Anatomy of an Era: Jacques Allen, Part 1
Excerpted from Chapter 68, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
We show up to Missouri that year (in 1997) and they tell us that we can’t practice on their field… And Osborne’s not real happy about the whole deal -because obviously he likes to do the walk-through on the field that we’re playing on. So we show up the next day to play the ballgame and the field looks all green and everything like that…until you step on it. They had about 6 inches worth of sand on the whole field. The whole field! It was like beach-football…the only place I’ve ever played at where I’m sitting on the bench sucking wind after a drive…and got hit in the head by an orange.
-Josh Heskew, Husker Center ’94-98, Legends Radio Show
Life is full of surprises, so why should college football be any different? Even in the old Big 8/12. From one week to the next you never knew what angle they would be coming at you from, so the best one could do was prepare for the inevitable and hope to Betsy you’ve thought through the full gamut of possibilities. Josh Heskew’s remembrance serving as evidence (above), during the great 60 & 3 era Nebraska’s foes went to drastic lengths to slow the Husker’s down… much to their shame, failure and dismay.
From oranges & whiskey bottles & corncobs to conference expansion & backroom rules alterations, they’re comic situations when you look back on them now, years removed. Much like the vaudeville era when a bad standup routine would elicit the throwing of beer bottles, tomatoes and other such culinary delights, we now happen upon -to borrow a phrase- the jester of the jerseys: Jacques Allen.
If there’s a joker in every crowd, Jacques was the headliner when it came to ‘95’s motley crew. But don’t think for a minute that he was only about the belly laugh, because a fire burned there in that belly, also. And a raging one at that. Listen in as he fans the flame of yesteryear, recounting the raucous laughter and the ‘bad dude’ attitude that played its part in Husker success.
Notable quote #1:
“I think we were one of the first classes that Tom Osborne had that was really just full of knuckleheads. But I think it was a challenge for him, as well as for us. And it all made us better. We didn’t look for trouble, but we would defend ourselves… we’d stand up for ourselves. And even though Tom would tell us not to go somewhere, that’s just how we were.”
Walk-on, Wingback, Kansas City, Missouri (Raytown)
Where are they now? Overland Park, Kansas, Real Estate Investor
Question: When was your first fall camp at Nebraska, Jacques?
Jacques Allen: It was the fall of ’91.
Q: How did you become Cornhusker?
JA: Well, I’ve been a Cornhusker fan my whole life. I came from Raytown where we ran the ‘Straddle offense’, and was a wide receiver at the time at 175 lbs. I was recruited heavily by K-State along with other schools around the country, but my mom told me that she didn’t want me to go to school anywhere on the East coast, West Coast or down South and just stay in the Midwest. It was set up for me to go to K-State, but Nebraska had contacted me and said they had a good walk-on program, so I passed up a scholarship to K-State to come to Nebraska.
Q: Really?! I didn’t know that! That’s a pretty bold move. What pushed you to do that?
JA: Just the emphasis on education. And not only were we always going to be in the fight for the Big 8 Championship and the national championship, but also me having the opportunity to earn a degree. Both my parents are educators, and what stood out with the other schools? There wasn’t a big emphasis on that. They talked mostly about how I was going to help their football program and not a lot of emphasis on me earning my degree. So that’s what led me to Nebraska.
Q: Both of your folks are teachers?
JA: They’re both retired now, but my dad was an administrator and my mom was a teacher.
Q: Do you remember any first impressions when you got to Lincoln? Any adjustments you had to make?
JA: I’ll tell you this, (and I don’t know if too many of the other guys will tell you this) but when we first got there we were all staying in Harper Hall right before the other student body had gotten there. And the big adjustment was those railroad tracks just behind there. And we had to be at the stadium at something like 6 o’clock in the morning, but these trains would come at, like, every two hours. So for the first two, two and a half weeks nobody was getting any sleep, because these trains were going by the dorm and we couldn’t get any sleep. I just remember being dead tired and going to practice in the morning and because there was that crossing there, that train would just go, “Whoooooo….WHOOOOOOO!” So we were not getting any sleep. ”We’re not going to be any good tomorrow.” We were only averaging about 3 hours of sleep a night.
