What if I told you that two of the greatest players in NFL History were college roommates at USC? Did they know one day that they would not only be teammates wearing the Silver & Black, but they would share membership into the most exclusive football fraternity on the planet? College campuses across the nation are filled with ambitious students ready to define themselves and their futures. For Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott, intense competitiveness, dedication to their craft, and NFL aspirations have materialized into 33 year old friendship. They share a common bond of playing the toughest sport in the world.
VC: Have you guys sat back and realized you two have been friends for 33 years?
Marcus: We have sat back and marveled at the length of our friendship but we are more impressed with the quality of our friendship. It transcends friendship, we’re like brothers. There’s an admiration, we’ve both been inspirations to each other, we elevate, we motivate and we’re moved by each other. I can’t remember having an argument with Ronnie over the 33 years which says a lot about the respect level we have for each other.
Ronnie: I have sat back and I realized we have been friends for 33 years. Through the highs of our relationship, highs as in, playing football at the highest level, winning, having great experiences together throughout the sports world, and through the lows, the challenges of life, we’ve been able to support each other, help each other, and be there for each other. To me, that’s when you really appreciate the relationship we’ve have for 33 years. The times I’ve had adversity, the times I’ve been knocked down, we’ve had some quiet talks, some quiet moments, having to deal with some tough situations and we’ve endured them. He’s been there to support me, love me and to be a friend. That’s the greatest part.
VC: You two lived in an apartment along with defensive backs Dennis Smith and Eric Scroggins. Who was the host?
Marcus: Ronnie was the leader of the group. Thinking back, he lead on and off the field. I was lucky, I originally started on defense, I was a defensive back. I was the youngest and Ronnie, Dennis [Smith], and Eric [Scroggins], those guys embraced me. And though I went to the other side of the ball, our friendship still remained. We were like pieces of a puzzle, there was an instant chemistry. If we were the Rat Pack, Ronnie was Frank Sinatra.
Ronnie: I’ll say this, we all had our strengths and weaknesses. My strength was, “Hey, fellas let’s get together, we can do this.” We lived in Hancock Park, a great community. We had a lot of fun, Dennis [Smith] was always in and out, Eric [Scroggins] from Inglewood had the master bedroom. Marcus was in the living room. There was a lot of laughs, a lot of stories but the best part was that we had all dreams of wanting to be like that guys ahead of us. We wanted to be like the Dennis Thurmans, the Charlie Whites, and we had dreams of graduating and excelling academically.
VC: Marcus, said if you guys we were the Rat Pack, you were Frank Sinatra.
Ronnie: [laughs] I would say, I was probably Frank. I’m not sure who Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior would be. [laughs]
VC: We heard through the grapevine that Ronnie cooked a mean Hamburger Helper?
Marcus: [laughs] He was the chef. The kitchen was Ronnie’s domain, we trusted Ronnie to come up with creative dishes, and he had about 20 variations of Hamburger Helper.
Ronnie: I did cook a mean Hamburger Helper. I could make Mexican Hamburger Helper, Italian hamburger helper, Japanese Hamburger Help, you name it. [laughs] I took spices from all of the world and I would doctor it up.
VC: Who would you say is the most competitive between you two?
Marcus: It’s almost impossible to measure. There things he’s done on the field to help his team, and I’m sure there’s things I’ve done, that he would say, “I can’t believe, Marcus did that.” We both have an incredible motivation to be great. We are both driven. Also we wanted to be more than football players. We’ve always said to each other, “Football is what we did, not who we are.” Yes, we wanted to leave a mark, a legacy on the football field, but we wanted to be greater than that. We fed off each other, we needed each other, we inspired each other, it’s a perfect friendship.
Ronnie: I have to go with Marcus and this is why. You have to realized, in competition, most people compete in something there familiar with, that’s one thing, but when compete at something that you don’t know and that your foreign to, and you still have to excel, that is very difficult. Marcus had to compete at a position that no one, no one wanted to play and that was fullback. Our SC team, needed somebody there and he decided to take that on. Not only did take that on, he became a better football player. What he learned at the position and when he got to the Pros, he was arguably one of the best blocking running backs to ever play the game. That came from his will to compete at that fullback spot when no one else wanted to do it. A lot of us, would have quit. He is one of the all-time competitors. When he went to Kansas City, everyone thought he wasn’t going to have enough in the gas tank. What they forgot about, was that his competitive spirit had more than enough in the gas tank, that’s what propelled him to have a phenomenal career in Kansas city. It’s pretty easy for me to say, Marcus.
VC: What words come to mind when I mention the following people? John Robinson… Charles White ……Jeff Fisher
Marcus: [John Robinson] I’ve always said, that John was probably the greatest teacher, motivator, psychologist that I’ve ever come across in football. He had great insight. [laughs] I like to think he moved me to offense because I was talented, it was probably necessity or maybe a little bit of both. If it wasn’t for John’s vision, I probably would have remained on defense. I have a great affection for John, the decision he made and the opportunity he gave me.
