EVELETH, Minn. -- Team Jared Allen wasn’t afraid of the reigning Olympic gold medalists Friday, Nov. 30, when they competed in their first professional curling match at the Curl Mesabi Classic in Eveleth.
Maybe they should have been a little bit scared after the John Shuster Rink swept past the rookies, 11-3.
Coming into the match, Team Allen couldn’t guarantee how well they would do, but they believed their experience as NFL All-Pros (with former Minnesota Viking defensive end Jared Allen and former St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger on the squad) would pay benefits.
“The moments not going to be too big for us,” Bulger said Thursday after arriving at Curl Mesabi with Allen for a practice session.
“We’re excited,” Bulger said. “It’s not like you can go in and play a Tiger Woods in his prime. People would pay to play this team (Shuster).”
Allen said it was his “brainchild’’ about 18 months ago to get a curling team together with the goal of qualifying for the 2022 Olympic Games.
Ironically, his idea came from a bet that was parlayed into another bet on being able to make the Olympics.
Allen first looked at all the sports and narrowed it down to badminton and curling. Ski jumping was eliminated early on.
“You just can’t go into ski jumping,” Allen said.
The former defensive great, first went with badminton and got Bulger involved because he also lives in Nashville, Tenn. However, a couple days later the pair decided their bodies wouldn’t hold up to badminton, which requires running all over the court.
Curling was the next choice (before the Shuster Rink had won gold) because it wouldn’t be as hard on the body.
Allen said, “It was funny, but it was still serious” when his friend started telling people the NFLer had been curling the entire time he was in Minnesota. That was a “total lie,” Allen added.
Word had gotten out about Allen’s interest in becoming a curling Olympian and pretty soon 2010 Olympic curler John Benton emailed Allen about seriously getting things started.
“It was a godsend to get him involved,” Allen commented.
With a coach in place, the former Minnesota Viking contacted a friend with the Nashville Predators hockey team and told him, “I need some ice to curl on.”
Allen was told they happened to be doing some curling with the Olympics coming up and they could leave it open for Allen’s team starting in March.
“I was like, sweet!” said Allen, who then contacted former Tennessee Titans players Keith Bulluck and Michael Roos. They were all in.
“Just like that our curling adventure started,” according to Allen.
Allen, Bulger, Bulluck and Roos now train twice a week in Nashville and Benton comes in once a week. They also train once or twice a month a the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minn.
For this weekend’s Curl Mesabi Classic, Allen and Bulger curled along with Benton and Hunter Clawson.
“It’s nice to be able to get on the ice right now on a high level,” Allen said, with experienced curlers like Benton and Clawson. “That forces Marc and I to play up.”
Team Allen, also known as the All-Pro Curling Team, believes it can adapt to the sport since they are all professional athletes with multiple NFL All-Pro awards between them.
They are using the “Cool Runnings” theory from the movie about the Jamaican bobsled team using four sprinters to try and qualify for the Olympics.
Allen said he and his teammates are used to adapting week-to-week and are more than able to learn the technique and strategy from Benton and Clawson.
“We can bring our game up and compete,” he said. “People are going to be surprised.”
He also acknowledged that they will certainly miss some shots. However, “we’re not bums. I’ll put it that way.”
Benton, listed as a coach and alternate, said what All-Pro Curling is trying is definitely unique.
“What you’re about to do is something, not only has it never been done, but people say it can’t be done. That you can’t just create curlers because it takes a lifetime to learn this sport. I said nobody’s ever tried this before with athletes who are used to being coached.”
Benton is all in and wants to see if he can give them his knowledge and bring them up to a level where they’re competitive with the best in the world.
“These guys are great. It’s been a wild ride already. They’re learning curve is off the charts. They’re able to anticipate things.”
Reaching the 2022 Olympics is the end goal and the team will be ramping up its competition in the next year to work toward that.
From being in the 2010 Olympics with Shuster, Benton knows you can play your best and still lose on the last rock.
“If we get to the point where we are losing some and winning some on the last rock against some of the best teams, whether we make the Olympics or not, we’ve actually achieved our goal,” Benton said.
The guys are having the time of their lives along the way.
Personally, Allen enjoys watching the first 300 pound-plus guy (Roos) sweeping.
“We actually in curling don’t have any data on somebody that large putting that amount of pressure on the broom. So we’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen,” Benton joked.
As far as Allen’s motivation to get to the Olympics, the former Viking said, “I don’t want to pay the bet.”
The amount of the bet was not revealed.
“You don’t want to know that number,” Bulger said with a smile.
The Curl Mesabi Classic continues Friday, Nov. 30, at the curling club with matches at 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Sunday’s championship round will conclude with matches at 3:30 p.m. The draw schedule, standings and finals brackets can be found at curlmesabi.com.