Q: A new bed, a new roommate, too…
JA: Yeah, away from your family. And on top of that you’re not getting any sleep! (laughs) It was almost like that was done on purpose, because it was like a boot camp. We had trains come through and wake us up throughout the night, so going to practices, especially during two-a-days, was a bitch. You could not sleep. These trains were just coming all night long.
Q: That train prevented me from arriving at the Devaney Sports Center on time a lot of times, Jacques. Anything about the organization or the team itself, the way they did things, surprise you then?
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JA: Well, the thing that shocked me the most was the structure. High school was like, “Yeah, you do receiver work and things like that, then you did teamwork.” But here it was different. And when the older players showed up (after it was just the freshman ball) then they just threw you right into it with everybody else. At Nebraska it was no longer going to be separate, unlike doing the varsity in high school, so that was different for me, also. Just doing everything right along with the older guys and they worked us right in. The intensity was real.
Another thing was just how to balance going to class, taking those hours of class. In high school you’d go to class during the day and then school would get out and you’d go down and get ready for practice. It was times where during breaks, especially, it never stopped. Football never stopped at Nebraska. It’s a year-round event. It was like we’d go to a bowl, then we’d get like two weeks off, and then we’re right back doing football. It was all year-round. It never stopped. That was another thing getting used to, even though I played all three sports in high school year-round, it was different for me. It never stopped. Never stops.
Q: Do you recall the first friend you made?
JA: Well, Abdul (Muhammad), of course. Abdul and Troy Dumas were the ones I latched onto. Me and Troy were roommates, and anytime I’d come home I always brought Troy with me.
Q: Now, Abdul was from California and Troy was from Wyoming, right?
JA: Yes, that’s right.
Q: So I have to ask you: growing up near Kansas City, did you feel you were pretty much immersed in what Nebraska Football was about from the start? Did you realize the fan base was as crazy or devoted as they were?
JA: No, that was something. You watched Nebraska on TV and the commentators always talked about the fans, but to see it first hand, to witness that? That was something that was overwhelming in itself. Just to see the love they have for the team. Everybody always talks about -wherever you go- they always say that Nebraska fans are the best fans in college football, which they are. And no matter who we were playing, even if it’s somebody like Colorado, for instance -our self-proclaimed rivals- our fans were always great to them and they followed us everywhere.
And that was something that I had to get used to, also, because in my high school, let’s say that we’re playing in the semi-finals of the regionals. Well, everybody can’t make those games, so our side of the stands would be empty. But you go to the Orange Bowl and they had to sell extra tickets to our fans because they were coming. That meant a lot because they were always behind us.
Q: Do you think that made you guys play any better?
JA: I think so. I really think so. I think it makes you a complete team, because not only in game situations, but it made you take practice that much more seriously.
Q: In what way?
JA: Well, we were very competitive in practice. We treated practice -at least I did- I treated practice like games. I used to worry a lot, because, ‘Hey, we’re tearing the defense up.’ A lot of times there was a play they’d know we are gonna run, and they see it on the card and we run that play, and ‘Whoa! We’re still scoring!’ And they knew what we were running. You wanted all aspects of our team to be ready for our opponent, and there were times I’d be worried because we tore the defense up all week, and these weren’t even our plays, (laughs) ‘So what’s going to happen when the real team comes in and runs these same plays? We’ve been tearing them up all week, what are they going to do to us?’
Q: Do you recall any one particular game where you were worried more than most about that happening?
JA: I was concerned about Florida.
Q: Oh, really?
JA: (laughing) Yeah, I had a lot of fun during that time. I was scoring a majority of plays we were running. And anybody could tell you: they knew I was getting that ball. They knew that I was gonna find a way to get that ball.
