When told he had sustained a stroke on Dec. 15, Russell Allen thought his
NFL career was over. The same for when he was uncharacteristically tight-lipped
two weeks later when asked by a reporter to describe his injury. And ditto
over the next four half-a-months as he met or talked on the phone with
multiple neurosurgeons to gain clarity on his condition.
But the emotional reality set in last Thursday for Allen, and it was hard
… really hard. The Jaguars called his agent, Steve Caric, to inform
him Allen was being released after five years with the team. Allen wasn’t
ready to take a physical, must less pass one, and the decision was easy
once his doctor talked to the Jaguars’ medical staff.
“It was a rough day,” Allen said. “It gave me a sense
of, ‘Wow, there’s no going back. This is it.’ ”
Allen, who turns 28 on May 5, made it official Tuesday, announcing his
retirement because more hits to the head would increase the chances of
a second — and potentially more debilitating — stroke.
The risk was too great to continue playing, so when this fall rolls around,
Allen won’t be playing for the first time since he was 14.
Instead of Jacksonville, Allen will be in the San Diego area living with
his wife (who is pregnant and due in August) and their 2-year old son.
Allen’s stroke resulted in a dead spot in the part of the brain called
the cerebellum, which is located in the lower back of the head and controls
coordination and balance.
Allen said in a phone interview with the Times-Union he will be on blood
thinners for the rest of his life — to prevent clots from forming
that cause strokes — and has been instructed not to lift heavy objects.
He will get follow-up exams to make sure the blood vessel is healing.
Allen sustained the injury during a facemask-to-facemask block by Buffalo
Bills center Eric Wood early in the third quarter of the teams’
Week 15 game at EverBank Field. Allen wasn’t blocked to the turf,
didn’t appear dazed and stayed on the field. He finished the game
by playing 44 snaps.
“The play was completely routine — nothing out of the ordinary,”
When he returned to the sideline, Allen experienced double vision that
“didn’t last long — it corrected itself.”
But not taking himself out of the game and reporting his problem to the
Jaguars’ trainers is a regret.
“I shouldn’t have been out there,” he said. “But
I didn’t feel impaired, and I didn’t feel like any of the
other hits [later in the game] made it worse. It was like a regular day.”
Allen, who had never sustained a concussion playing football or missed
a high school, college or NFL game because of injury, told his wife driving
home from the stadium he had a headache. It was still present when he
woke up Monday morning. Allen told Caric on the phone he thought he had
sustained a concussion but had yet to seek treatment.
“The first thing I did was scold him and said, ‘Russ, you know
better than to play through that. Get your butt over to talk to the trainers,’
” Caric recalled.
Allen went to the hospital for an MRI exam and ended up staying for several
days of tests once doctors determined he had suffered a stroke, which
occurs when the brain is deprived of blood flow.
When he entered the hospital, Allen thought his concussion was mild —
he called the headache “subtle” — but would be able
to play in the Jaguars’ final game 13 days later.
When he remained in the hospital, he saw his career flash before him: going
undrafted out of San Diego State, making the Jaguars as a rookie, becoming
a starter in 2012 when Clint Session had to retire because of multiple
concussions and playing several more years.
The first time he heard doctors use the word “stroke,” Allen
said, “It was absolutely shocking. I didn’t know what to think.”
Just two weeks after the injury, on Dec. 30 in the Jaguars’ locker
room, Allen seemed uncomfortable during a short interview with reporters.
Reflecting on that day, he said he had a “pretty good idea,”
his career was over.
“I had been told by the doctors that it would be unlikely, but we
didn’t have the definitive answers as to what caused it,”
It would be several months before Allen got those answers.
SEARCH FOR CAUSE
Caric said Allen had in-person visits with three doctors and talked to
two others on the phone — “top guys in the country,”
he added. “The frustrating part and difficult part for Russ over
the last four months was nobody could decipher what the cause was.”
Said Allen: “For a long time, we weren’t getting anywhere.
I had doctors telling me we might not ever know, which was worse than
knowing because I started thinking, ‘Will I have another stroke
sitting around the house or playing with my son?’”
Two weeks ago, after a series of repeated tests, doctors concluded he had
sustained a carotid artery dissection that impacted the cerebellum.
Vernon Williams, medical director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports
Neurology in Los Angeles, said Allen’s injury is “rare and
uncommon,” in football.
“It’s more typical in somebody who was in a motor vehicle accident
and had whiplash,” said Williams, who did not treat Allen.
Allen told doctors he was having trouble at home handling dishes and grabbing
objects off the counter; Williams said that is common with a cerebellum
injury because it impacts eye-hand coordinator and balance.
“Thankfully, we got some answers,” Allen said. “We’re
glad to have some peace about it.”
Allen said he is symptom-free and is able to conduct all daily activities.
WANTS TO COACH
Caric said Allen has taken care of his finances and discussions will occur
with the NFL about benefits and compensation because of the career-ending injury.
But Allen wants to work, specifically coaching football at a “private
Christian high school.”
“A place where I can teach kids to play the game how I believed it’s
meant to be played,” he said. “Football is a great game. I
have no bitterness about the game itself. I loved it, and it’s been
great to me.”
It was tough being told the Jaguars had released him; it will be tougher
when training camp and then regular season begin.
“I don’t really know what to expect, but it’s going to
be a tough year for me,” he said. “Football has been such
a huge part of my life. I thought I had several years left even though
I knew it can be over in a second. Now I have to watch and cheer on the
Allen hopes players at every level will see him as a cautionary tale and
report any and all symptoms during a workout, practice or game.
“That’s really the message I would love to get out there more
than anything,” he said. “There is nothing the rules could
have done about the play [he was injured on], but what I fear is that
players don’t pull themselves out of a game. It’s not worth
it to stay in there. I had to learn the hard way.”
Ryan O’Halloran: (904) 359-4401