Anatomy of an Era: Jacques Allen, Part 3
Excerpted from Chapter 68, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Jacques Allen, Part 3
Q: I’m not sure if I’ll be interviewing Tyrone Williams, as he’s been hard to get ahold of, but would there be anything unique you’d say about going up against Tyrone in practices?
JA: Tyrone was dirty. (laughs)
Q: In what way?
JA: Tyrone knew the tricks of the trade. That’s what makes a great cornerback. He was great, he really understood what he could and could not get away with. He made me work harder, I’ll tell you that. But at the same time, I knew little tricks and stuff, too. I’d really have to say he was one of the best cornerbacks I ever had to go up against. He was a good corner man. It was a competition. Practice was a competition, but him and Baron Miles were great corners.
It was just fun, man. We were just so tight, we had a great time. I was, ‘I’m gonnna catch everything that comes my way.’ And they took pride in trying to keep me from catching the ball. That was their aim in practice, ”If we can stop Jacques, we can stop anybody.”
Q: Any really memorable off-field occurrences?
JA: I don’t know if I should say this, Paul, but we were in Tempe. That was the best bowl time ever. There was this amusement park that we always went to, and there were these go-carts. And they were the tightest, because there was no governor on them, they were just balls to the wall and they hauled ass. This guy was, “If you guys give me a ball or some piece of paper with all the team members’ names on them, I’ll let you guys ride for free the whole time you are here.” So I go to the bathroom and I get one of my old footballs and I start forging. (laughs)
Q: (laughing) You’re signing with your right hand, your left hand, signing upside down…
JA: These looked authentic, Paul. I did a great job, they looked authentic. We rode all around this amusement park for free, it was awesome. It was just a lot of fun, but it was worth it.
The bottom line was, that place was fun. All we had to do to get unlimited rides was gather some names? (laughs) I gave him some names! “And all of them aren’t here at this amusement park right now, but you won’t know the difference. (laughs) Can we get on the go-carts now?” The dude was shutting down stuff so we could get on. It was great.
Q: Was there one person behind the scenes who played a large part in yours or the team’s experience there that made Nebraska football special?
JA: Keith Zimmer. He is the reason I have a degree, man.
Q: In what regard?
JA: He just never gave up on anybody. Keith Zimmer -and I really loved Dennis Leblanc, too- but Keith would just work his ass off. He used to go to class, and sometimes go down to the professors and -it wasn’t a pity party- but he’d say, “Hey, these guys are juggling a lot of things. They’re going to class and on top of that they’re playing games and in practices all the time. It’s hard for him to try to fit all that in. If you could just give them a little bit of flex or let them do this paper over? They’re still on the same timeline as the other students, we just need a little flexibility here, that’s all. We have an away game. We’re going to have to leave class behind.” And there were professors who could not stand athletes, and Keith would go to bat. That was a great man. And you wanna know another person? What’s that class, the freshman class they make you take, the introduction…
JA: Yes, Marcia Wythers.
Q: Tell me about her.
JA: Okay, on top of being a professor for the NU Foundations class, Marcia Wythers also trained dogs, like hunting dogs who’d pick up the decoys and all that. Well, she used to take us, some of us to go out there with her, invited us to her house and invited us to eat dinner with her. She was just very cool. She was very down to earth, but she had a big impact on me. That was my first year in college, and that woman was such a caring person. She saw us really for what we were, she didn’t look at us as football players. She looked at us as students. But at the same time, we were so intrigued by what she did. Any other student would have been like, ”What do you do?”, but we wanted to see that stuff. She was cool. That woman was awesome.
Q: Being on that sideline for the Florida State Orange Bowl game, was that game a pivotal moment for the team? What do you think?
JA: You’re absolutely correct. We believed that. Because there were just certain times during the game where we felt they didn’t have enough fight in them. I’m not saying that we didn’t deserve to be in that game -I’m not saying that by any means- but there would be certain plays during the game where we were, “We can win! We can win!” But I think ’93 was a pivotal year because we knew we could be there, but I think it hurt us really bad, because a lot of guys in my class were starting to play. We just knew after that game that, “This will never happen again. You can never say that it will be from a lack of effort, or making boneheaded moves where you forget your discipline or responsibilities on certain plays. There’s not going to be any of that. This will never happen to us again.” We worked very hard. Coming into the Florida State game in ’93 was the first game that nobody went home, but we knew that we had to work harder. If you want it you have to work harder. Tom Osborne, I think he knew he was never going to lose again.
Q: What do you think motivated most of the guys? Were they focused on going to the next level or doing what they could in college? What drove them?
JA: A lot us went on to the next level, Paul, but the thing was, you could tell when somebody was getting ready to go to the next level. But at the same time a lot of us in that class -and ’94 was their last year: Troy, Abdul, Doug’s last year- I just really think that a lot of us thought about going to the next level, but first things first. A lot of us that redshirted were there for the ’95 season, too, and certain goals were set for us to be there.
