. Curling is the one sport I've always watched during the Olympics," Allen said. "We don't mean to disrespect anyone and I'm sure some people think this is ridiculous. What do we have to lose?"
Allen retired from football in 2016 after a lengthy career. He needed something to fulfill his competitive appetite. The six-foot, six-inch hulking defensive end sacked quarterbacks 136 times over his 12 years in the NFL — now he's taking his powerful prowess off the turf and hoping to find finesse on the pebbled ice.
"You're falling all the time. I think that was the biggest thing just realizing how much strength, stability and balance curling takes. You have to control your adrenaline and energy," Allen said.
Bonspiel career begins with a bang
On Friday night in Eveleth, Minn., Allen, Bulgar, Benton and Hunter Clawson take to the ice in the Curl Mesabi Classic — a World Curling Tour sanctioned event. Benton and Clawson are taking the places of Bulluck and Roos for this bonspiel.
It's the team's first pro curling tournament. Their first game is against the American Olympic gold medallists John Shuster.
"I've been laughing so much about that. I saw the draw and couldn't believe it," Allen laughed. "Getting baptized by the best. Thrown to the wolves."
There are 24 teams competing in the event — the winning team collects $18,000 US. Allen is playing third, Benton is skip, Clawson is playing second and Bulgar will cast the first stones for the team.
Allen is trying to temper expectations as they begin their profession curling careers.
"We know that the level of talent here far exceeds where we're at right now," he said. "I just want to make my shots and soak up as much knowledge as I can."
Asked what the goal is in this first bonspiel, Allen couldn't help but show off his competitive edge.
"Win it all. It's always my goal. I hate losing," Allen joked. "If we pull off a couple victories that would be fantastic."
Film practice of a different kind
Allen says the team has been serious about getting good at the roaring game for about seven months now. In his spare time, Allen watches past matches to better his strategy.
"I've watched four or five of last year's national championship games and a lot of Olympic Games," Allen said. "You have to know your enemies."
The former football player is learning how to channel his adrenaline in a different way.
"Football, you use that adrenaline to your advantage and explode into other people," he said. "Now I'm learning how to bring down my heart rate to throw draw weight."
This first curling bonspiel is just the beginning for the football foursome. Allen says they have a number of curling events lined up in 2019, including stops in Las Vegas and Tempe.
Allen also says he sees a trip to Canada in the near future to try to soak up some of that Canadian curling experience.
"The Canadians have a demeanour on the ice. It's a swagger. It's awesome to watch. They get on the ice and they just know."