Great CFL Pivots: Damon Allen

Great CFL Pivots: Damon Allen
Reading Time: 6 minutes.

There has been some discussion on the CFL site recently about quarterbacks. The current best, and the best five of all time have been up for debate.

So far we have taken a look at some great players who didn’t make that top five list. We started with Ron Lancaster, moved on to Tom WilkinsonTracy Ham, Tom Clements, and Sam Etcheverry.

However, it occurred to me that most UK based fans don’t know that much about the top 5 QB’s that did make the list. Some of the puzzled looks at my Argos Damon Allen jersey from UK based NFL fans is certainly testament to that.

So why not look at some of those that did make the top 5 too? Which is why this time we are looking at a dual threat quarterback who had an incredible CFL career spanning 23 years and spread across six different teams, – Damon Allen.

Before the CFL

Damon Allen was born in San Diego, California in 1963. His first experience quarterbacking came in local junior football. But first he was a safety. He has told the story of throwing a ball back in practice and the coach moving him over after that.

He was the starting quarterback at Lincoln High who he led to a 22-2 record. Allen was a first team all-CIF player and Tribune Athlete of the Year. He led his team to consecutive Championships.

Allen played his college ball for Cal State Fullerton. He led the Titans to Pacific Coast Athletic Association (PCAA) titles in 1983 & 1984 off of a combined 18-6 record. Allen broke several school records and only threw 3 picks in over 300 pass attempts.

A dual sports star, Allen was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 7th round of the 1984 MLB draft. But it was a career in football that he chose to pursue instead.

Starting out in the CFL

Allen started his career as a free agent signing with Edmonton in May 1985. What a set of QB’s Edmonton had on the roster in the 1980’s! Future Hall of Fame pivots Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham would share roster time with Allen. As a result he didn’t see a lot of playing time in his four years in Edmonton (1985-88).

Allen’s best year with the team came in 1987 when he threw for 2,670 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also ran for 562 yards. Being a dual-threat QB would become a feature of his time in the league. 

In 1987 Edmonton won the 75th Grey Cup beating Toronto 38-36 in a thriller in Vancouver. Dunnigan was the starting QB but went down with a head injury with the Argos leading 24-10 in the second quarter. Allen threw a TD to cut the lead to 24-17 before the half.

In the fourth quarter he would throw a 15 yard TD and run for a 17 yard score. Having prepared for Dunigan, the Argos D struggled with Allen’s mobility. 59,478 people watched on as Allen was named the Grey Cup’s Outstanding Offensive player.

It was the perfect way to finish the season. Unfortunately he was playing hurt and struggled somewhat in 1988. But for a player who would be a Free Agent at the end of the next year, that 75th Grey Cup performance was surely a good selling point.

Moving On

After 1988, Allen became a free agent and signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders. There he became the undisputed #1 QB on the team for the next three years (1989-91).

It was a good fit for Allen. Especially as Steven Goldman, the Edmonton offensive coordinator he had worked under from 1985-7 had been appointed as the new Rough Riders Head Coach.

The team would never win more than seven games during his time there. But Allen took big strides forward. In the three years with Ottawa his yardage total increased each year from 3,093 to 3,883 to 4275. In 1991 that was backed up with 1,036 yards on the ground too. A CFL East All-Star award followed suit.

One season with Hamilton followed in 1992. That season he would throw for 3,858 yards and 18 Touchdowns. Allen would continue to impress with his feet, going for 750 yards, at 7.7 yards a carry, and 7 TD’s.

Hamilton traded Allen back to Edmonton for the 1993 season for QB De Chane Cameron, LB DeWayne Odom, LB Michael O’Shea and LB William Freeney.

Once back in Edmonton, Allen stayed for 2 years. He threw for over 3,300 yards in each season while running for 920 yards in 1993 and 707 yards in 1994. 44 Touchdowns were also added into the mix.

By this point it was clear Allen had a flare for the big time Especially as he led Edmonton to another Grey Cup win in 1993. He would also be named the game’s MVP.

Damon Allen – a second CFL decade

Allen was now a seasoned CFL veteran. Ten years in the league had seen him play for three different teams. So far over half of his time had been spent with Edmonton. And he had picked up 2 championships with them.