[Charles White] There was no better person that I could learn from than Charlie. In terms of hard work, sacrifice, toughness and dedication. Charlie was only 5’10, approximately 185 pounds, so he was clearly undersized in an offense built on power. He was 5’10 and full of intangibles, he was just as hard you can get, hardest working and determined. I had a front row seat to learn all I could learn from Charlie.
[Jeff Fisher] [laughs] I love Jeff, I admire everything he’s done. Every time I see Jeff, I remind him of that pass he deflected that he could have intercepted against UCLA. It went off his hands, and into the hands of Freeman McNeil. UCLA scored and won that game. We always get a kick out of that and it’s all in love. Jeff was a great player and is one of the best coaches in NFL history.
Ronnie: [John Robinson] John is one of the people that taught me about life. He said, “You have to be a competitor on and off the field.” He is one of the great football coaches to be associated with the game.
[Charles White] Charlie was pound for pound, one of the great competitors. If you had to play a game that went beyond 5 hours long, you would want to play with Charlie. It could be the 4th quarter, the game could be 4 hours and 15 minutes in, and Charlie would have the same energy level as he did when had his first carry. He would be just as powerful.
[Jeff Fisher] Versatile, smart, competitive and a guy who found himself just like a lot of athletes, just wanting to get on the field. He played wide receiver, then came over to be a defensive back, and showcased his ability to play.
VC: Pick one moment during your College experience that symbolized a transition and a turning point in your life?
Marcus: I have two moments. I haven’t really told anyone this, but the first time I heard boos or questions about my ability in college, my junior season. I was always determined and ambitious, but I certainly set out to prove a lot of people wrong. There was some speculation that I wasn’t the right man for the job. So I was on a mission. The second turning point was in training camp. I always say there are two types of players, “Those who know, and those that don’t know.” I finally knew everything about the position. Every single thing you can imagine, I knew where everybody was lined up on offense, I knew what the defense was doing. If the quarterback went down, I could go in and call all the plays. I went into camp wanting to be better than great. Then everything finally clicked, I knew I was mentally and physically ready to have a superior year.
Ronnie: I have to go back to John Robinson, he said, “We have a lot of great competitors on this team, we have a lot of great athletes, but what I want you to think about, is you have to learn how to be competitors off the field.” That resonated with me, that clicked for me. You have to compete as hard as you do off the field than you do on the field. Just those words, have helped me with my life, just that perspective.
VC: If you were a college athlete today, how would you approach a culture of cell phones, cameras and facebook? Would you have a twitter account? Maybe @33tailbackU, @hardhitter42USC?
Marcus: I don’t have a problem with social media as long as it’s used properly. Would I have one? I’m not sure, if I would. I understand the benefits of being accessible for your fans and creating an environment where you can interact. I’ve always thought there should be some separation between what’s on the field and off the field, your public and private life.
Ronnie: You know what, I would probably have an account within the rules and regulations of the university. I would do all the things SC would want me to do and avoid all the things they wouldn’t want me to do. That’s how I would live in that world. The thing about having a twitter account, is you have to be responsible, certain things you say, can and will go all over the world. You have to be thoughtful when you use that vehicle, you don’t want certain things to come back and haunt you. I think I would have an account and @hardhitter42USC would not be a bad way of describing my account.
VC: You both experienced the joy of winning a Super Bowl early in your careers. How did you handle stardom and maintain that competitive fire?
Marcus: I felt I had plenty of experience, starting in Pop Warner, winning in high school, winning in college, it wasn’t new to me. I understood that even though you were a champion, you still had to be humble. I knew people were looking at me and I was a role model. Overall, I was able to handle it, because I had an incredible amount of success which gave me a foundation on how to handle success.
Ronnie: Realizing that every time you play, there’s the NFL, and then there was this other league. Only few get to that league. I wanted to see if I could get to that league. I wanted to touch it, be around it. That was my dream and my goal. So that allowed me to focus, each and every year, each and every down, each and every play, to know that I have to get to that league. And the only way to get there, was to keep working hard and there were many things I had to achieve.
VC: What does it take for a college athlete to be not only physically ready for the next level, but mentally ready?
Marcus: The game is more mental than it is physical. You have to consider, that there are lot of fast, talented, big and strong athletes. But what separates the good from the great, are the ones that have a clear understanding of what there doing. They are mentally stronger than any other player. I always felt going in to the Pros, that you fear no one, but respect all. I always had great respect but I didn’t fear that guys that I watched on television growing up. I was ambitions, I wanted to be one of the greatest players that ever played the game. I couldn’t afford to take a backseat to no one, yet again I respected everyone. I didn’t go in thinking I was better, I realized that I had to work if I wanted it. And the quicker I got over the fact that, “I can’t believe I’m playing with Ted Hendricks”, a guy I’ve been watching all these years. I realized, he had two arms and two legs just like me. He had a lot more experience, but if I certainly do the right things, work hard, understand the game, shut my mouth, play hard, I would reach a level of success where I would be respected by my peers. The more success you have, the more you feel about yourself. That how it all evolves.