Q: Were you Chris Doerring or any particular receiver as the scout team opponent?
JA: Pretty much anybody that was going to be getting the ball, I was the offense’s primary receiver.
Q: It’s funny, Jacques, I talked to Michael Booker the other night and he said he absolutely hated practicing against you. He said, “That damn Jacques! He would bring it every day in practice! Man, I hated that guy.” (laughs)
JA: (laughing) I always believed in giving a full effort. That’s what I was going to give. It’s funny, because Michael was a Blackshirt at the time and I was tearing his ass up all week in practice, (laughs) and they took his Blackshirt from him. (laughs) He was like, “Dude, you need to slow the hell up!” And I was, ‘No, we’ll lose if I do that.’ I wanted to give them a good picture. I wanted to win. I took practice as serious as games because I wanted us to be ready, you know? But at the same time, anybody will tell you, I had a good time. I had a great time.
Q: Do you recall the first game in which you participated?
JA: Let’s see… not really. But I remember it was my redshirt freshman year, it was an actual offensive series. We were whooping ass on somebody and I got in about 8 or 9 plays. It was fun, because our fans don’t leave the game. So they were still cheering and yelling, it was just a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun, Paul. I took that experience and lived it to the fullest.
Q: And do you know what’s funny, Jacques? Every time I bring your name up people just start to laugh. Coach Darlington said, “Jacques Allen? I loved that guy!” He said he was loving it when you were tearing up our defensive backs. And he said that you’d always grab the microphone at the head of the team bus and roast Coach Osborne.
JA: Yeah, (laughs) that was at the Fiesta Bowl. I was just having a good time because it was my last year there and my last game. And a lot of people would think that I was harassing Coach, but it was pretty much showing him, it was a tribute saying, “Hey man, thanks for bringing us this far.”
And Coach Osborne actually started getting pissed at me, Paul, because we started playing jokes on him. Because he’d get on a bus and I’d be hiding down under the seats. And Coach Osborne would be like, “Is Jacques on this bus?” And everybody would go, “Oh no, Coach. Jacques isn’t on this bus.” And then I’d pop up! And I’d be like, ‘Coach!’ And he’d just shake his head. The other joke I told everybody was, “Hey guys, I bet you didn’t know that Tom Osborne is really Italian. His real name is Tommy Osborni!” (laughs) Coach used to hate being on the same bus as me, and I spent that whole time that we were down there in Arizona tormenting him, the whole time, tormenting him. He hated that. Hated it.
Q: ‘Tommy Osborni’, huh?
JA: Yeah, he’s Italian. (laughs)
Q: Do you think he appreciated it a little bit, or not at all?
JA: I think he did. And I’ll tell you why I think he appreciated it, because there was a lot of attention going on with Tom, like how he handled the Lawrence Phillips situation and all that, and just a lot of things from the media talking about our team.
They talked about us being thugs and all that, but I still found the time to be like, ‘You know what, when it comes down to football it all comes down to having fun.’ That’s what I did, brought the fun back. Our players loved playing the game and the coaches loved coaching the game. I was very hard on Coach Osborne, and I’m sure I probably pissed him off. He’d be red in the face, but it was fun. It was fun.
Q: I’m sure the other guys were loving it.
JA: Oh yeah, they loved it. When we were in Tempe we’d have two or three buses. Well, what happened was, at first the numbers on each bus would be pretty equal and there’d be scattered empty seats on all the buses, but by the end of the week everybody wanted to be on the bus that I was on. (laughs)
They’d be like, “Oh man, we heard Jacques is just cutting up in this thing. We want to be on that bus.” It was funny, Paul, because he spent so much time trying not to be on the bus I was on. When we loaded up in the morning the first thing he asked when he stepped on to the bus was, “Is Jacques on this bus?” (laughs)
To be continued….
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Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.