Up to this point Allen had always been a dual threat quarterback. But in the latter half of his career he became a more accurate passer.

In 1995 he signed with the brief lived Memphis Mad Dogs expansion franchise. Allen had a pretty pedestrian season in Memphis. A large part of this may be attributable to the fact that the Mad Dogs field was not properly laid out to CFL standards due to a lack of space.

Seven Seasons in BC

After the failure of the American expansion experiment Allen was looking for a new home. That’s when the BC Lions came calling.

Up to this point the longest time Damon had spent in one place were the four seasons with Edmonton at the start of his career. From 1992-95 he had played for three different teams over four years.

I often wonder what it must be like for pro athletes. To constantly move around. Or know you could be traded and have to start somewhere new. For the first time in his storied career Allen found himslef living a less nomadic professional live with the Leos. He would stay for seven years from 1996-2002.

Perhaps there is something to this being settled too. Allen had some of his most accurate and successful passing seasons in BC.

In 1999 he completed 60.5% of his passes for 4,219 yards and 22 TD’s. As well as running for 785 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and 8 further majors. All of which saw him pick up his second All-Star award as a Western All Star.

The following season in 2000, Allen became the CFL’s all-time leading passer, surpassing Ron Lancaster’s record of 50, 535 yards. Even better, that year he led the Lions to Grey Cup victory. A 28-26 win in which he threw for 234 yards and scored twice on 1 yard runs.

Sixteen years into a CFL career some commentators thought Allen might retire after this win. Little did they know!

During the 2001 season, Allen became the first CFL quarterback to rush for over 10,000 yards in his career.

Going into the 2003 season BC decided to move for a younger QB. They signed Dave Dickenson and sent Allen to Toronto for picks in the 2004 and 2005 drafts just prior to the season.

Damon Allen – Toronto Argonaut

Things worked out pretty well for the BC Lions after the trade. From 2003 to 2007 they went 63-26-1, took 4 Division titles, appeared in 2 Grey Cups, and won it all in 2006. Dickenson was the MVP for that game too.

But, you could harldy say Allen fell into decline with the Argos. In 2003 he surpassed Lancaster for the most career touchdown passes in CFL history. He took the Argos to the Eastern Division Final that year as well.

In week 9 of the 2004 season he fractured his tibia. At 41 years of age once again commentators were wondering if he was done. Yet again the answer was no!

Allen was back by week 18 of the season and eventually led the Argos to a 27-19 Grey Cup victory over his former team the BC Lions led by Dickenson. Completing 23 of 24 passes for 299 yards including 1 TD pass and rushing 5 times for 10 yards and 2 TD’s saw him once again named the big game’s MVP.

The following year, in 2005, the Argos would go 11-7 but fall in the playoffs. Allen had a tremendous year as he completed 64.1% of his passes and set a career high with 5,082 yards passing and 33 TD’s. Alongside 467 yards and 4 TD’s on the ground this all saw him named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player for the first time during his career. Not bad for a 42 year old QB 21 years into their pro career!

At the time of his retirement in 2008, Damon Allen was Pro-Football’s All-Time Passing Leader with 72,381 yards, as well as holding the CFL record for All-Time Rushing Yards by a Quarterback with 11, 914 yards and CFL passing TD record at 394.

Some of his records have been surpassed. But that shouldn’t take away from a fantastic career. Unsurprisingly, he was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

If you Liked this

If you enjoyed a bit of CFL history and don’t just want to focus on the O, then we did run a series of articles making ‘the case for the D’ and focusing on special teamers too.

The case for the D focused on CFL defensive greats like Herb Gray, Willie PlessAngelo MoscaDickie HarrisNorm FieldgateWayne Harris, Grover CovingtonBill Baker, & Jim Corrigall.

The focus on special teams included the likes of Pinball ClemonsHenry ‘Gizmo’ WilliamsLui PassagliaBob Cameron, Barron Miles, Paul Osbaldiston, & Dave Cutler. Go take a look if you are interested!

We also have some general CFL history articles that may be of interest. Looking at defunct teams, an amazing 8 TD display, the 15 win teams, and CFL ‘international fixtures.’

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