Friday, October 30, 2015

R.I.P., Eric "The Flea" Allen (1949-2015)

I was saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of a great Spartan running back of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Eric "The Flea" Allen. I knew that he was in poor health, probably the result of brain injuries sustained while a player in the Canadian Football League (along with former CFL player Korey Banks, Allen had filed a $200 million lawsuit against the league).

Eric Allen is probably best known in MSU football lore for his huge game against Purdue on October 30, 1971--exactly 44 years ago today--in which he ran for a then-record 350 yards (on only 29 carries). Duffy Daugherty called it, "the greatest individual performance I've personally ever witnessed." Though the record has since been broken several times over, it's still the single-game MSU rushing record.

Rest in peace, Eric Allen.

Post script (November 2, 2015): In all of the remembrances and obituaries I've read about Eric Allen since his passing, I have yet to read any mention of what he did after his football career ended in 1975. It's almost as if his life ended there. I hope that he had decades of happiness and fulfillment before his health started to deteriorate, but I'm not sure if that happened or not.

Post post script: I found a good obituary for Eric Allen, and he served on the Georgetown (South Carolina) County School District Board from November 2008 to March 2011. I will post the link here, as well as the text from the obituary (since I have no idea how long the link will be valid):

Georgetown sports legend Eric Allen dead at 66

Eric “Bobby” Allen, considered by many to be one of the greatest athletes to ever play in Georgetown County, died Oct. 27 at Tidelands Hospice. He was 66.

In 1966, Allen was a member of a state championship football team with Howard High School, where he graduated in 1968. He went on to set several Big Ten and NCAA records at Michigan State University and was drafted into the NFL by the Baltimore Colts in 1972.

Instead of signing with the Colts, however, Allen chose to play for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.

As good an athlete as Allen was, he was an even better man, according to his friends.
“He had a kind heart,” said Steve Johnson, a teammate of Allen’s on the Howard football team. “He was a dedicated friend. He was someone you would want as a friend.”

“Besides being a friend and teammate, he was an excellent guy,” said Fred Williams, who was an offensive guard on Howard’s 1966 championship team. “I’m going to miss (him) dearly.”
“(Allen) was one of the finest athletes that ever came out of Georgetown,” said Joe Isaac, a friend of Howard’s legendary football coach, Tommy Smith Sr. “He was spectacular, well beyond the average football player.”

Isaac recalled hearing a story that Allen was removed from a scrimmage between Howard and Winyah high schools after scoring a touchdown every time he got his hands on the ball.

“He was an excellent football player, he just had raw talent,” said Billy White, another teammate of Allen’s at Howard. “You could tell he was destined to play (at the next level).”

White replaced Allen at running back for the 1966 state championship game after Allen broke his leg the week before. Allen was so determined to play in the title game that he cut the cast off his leg, White said. When Coach Smith found out, he made him go back to the doctor and have another cast put on.

Smith was friends with legendary Green Bay Coach Vince Lombardi, and the Tigers used a lot of the Packers’ offense. That made Howard players a force to be reckoned with, Williams said.
“Howard High School was about as serious as it gets when it comes to athletics,” Williams said. “We were the real deal.”

Williams called Allen a “character” and said when the Tigers were on the road, Allen would seek out his opponents and tell them not to schedule a “victory” dance after the game, because Howard was going to win.

White said everybody at Howard was proud of Allen when he got accepted to Michigan State.
In fact, Brendon Barber turned down a chance to attend Clemson University to follow Allen to East Lansing, Michigan.

Barber, now a city councilman, said his childhood hero earned the nickname of “Easy” at Michigan State.

“Everything he did on the field, he make it look so easy,” Barber said.
Allen was named an All-America as a senior in 1971, and he rushed for a Big Ten-leading 1,494 yards, a Michigan State record that stood until 1985.

His 1,283 rushing yards in league games set a Big Ten mark, as did his 110 points. He was the first Big Ten player to crack the century mark. Allen broke two NCAA records, four Big Ten marks and nine MSU records in 1971. Against Purdue, he rushed for an NCAA-record 350 yards on 29 carries, a record that stood until 1978. Named the Big Ten’s MVP in 1971, he rushed for 100 or more yards on seven occasions and his 18 touchdowns were school and Big Ten records.

Allen finsihed 10th in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1971.

Career-wise, Allen finished as Michigan State’s all-time leader in rushing attempts (521) and rushing yards (2,654).

But it wasn’t all about football for Allen, who earned undergraduate and graduate and degrees at Michigan State. Academics were just as important, Barber said.

When Allen was playing in Canada, he would return to East Lansing on his days off and tell the Spartans football players that followed him to concentrate on academics and be role models around campus.

During off-seasons, he would visit Michigan to work with young male and female athletes in the East Lansing area.

“As long as you’ve got your education, the athletics would work out,” Barber said Allen would always say.

Allen would also invite Barber over for Sunday dinners – and serve authentic Lowcountry food.
“This will keep you strong,” Allen would tell Barber as he served up home-cooked meals.

Allen’s commitment to education led him to run for school board when he returned home to Georgetown about 10 years ago.

“He was concerned about academics,” Barber said. “He wanted to improve academics and also athletics. He believed the discipline of athletics helped academics.”

Allen served on school board from November of 2008 to March of 2011.

Sherrie Allen, the daughter of Allen’s brother, Phillip, said she didn’t get to see her uncle a lot when he lived in Canada, but when he was around, he liked to talk about football.

“Every time he came it was special,” she said. “We always looked forward to that.”

Sherrie Allen said her uncle had been sick for awhile because of what she termed his football “injuries,” but his death was unexpected.

In June, Allen and Korey Banks, who also played in the CFL, filed a $200 million lawsuit against the league, former commissioner Mark Cohon, Dr. Charles Tator and the Toronto-based Krembil Neuroscience Centre, over concussions.

“The defendants and their agents knew or ought to have known that multiple sub-concussive and concussive blows to the head lead to long-term brain injury,” the lawsuit said. “The defendants knew that football players should stop playing football after receiving their third concussion.”

In addition to his niece and brother, Allen is survived by his mother, Rebecca Allen of Georgetown, a sister, Ruth Naomi Allen of Maryland; and another brother, Nathaniel Allen.

Funeral services will be held Monday, Nov. 2, at 1 p.m. at Bethel AME Church on Georgetown. Burial will follow in Morning Glory Cemetery. Visitation will be Sunday, Nov. 1, from 5-7 p.m. at Walter S. Fraser Memorial Chapel in Georgetown.