Q: Looking back on it, what are you the most proud of?
JA: I’m proud of the people that I came there with. Because I really think that my class -and people can call me conceited or whatever you want to- but my class is the reason a lot of people got to see Nebraska Football brought back to where it was supposed to be. A lot of these schools that won national championships, look at how close they are. Look at how those teams were so close. We hadn’t won a national championship since 1971 and I think my class brought that back. We knew, we did it in ’94 and ’95, took a year off and won it again in ’97. Those players in ’97, they were there when we were there. They saw what had to be done when we were there. And everybody can’t say this, Paul, with and after us those guys won three national championships. I think it was the mindset of, “You guys can win this every year if you want to, if you work hard enough. We’re good enough.”
People were building the programs around our philosophies, about how we’d win. People were thinking that passing games were the way to win, and our victory over Miami in that Orange Bowl game changed a lot of people’s minds: “We are hard-nosed. We are hard-nosed on both sides of the ball, and especially on special teams. We will tear you about and beat you up. We will physically abuse you and mentally abuse you.” That was a sick feeling in ’93 versus Florida State, Paul. I remember that feeling. Sickening. Sickening.
You know how when you’re playing in a national championship game, regardless of who wins, and they pre-produce these Nebraska National Championship hats and shirts? Well, some guys were saying, “Here you go guys, take this t-shirt. You can have it.” And I was like, ‘No, we do not want that crap. We did not win that game. We didn’t earn it.’ It was deeply emotional, but those weren’t the tears I wanted to spill. If I’m gonna be crying I want them to be tears of happiness.
And I felt selfish, because the guys where this was their last year, I felt badly for them. But at the same time I was, “This will never happen again.” It was like, “Let’s move these guys out and let’s get it done.” That’s how we felt. We were taking it to another level and bringing it home.
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Q: I’ve got know your perspective on something: If some teams reach that point and just barely miss out, they might just cash all the chips in and forget about ever getting there again. But you guys, you used it to fuel you to an even higher level of accomplishment. What did that say about you as a team?
JA: Because, I will tell you why, because there were certain players in certain positions, they were, “The younger guy playing my position? When I’m gone, he’s gonna be better than me. These guys that we’ve got coming up, we’ll practice harder, we’ll take it more seriously, we know we have to do this, there are no shortcuts or nothing. We aren’t going to make excuses for anything. We don’t get tired, we do not get worn out. We do not get physically and mentally worn down. We will keep at you continuously. We take it more seriously than those guys. It means more to us.” I really, truly believe some of those guys were just glad to be there. Well, I’m not just glad to be there, ‘I want to win this sucker.’
Q: Did you ever end up earning a scholarship?
Q: You were a warrior, man!
JA: Paul, I’m a competitor.
Q: What does that entail? The word ‘competitor?” And let me preface that by saying this: I look at all of these rosters from that era and they are incredibly freshman- and sophomore-weighted, very heavily. But if you looked at the average roster you would only see a handful, a mere portion of those guys on the team as seniors. Somehow many of those younger players dropped off by the wayside. That tells me if you were a senior Nebraska Football player that you can best be summed up with the words ‘warrior, survivor’. What do you say about that?
JA: Do you know what it is? Being a competitor means you’re not a quitter. A lot of these players that were in my situation… we all had dreams. But the thing is, you have to come to the realization that maybe things won’t work out the way you want it to. But you put all this effort into something bigger than yourself and you’re just going to quit because it didn’t go your way? Really? Dog, that tells me that I’ve let myself down, I’ve let my teammates down, I’ve let my family down. And my family is counting on me to have a degree on top of everything.
And me being a competitor, that means I compete in everything I do. That means I have to compete in school as well as compete in practice and games, everything is part of the game. You can’t quit one and think you can compete in the other. I tell you what, if I would have quit playing football I probably would have quit school altogether.
Q: Interesting take, Jacques. So there was a special drive to never accept the status quo and always be pushing the envelope of possibility?
JA: Right. And I hate that word, ‘status quo’. I really do. Because number one, whose scale is that set on?
Q: The scale of the ‘Failures’?
JA: Right, those are people that find different ways to fit in until they’ve contributed something without putting in a 110% effort. “I’m status quo. This is what is supposed to happen to me. This is where I’m supposed to fit.” Well, you know, the thing is, sometimes you just have to look outside of yourself and understand that, yes, you are part of a whole. And the thing is, you do affect the whole when you drop off.
I don’t know how many times I saw this, but this person would quit, and then this other person they were tight with, they would quit or transfer. They were quitters. The whole thing is like this: you have to be appreciative of what you have, because we don’t always get what we deserve.
