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'Just joy': Eric Allen sits on the doorstep of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Eric Allen
Eric Allen

The Eagles brought back the Kelly Green uniforms as a throwback alternate for the 2023 season, evoking memories of the early 1990s teams that were led by one of the most dominant defensive units of all time.

It just so happens that cornerback Eric Allen, an All-Pro cornerback on that defense, is a first-time finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same year.


"There's no coincidence," Allen said jokingly. "Right away at the beginning of the year, we heard that they were going to start wearing the Kelly Green. I put my order in early to get my family and friends suited and ready to roll. It's been a huge success. The jerseys look great. It just kind of helps the fan base go back in time and when you go back in time, you bring up those names – Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Randall Cunningham, myself, and Seth Joyner, and maybe some younger Eagles fans are able to say, 'Hey, why does my dad and my grandpa wear 21 and Kelly Green?' The Kelly Green, I think, gave back a nostalgic feel for the Eagle faithful and the Eagle nation and I think it helped me get to this point."

On Wednesday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named Allen as one of 15 finalists for the Class of 2024, which will be announced at NFL Honors on Thursday, February 8, just before Super Bowl LVIII.

"Joy. Just joy," said Allen, who was a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the fourth time. "It's been great to see all of the guys I played with and played against wish me well."

In those first years after his playing career ended, Allen didn't pay much attention to the nominees and eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees. Allen left the game following the 2001 season and jumped into the broadcast booth, working for ESPN as a studio analyst. Always a consummate pro, Allen immersed himself in his new role, something that he always thought he'd be doing when he was in college at Arizona State.

Allen's name has resurfaced quite a few times on social media this season and not just because of the return of the Kelly Green uniforms. When the Cowboys' DaRon Bland returned his fifth interception for a touchdown in November against Washington, it broke the all-time NFL record of four, which Allen shared. Raiders cornerback Jack Jones evoked memories of Allen with pick-sixes in each of the past two games for Las Vegas, something that Allen did twice in his career, including once as a member of the Silver and Black toward the end of his career in 2000.

"I think since I've been gone for so long that I just had to be reintroduced for something that I did," Allen said. "I took pride in that."

A gentleman from Monday through Saturday, Allen was a stone-cold thief on gamedays.

He shares the Eagles' all-time record for most interceptions with 34, finishing with 54 for his entire career, which included seven seasons in Philadelphia, three in New Orleans, and four with the Raiders in Oakland. His 54 interceptions are tied for 21st in NFL history. Only six players ahead of him are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Once he had the ball in his hands, Allen was a scoring machine with eight career pick-sixes, tied for eighth in NFL history. Every eligible player ahead of him in that category is in the Hall of Fame. He added another four interceptions in the playoffs, with a touchdown.

This past Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of one of Allen's greatest games as an Eagle when he scored two pick-sixes in a single game as Philadelphia defeated New Orleans 37-26. In the Wild Card Round against the Saints the previous season, Allen sparked one of the greatest playoff comebacks in team history when he intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown in a 36-20 victory. Sure, the game didn't seem close, but the Eagles trailed 20-7 in the third quarter until Allen's first interception sparked the turnaround as Philadelphia scored the game's final 29 points, with Allen's 18-yard touchdown return the exclamation point with just over two minutes left in the game. It's no surprise why the Saints signed Allen away in free agency after the 1994 season.

Allen was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, a three-time All-Pro, a member of the Eagles' 75th Anniversary Team and Hall of Fame, and an All-Rookie Team selection. UPI chose Allen as its NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 when he tied the NFL record with four touchdowns off interceptions.

"When you spend a lot of time on your craft and mine was all about preparation and being able to adapt," said Allen, who continues to shine in broadcasting as a member of the Raiders' in-house network. "I took a lot of pride in being able in one week having to play Jerry Rice. You have to worry about those great routes that he ran, so you have to put yourself in position to be able to make plays, and then the next week have to go against a guy like Michael Irvin, who is this bigger, physical guy, so you got to play physical with him. I always thought that in the craft, you have to find a space that's yours."

Back in 2018, the NFL listed the 10 best pick-sixes of all time and the iconic filmmaker Steve Sabol cited Allen's 94-yard game-winning interception return to beat the New York Jets as "the greatest interception return in NFL history." The Jets had the ball ahead 30-28, looking to put the game away in the middle of the fourth quarter. Quarterback Boomer Esiason's pass to wide receiver Chris Burkett was tipped and Allen stepped in front of Burkett to get the ball. Allen used a spin move to thwart off one would-be tackler as he raced up to the 30-yard line and then cut across the field. Fellow corner Ben Smith provided the final block needed as Allen zoomed down the left sideline and into the end zone.

Allen was a part of the legendary Gang Green defense that led the NFL in total yards, rushing yards, and passing yards allowed in 1991 – a rare triple crown. The Eagles also led the league in sacks and takeaways that year. Five members of that defense, including Allen, went to the Pro Bowl with Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, and Reggie White.

"We understood how important it was to represent the Eagles and (former head coach) Buddy Ryan. When the five of us were there (in the Pro Bowl), it was about really what Buddy represented and what he was about and being able to show up in Hawaii and have the respect from every other team, that five guys from a single defense in that year were able to get there," Allen said.

"It's all about the dedication and the loyalty and the understanding of what defense was really about, particularly under Buddy Ryan or even Bud Carson (the defensive coordinator for the '91 unit) for that aspect. They were both tremendous coaches for the Eagles and gave us great opportunities to show us stuff and both of those men had one thing in common, it was really about being a smart football player, being tough, but being a smart football player. Those two things will help you long term and that's what I always say. Buddy and Bud were going to give you the necessary tools and techniques to be able to have a long career."

That 1991 defense is hailed as arguably the greatest in NFL history.

"We had a connection to the city. They believed that their love for the Eagles showed on the defensive side of the ball, that commitment to playing defense, to being tough, to being rugged, to being able to overcome obstacles," Allen said. "It was letting the fan base know that our defense was not going to come to the ballpark and have any excuses. We still need to play at a high level. They held you accountable. They wanted to see 21 on that football field making plays. That's what they bought those tickets for, so I didn't want to let them down."

Overshadowed by so many of his accomplishments, Allen missed just one game due to injury in his seven years with the Eagles.

"That was important not to cheat the game and have ultimate respect for the game and know that your teammates are counting on you," Allen said. "You have to make the situation better than when you found it. That's what I tried to do with each team, each locker room, and each meeting room. Just tried to make it a little bit better and be competitive as hell on Sunday when I'm lining up against those Cowboys."

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