Retired NFL players form curling team with Olympic aspirations

Jared Allen spent 12 years in the NFL terrorizing quarterbacks with 136 career sacks, 11th all-time in league history. A four-time All Pro and five-time Pro Bowler, Allen is likely a Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate when he becomes eligible in 2021.

But he has some major plans for 2022.

Allen has Olympic aspirations in curling. His teammates are three former NFL players in quarterback Marc Bulger, linebacker Keith Bulluck and offensive tackle Michael Roos. And while they’ve only been curling since March, this isn’t a joke.

The group, dubbed the All-Pro Curling Team, is serious about representing the US at the Beijing Games. This week they’re competing at the USA Curling Men’s Challenge in Blaine, Minnesota, vying to reach the national championships.

“The entire (curling) community — every team we play — has been very, very welcoming,” Allen said in an interview Thursday with CNN’s Patrick Snell. “They realize we’re laughing, we’re joking … but we’re not doing this in a disrespectful manner.

“We come out, and we’re not slouching. We’re not over there falling down on the ice, chipping our teeth, don’t know how to do things. We have technique. We know how to make shots.

“We are progressing in a manner that people — the comment we get is, ‘How long have you been doing this? You’ve been doing this for how long?’ and then they’re shocked at where we’re at in such a short time that we’ve been doing it. So we’ve got to build on that.”

A bet to become an Olympian

It all started with a wager, when Allen bet a friend saying he could become an Olympian.

“I figured badminton was going to be strenuous on the old back,” the 36-year-old Allen said. “Then I started reading through curling, what it entailed, and the camaraderie and the fact you have a pint with the guys after you win or lose — and actually the winners have to buy the losers beer. I don’t know how that works, but that’s awesome.”

Allen had just moved down to Nashville, and he started recruiting. Turns out he didn’t have try very hard.

“There wasn’t really much convincing,” Bulluck, who spent the majority of his 11-year career with the Tennessee Titans, said to CNN. “He just called and was in the neighborhood looking for property and was like, ‘You want to be on my curling team?’ I was like, ‘All right.'”

Bulluck, 41, had curled before. He worked at the FNTSY Sports Network, and an office party was at the High Park Club, which has curling, in Toronto.

“I did get a few hours of curling in, and the most memorable part was the beers, so I guess I’m here for the beers,” Bulluck said with a smile. The team’s apparel, which Roos designed, includes a pint to go with a curling stone, a broom, the house and a football.

The group is putting in the hours — and the money. John Benton, a former Olympian, is their coach. The group flies up to Minnesota to curl on what Allen calls the “good ice” at least a few times a month. They also bring in a coach from Canada.

“Once we get to the ice, we all trust that we all put the work in,” Allen said. “We really don’t have any expectations. We have goals. But we’ve been doing this such a short time that there’s no expectations from the outside world. Everybody thinks we’re going to fail anyways, so why not go out and shock people.”

They have work to do.

A little more than a month ago, at the Curl Mesabi Classic in Eveleth, Minnesota, Allen’s team — that week made up of himself, Bulger and experienced curlers in Hunter Clawson and Benton — had a daunting challenge. Their first opponent was Team Shuster, which included 2018 Olympic gold medalists John Shuster, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner. They lost, 11-3.

“We’re so young, we’re so green, but that’s what’s cool about it,” Allen said. “Even in our losses, it’s continually learning. The curling community’s been super welcoming. And we’re just able to gain knowledge and pick things up.”