As a lifelong Bears fan, as well as a humble man who appreciates humility and grace both on and off the football field, I have no qualms saying that I once hated Jared Allen.
Everything from the redneck mullet he used to sport to the hillbilly calf-roping routine he performed every time he sacked the quarterback, I couldn’t stand him. The way he conducted himself both on the field and on the sideline just reeked of “look at me, look at me.”
When Jay Cutler was traded to the Bears on April 2, 2009 (5 years ago as of this Wednesday), Allen said: “Twice a year, I’m going to peel the back of his head off the turf. I love the guy, but business is business.” Despite the two of them sharing mutual respect for each other, that statement — while not in and of itself wrong — rubbed me the wrong way.
When Allen was making a push for Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5 back in 2011, I was sitting uneasy in my chair, actively rooting against him.
I didn’t like the guy, and I didn’t want someone so brash to have success.
Then the guy switched his purple No. 69 jersey for our beloved navy, and suddenly I’ve grown to respect the man.
And thus, we witness the kind of impact a jersey switch can make.
This isn’t new territory, by any means. This has been happening for decades.
Bulls fans will remember the allegiance shift felt when Dennis Rodman — the former Piston Bad Boy whom everybody loved to hate — was acquired from the Spurs prior to the Bulls’ second three-peat run in the 90s. Suddenly, the love poured in for No. 91.
In football, when longtime Packer Brett Favre donned the purple of the Vikings, there was mass hysteria in Green Bay but the Minnesota fans loved him after years of hatred.
And for me personally, I’ve had such disdain for the New England Patriots and I always felt Wes Welker was one of the most overrated wide receivers to ever play the game, who benefitted from playing with one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Tom Brady. Then he joined the Denver Broncos, and paired up with my favorite player of all time in Peyton Manning, and suddenly Welker just didn’t seem all that bad to me.
What this amounts to, is that we’re not really cheering or jeering individual players so much as we are rooting for or against the jersey. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld once said in a skit on his show, “you’re actually rooting for the clothes.”
I digress a little.
Going back to Allen, the Bears got a player who plays with passion and just happens to have a large personality. Would I ever be friends with the guy? Most definitely not. From all indications, he’s a good guy off the field, but his larger-than-life personality toes the line of cocky and it just doesn’t mesh with me.
But this isn’t about friendship and it isn’t about what kind of person he is. It’s about production on the field and it’s about winning a Super Bowl. And Allen won me over — along with the local media and the rest of Bears Nation — with his winning performance at the press conference. He expressed his fondness for both the players on the team as well as the organization in general. He stressed that he had a lot left in the tank and he came to the Bears because he feels strongly that they are on the doorstep of competing for a title.
Now, if his play on the field this year can back up his comments at the press conference, I may even go a step farther than respect up to admiration.