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Saturday, January 25
Updated: August 4, 12:17 AM ET
Allen, Davis still have strained relationship
By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

SAN DIEGO -- The Oakland Raiders yearly media guides list every Hall of Famer who played as much as a single down, all the way down to Eric Dickerson, who had five percent of his career carries, six percent of career yards and three percent of his career touchdowns in Oakland.

But whether the 2003 guide will include the name Marcus Allen remains a very open question indeed.

Allen became the 52nd first-ballot inductee into the Hall Saturday, and surely the first to go in on the wings of the question, "How good would he have been if he and his boss hadn't hated each other?"

Indeed, the lore of Allen's 16-year career centers around his hypertoxic relationship with Raiders owner Al Davis. From the question of why he went his last 12 seasons without a 1,000-yard season, to why so many of his teammates in Oakland still speak of him in such reverential terms, Allen remains almost surely the most conflict-inducing first-ballot inductee ever.

"I was 37 when I retired," he said, slightly cryptically. "I felt like I was 28 physically, but emotionally, my career had run its course."

He then went on to reference his brother Damon, still playing in Canada after 19 years, and his father Red, still playing golf everyday at 68 "without ever stretching."

He left his inquisitors to connect the dots as to why his 12,243 career yards were about three grand short of what they could have been.

He also left the audience to determine whether he felt he was a legitimate first-ballot choice in what by all accounts both inside and outside the conference room was a particularly thin class.

"When I went to Ronnie Lott's induction," he said, "I remember sitting down in the front row when Mel Blount paid me a great compliment. They were getting some of the Hall of Famers together for a picture or something, and he said, 'You might as well move up here now.' "

Indeed, most inside the room of selectors thought Allen was a fairly easy choice, but the subject of his horrid relationship with Davis came up, as it did when he was asked what team he would like to represent when he was inducted into the Hall, even though the busts in Canton indicate no such team.

In fact, the ceremony Saturday was its own mixed metaphor. His placard showed his Topps trading card as a Kansas City Chief, where he spent his last five years, but he wore a black pinstriped suit with a silver-blue tie -- close enough to Raider colors to make a body wonder.

He maintained his position of ducking pointed questions about Davis, saying, "I don't have anything negative to say about anybody. This is the most positive thing that's happened in my career … Even with all the tumultuous years in Los Angeles, I still think of all the great things that happened there. I had a problem with one individual that made the situation uncomfortable."

Beyond that, he would not go. Beyond that, Davis has rarely gone, although he had in the past dropped the odd scurrilous hint, leaving the rest to rampant speculation. Allen wanted more money, or Allen was too big in the L.A. market for Davis' liking, or Allen fumbled too much, or Allen galvanized his teammates around him, or any of a dozen other guesses as to why he and his boss came to loathe each other.

It is mere historical footnote now, because while that fractious relationship might have depressed Allen's career statistics, it did not diminish his reputation either among the 38 voters or the greater football community beyond. His career has been deemed capable to stand on its own.

And yet, the issue of what could have been goes hand in hand with the issue of whether he'll make it on page 190 of the 2003 Raider media guide, right below fellow Hall of Famer Dave Casper and right above the list of Raiders coaches of the year. Marcus Allen may have distanced himself from Al Davis, but he has not yet fully separated himself. The two are joined in a bizarre tangle that took them through Los Angeles and now deposits them in Canton.

Joined, it seems, for as long as there is football, and a place to remember its best.

Ray Ratto is a regular contributor for ESPN.com