SAN JOSE, California — As he puts it, by a stroke of good fortune, or an act of divinity, or sheer fate, Carolina Panthers defensive end Jared Allen will play in the first Super Bowl of his 12-year NFL career at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara — just 30 minutes from Allen’s California hometown, Morgan Hill.
“I try to always keep things in perspective and think that God has a plan and that things happen for a reason,” Allen told BuzzFeed News Tuesday. “I didn’t think it was gonna take me 12 years to get here, but it did, and that it happens to be here is surreal and sweet.”
Still, Allen — whose venerable career has spanned four teams, 193 games, and five Pro Bowl appearances — is not letting the nostalgia distract him.
After the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship — a game Allen missed due to a foot injury — the 33-year-old defensive end said he tried to “soak up the emotions of playing a game back home” in the week before the team traveled to California.
“Obviously the feelings of being home are present in the moment, but I’m not going to let that distract from this Sunday’s goal,” Allen said.
Instead, Allen said playing the big game in his backyard was a matter of convenience.
“My wife and kids get to stay with grandma and grandpa, which everyone enjoys. It makes it easier on everybody — it’s not like they’re trying to check out a new city this week,” he said. “And I get to come home and see my wife and kids and keep a normal routine so I can focus on the game.”
That lets “everyone participate in the excitement at their own level because we all know the area,” Allen said. His wife and kids flew into California on Monday.
Allen attended Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill — then was accused of stealing yearbooks — and later transferred to nearby Los Gatos High. He said he has “no attachment to Levi’s Stadium itself,” where Super Bowl 50 will be played, which only opened for the 2014–2015 season.
During the first game of that season, Allen was on the Chicago Bears and played at Levi’s Stadium. The Bears came back from a 13-point deficit to beat the San Francisco 49ers 28–20 on their brand new turf.
In the middle of the next season, Allen was traded to the Panthers. When asked about the mid-season trade that took him from a 6–10 Bears team to a 17–1 Panthers — and his first Super Bowl appearance, Allen was relaxed:
“How about that, huh? You know what? The Lord is good, I tell you what.”
Allen says the foot injury that caused him to miss NFC Championship game is “totally fine” and will not keep him out of the Super Bowl.
He was listed as “questionable” for the championship game due to the injury, and head coach Ron Rivera made the call to sit Allen out. The defensive end was unhappy, but admitted to BuzzFeed News that Rivera’s job is “sometimes just to keep us from getting in our own way.”
Allen, whose last NFC Championship appearance was a 2009 loss with the Vikings, said he could barely stand watching his team from the sideline.
“Don’t get me wrong, I had all the faith in the world in our team and our coaching staff. But you wanna be out there with the guys,” he said.
“I was laughing with [the guys] when we were up 42–15 because it was like a pass rushers' dream right now,” Allen told a group of reporters Tuesday afternoon. “You got a team that is throwing the ball deep,” which generally means the quarterback is holding on to the ball longer.
On Sunday, Allen will get his chance at rushing Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, in what is rumored to be the last game of the future Hall of Famer’s career. Allen — who has 136 career quarterback sacks — has played against Manning four times and only sacked him once.
Getting to Manning before he gets rid of the ball is “a challenge,” Allen admitted Tuesday. “And [it] has been a challenge for the 12 years that I have been in the league playing against him and I don’t see it not being a challenge until he decides to stop.”
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Allen is relieved that his family is able to remain comfortable while he fulfills football and media obligations.
He joked that his parents likely have something more important at the front of their minds, anyway:
“They’re probably just having fun playing with the grandkids.”
Lindsey Adler is a sports reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Lindsey Adler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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