Football, Inducted 1999
Lincoln High alum Marcus Allen garnered ‘81 Amateur Star honors by his selection as Heisman Trophy as a USC running back, and came back the following year as Pro star for being named NFL Rookie of the Year while playing for the Los Angeles Raiders.
At a news conference to introduce the participants int eh 1977 San Diego CIF football finals, Kearny High coach Tom Barnett was asked if his team had an advantage over Lincoln because the Komets had been to the finals the year before. Barnett didn’t look the questioner in the eye. Instead, he stared at Lincoln’s magnificent senior, Marcus Allen, and said “A true champion will be perform at his best in a championship game.”
How did Allen respond? “I can still remember the look in his eyes,” Barnett said. “He just had this look like, ‘You betcha.’”
And Allen did go out in style, scoring all five of his team’s touchdowns–four on runs of 30, 85, 20 and 10 yards, the fifth on a 60-yard interception return–to lead Lincoln to a 34-6 rout.
Said Hudson Houck, at the time an assistant at USC recruiting Allen, “It was the most incredible individual effort I’ve seen by a high school player.”
All week Barnett prepared his defense for Allen’s scrambling. “We thought we could contain him,” said Ricky Spencer, an All-CIF cornerback for the Komets who would face Allen in college at Oregon State. (But) Allen immediately went to work on defense.
“We’d run the option and we’d have people blocked, but nobody could block Marcus,” said Barnett. “We’d run tight and he’d be there. We’d run left and he’d be there.”
By the end of the first quarter it was 7-0 Lincoln, Allen scoring on his 30-yard run. Then came the second quarter and the game’s biggest and most memorable play. Working from the closed end of San Diego Stadium, Lincoln faced third down on its 15. Allen dropped back to pass, then took off, angling down the left sideline. About 25 yards downfield, the Komets appeared to have Allen pinned against the sideline.
“I assumed he was just going to run out of bounds,” said Spencer. “Then at the last second he made that famous cut-back move of his and that was it.” Eighty-five yards later, Allen scored. “Three of us were ready to unload on him and it was like tackling air,” said Kyle Conner, an inside linebacker for Kearny.
With 37 seconds remaining in the half, Allen scored from 30 yards out and the Komets were demoralized. “By halftime, we weren’t up for the game anymore,” recalled Kearny defensive end Nate Cross.
Said Barnett, “I had never been in awe of any athlete who ran against our defense…until that night. As the game went on, I said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to stop that man.’”
Allen’s teammates had a different perspective. “It was something you’d expect out of a fairy tale,” said Joe Santos, one of two sophmores on that Lincoln team who later became assistant coach at the school.
Allen’s performance in the finals alerted San Diego football fans that here was a rare talent. Until that evening, he was thought of as a devastating safety who played quarterback only because he was an outstanding athlete.
“It was scary, the viciousness Marcus used to tackle with,” said his coach, Vic Player, who had to practically plead with Allen to play quarterback.
Said Anthony Kelley, a wide receiver on the ‘77 Lincoln team and Allen’s best friend then: “I never perceived him a running back. It was Marcus’ potential as a defensive back that stood out.”
Privately, Allen had other ideas. “He’d joke about wanting to be a tailback,” said Houck, who recruited Allen as a defensive back. Except Allen wasn’t joking.
After his five-touchdown performance against Kearny, fans were asking themselves questions. Is the guy a safety who’ll take your head off or a running back who’ll take your breath away?
“All I know,” said Spencer, “is after that game, I felt Marcus could do anything he wanted.”
Excerpts from article by Don Norcross, San Diego Union Tribune, November 18, 1986.