Ronnie: What happens to most athletes that are physically ready, they find themselves wanting to be strong as they can, in every part of their body. But when you think about get mentally ready, that dimension alone has so many levels and it can take you anywhere, That’s means, I have to know what every teammate is doing on the field. I have to know what every opponent is trying to do to my team and to myself. How are they trying to take advantage of me? You find out that there is so much that your capable of learning about the game. Your constantly pushing yourself to learn more and how to get better. That’s where the guys that are really great, they demonstrate that they can get better mentally. If I’m a young player, I want to show that coach that I’m ready to learn. Every coach I would come across, I would learn as much as possible.
VC: Did you guys have any pre-game rituals during your USC days?
Marcus: Not at SC, but I did develop one in the Pros. It’s interesting, early in my career, I was always able to separate friends and the game. I would say hello to my friends, shake their hands, and then click on the switch. It’s game time. I was going to do everything necessary to beat you. What ended up happening a few times, I would see my friends before the game, shake their hands, then I would end up fumbling the ball to my friends. [laughs] I was like, “What the hell’? So after that, before the game, my friends were lucky to get a wave or a head nod from me. [laughs]
Ronnie: I always had a bowl of vanilla ice cream. [laughs] My other ritual was to look at the man in the mirror. I would talk to myself and stare at myself. I would challenge myself. Was I ready to go? Was I buying into the opportunity?
VC: As roommates, did you guys ever discuss dreams about being NFL Hall of Famers?
Marcus: We never discussed the Hall of Fame, we certainly discussed being great. We wanted to leave a mark, be the best, wanted our name heavenly entrenched in the landscape of professional football. We certainly talked about it, we felt if we could get that done, the Hall of Fame could be in reach. Ronnie was tremendously ambitious, he was driven. I was driven too, although our approaches were different. Sometimes you can look at Ronnie and see his determination. With me, you might not see it, but I was just as determined. We both wanted it.
Ronnie: Never dreams of being a Hall of Famer, just dreams about being the best we can be. Dreams of wanting to go out and dominate. We talked about not allowing ourselves to never put in the work needed to achieve our goals. The guys that have shared with us their experience with greatness, it always start with the belief that you can achieve anything you want to. It takes risk, it takes sacrifice, and we talked about what it would take to get there.
VC: What are your thoughts on the climate of football? NCAA and the NFL.
Marcus: The game is healthy as it’s ever been. The interest, the kids that want to play, and the game is exciting. It’s validated every year when millions of people tune in to watch the Super Bowl. The game has clearly evolved, it’s changed, rules have changed. A big challenge, is how we measure greats players from one era to the next. We have to use wisdom in measuring numbers, statistics are misleading, they don’t tell the complete truth. There are rules that make it more convenient for some, and not for others. The numbers are clearly different. The NFL has legislated the offense to be the most important part of the game, in college football also. Points bring excitement. The game is great, I just find it difficult to measure who is great and who isn’t.
Ronnie: Football is a great sport. It’s the best sport the world. People in America love it, people around the globe are appreciating the game more. The safety issues are near and dear to my heart. The stuff I’ve seen over the years, I hope we continue to find ways to not only play the game at a high level that allows the game to flourish, but to not have the severe injuries, like a Darryl Stingley, a Jeff Fuller and any of the folks that I’ve seen get hurt playing this game. I also hope guys realize that playing is a privilege not a right, and when they play this game, they understand that there were a lot of people who came before them. So many sacrifices were made by so many, to make this game what it is today. I want players to have that frame of mind.
VC: How was it being teammates on the Raiders?
Marcus: That was great. I hadn’t played with Ronnie for a long period of time. When he joined the Raiders, I had a friend, a confidant, someone who always inspired me by his play. I had someone to compete with, he knew what it took to win, in the classroom and on the field. Nobody exemplified that more than Ronnie.
Ronnie: One of the great things about going to the Raiders, was being a teammate of Marcus. It re-united us, it reignited my abiltiy and my desire to want to compete. It was great opportunity for us to connect. You can’t buy friendship.
VC: On November 13, 1988, Marcus’s Raiders visited Candlestick Park and left with a victory. Do you guys remember that 9-3 battle?
Marcus: No. [laughs] I don’t remember, I think the only thing I remember is getting into a fight with Charles Hailey. [laughs]
Ronnie: I remember that game being a big loss, it was one of the lowest days for the 49er franchise. It was how the Raiders beat us, 9-3. I remember having to tackle Marcus and Bo Jackson that day. That was a first.