Q: Wonderful way of putting it. I like that philosophy. And in summarizing it, putting it all together, how do you think you were enriched by that whole experience? How are you a better man today because of those experiences?
JA: Just what was instilled in me: never quit. Don’t listen to people as far as what they think you’re supposed to be doing. They don’t know what you’re capable of doing, because a lot of times even we don’t know what we are capable of doing. So you have to appreciate what you do have, because there are a million other people who wished they could be doing what you are doing. You have to be able to let go of that ego like all of these players who came from some school and were the star. Because you know what? There’s a difference between being a star and being involved in the solar system, because there’s a whole gang of other stars maybe even better than you. So are you trying to be the one star or are you willing to be part of a whole solar system?
You’ve got to be a part of something to really understand the full power of what a star really is, because we’re all stars. Without each one of us we would not have had what we had. And some people think they are the North Star, but what they find out is that stars fizzle out, and there’s always another one that’s brand new just willing to shine as brightly as you have.
Q: Well, Jacques, I’ve run out of questions. Any last comments on something that you feel we did not cover?
JA: The whole thing comes down to two words: drive and belief. Because a lot of us come from places where people just didn’t believe in what we could do, and once we did hit those goals then they’d become jealous because we’ve already outdone what they thought we could do. The whole thing is, that whole team, the one thing is that we never gave up on each other. And we always knew that we could go further and we never cut ourselves short. When it came down, at the end of ’94 and going into the ’95 season we knew that we were going to win it again, and we knew it was going to come easy.
You look at the ’94 season, everything that we worked for, there were a lot of close games, especially the Big 8 was starting to tighten up. You had KU who was ranked, K-State was ranked, Colorado was ranked, Iowa State was ranked for like two weeks. It was just everything was competitive. Wyoming was ranked when we played them in ’94, but ’95, the point was we knew we were at a whole different level, where they were saying that ’95 team could play some pro teams and beat them.
It comes down to drive and believing in your nucleus. Because when the world is against you, all you have is your family. When it comes down to it, all you have is your family. As diverse as our group was, we were a family and we believed in each other. And had we not done what we did, it would have been a failure. All of us came to the point where failure wasn’t an option for us, we were not going to let that become the status quo at our university.
And don’t get me wrong, we had fun. I had fun. And that’s one thing I look for when teams win championships is, ‘Did they have fun doing it?’ The bottom line is, losing isn’t fun. And to understand winning, you have to understand fun. Because winning is fun. We worked our asses off, and you can get lost in that. People need to realize that those great teams in the nineties and even into the 2000’s, that didn’t just happen. Those teams didn’t just fall out of the sky. We worked hard.
And as immature as some people thought our class was, we were mature about winning. We had a great time. I think we were one of the first classes that Tom Osborne had that was really just full of knuckleheads. (laughs) But I think it was a challenge for him, as well as for us. And it all made us better. It was a ball.
If just one word were to summarize the whole of this chapter, it would have to be ‘attitude.’ What’s the old saying, “Your attitude determines your altitude”? I can see how the Nebraska recruiting class of ’91’s arrival would haved finally unleashed its pervasive effect come the ’94 Orange Bowl versus Florida State, where the Husker swagger experienced a renaissance on that field of play. The tail-enders of Generation X, stereotypes of the time dictated this demographic as increasingly individualistic, less apt to extend loyalty, and less enthusiastic than most about assuming the responsibilities of adulthood, earning the all-encompassing term of ‘slacker’. On the flip side, though, this latch-key generation was thought to possess a greater inherent thirst for challenge, and when mustered to action they were stubbornly tenacious and doggedly averse to being dissuaded from the cause. That sounds about right, and is exactly where these jokers fit in.
Jacques had an interesting point when he said the Unity Council was created to reign them in (though I think that’s only a part of the equation). So, what was the outgrowth of that attitude? A change in not only the team and the campus’s, but even the city of Lincoln’s status quo, its pecking order. Silent revolutions are a rarity, and we saw a bit of sparks and smoke thrown off every now and then as proof, “the players would go to Tom and say that some things happened at these places. And us guys, a lot of us came from backgrounds where we’d go, “Well hell, that’s nothing. We’re used to that. That ain’t nothing new. We like going to those places, truth be told. So we’re going.”” Once established, they became a societal force to reckon, because “when the world is against you, all you have is your family. When it comes down to it…as diverse as our group was, we were a family and we believed in each other.” As I stated in the opening chapter, belief is a strong force. The manifestation of that belief, that familial bond of family and new brotherhood, served as a springboard to Husker dominance, Lincolnites be damned.
Notable quotes #2:
Jacques Allen on the unbreakable bond of the Scarlet Brotherhood: “The whole thing comes down to two words: drive and belief. Because a lot of us come from places where people just didn’t believe in what we could do… that whole team, the one thing is that we never gave up on each other.”
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Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.