By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
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By CP Staff
"Two things were happening as we moved further into the job," says Allen. "People started liking the outsider in me, who had different opinions and a strong personality, along with the local sports-loving, maroon-and-gold-loving rube in Jeff. Meanwhile, we were out at the State Fair and I saw the crowds that Jesse was getting compared to his opponents and I said, 'Dubers, he might just win this thing!'"
Ventura, of course, "shocked the world" on election night, and his KFAN show was Allen and Dubay's for keeps. On election night, Allen found himself on familiar ground in Canterbury Park's presidential suite, where Ventura campaign workers celebrated the victory.
"I was standing right next to him when the results went up that said he'd taken the lead," says Allen. "To be next to a monster of a man like that and watch a tear come out of his eye...a tear came out of my eye, too. The adrenaline and energy that night, I will never forget as long as I live."
LISTENERS LIKED THE new team, who stuck to talking sports on the Twin Cities' only all-sports station when many of their colleagues drifted into politics and pop culture. From the start, says current KFAN program director Chad Abbott, the show finished in the top three in its time slot among the key demographic of males age 25 to 54.
"The way I've always looked at this radio show, whether it was PA and Dubay or me alone, is that we are the San Antonio Spurs of radio shows: We're going to run the same plays every single day with just a few twists to the game plan until somebody beats us on a consistent basis," Allen says.
Fast-forward three years. KFAN regained broadcast rights to Vikings football games and stumbled through a so-so season in 2001 with play-by-play announcer Terry Stembridge Jr., the son of a friend of team owner Red McCombs. KFAN and the team were looking for a replacement for the 2002 season. Allen, who had broadcast Vikings games over the internet one previous season, was once again competing for a job against more experienced talent.
"There are a million, billion guys who want to do play-by-play, and they all come out of the woodwork when you're hiring," says Swedberg, who was leading the search.
Swedberg and Westerman sat through countless auditions and kept returning to the same conclusion. "Sometimes you have to look beyond what might be the obvious choices of guys who have done play-by-play for years and years. We kept asking ourselves, 'Is this guy any better than PA?' and the answer was always no. It kept coming back to maybe we should just give PA a shot."
With the job secured, Allen, a bigger fan of NBA basketball at the time, began cramming, asking Vikings Head Coach Mike Tice and assistants Steve Loney and Scott Linehan every question he could think of about offensive and defensive schemes, while leaning on KFAN colleague Chad Hartman, who was announcing Minnesota Timberwolves games, for play-calling advice.
"The biggest thing I tried to leave him with was to be true to himself," recalls Hartman, who now competes against Allen at WCCO-AM. "You can get consumed by all of the criticism, but if you believe in yourself and if the people around you believe in you, you have to be true to that."
That was a risky proposition in a market that, over several decades, had become accustomed to the buttoned-down style of Ray Christensen, Ray Scott, and Herb Carneal. But Allen didn't flinch, liberally injecting his colorful lingo into play calling and bringing a fan's enthusiasm (and occasional disappointment) to the air.
"I didn't start in Smalltown, USA, listening to everybody else's style," Allen says. "I came into it with my own style, mixed a lot of my horse-racing flavor into it, and just brought my natural, God-given energy and my desire to watch this team win games. That's what I did, and that's what I still do."
He made a splash nationally on the last play of the 2003 regular season when Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown connected with wide receiver Nate Poole in the end zone to defeat the Vikings. Allen's crestfallen call replayed around the country: "Caught! Touchdown! No! Nooooo! The Cardinals have knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs!"
Other signature calls would follow. In 2005, he imagined Mike Tice taunting a Soldier Field crowd after a Vikings interception with, "What do you think of my defense now?" And last year, there was Brett Favre's interception in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game against New Orleans. Allen spoke for every fan in the state of Minnesota, exclaiming exasperatedly, "You've gotta be kidding me! I can't believe what I just saw! Why do you even ponder passing? I mean, you can take a knee and try a 56-yard field goal! This is not Detroit, man, this is the Super Bowl!"
His emotional attachment to the Vikings was evident that evening and for weeks after the New Orleans loss. He vented openly during his daily show, giving callers the opportunity to lie down on the "therapeutic davenport of love" and mourn with him.