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Chico: How Marcus Allen Became the Steelers’ Locker Room Hypeman

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PITTSBURGH — In Wednesday’s team period at Steelers minicamp, Marcus Allen is about to make a big play. A pass thrown over the middle of the field with him in coverage, Allen goes to step in front of the ball. He ends up getting his hand on it, but can not haul the pass in for an interception. Across the field, it is easy to hear Allen yell “Ah, I’m champ!”.

Allen’s ‘I’m champ’ phrase was him lambasting himself, with champ meaning ‘bad or not’. It is just one example of the vocalness that makes Allen so noticeable on the field. He can be heard yelling critiques at himself, having fun, and being the most recognizable voice at Steelers practices. There is no practice where Allen is where he does not make his presence felt.

On gamedays and the roster sheet, number 27 on the Steelers is known as Marcus Allen. But on the practice field, that number 27 is known fondly as Chico. With his signature visor and a peppiness that he carries, his teammates will know when he shows up. Even more than that, his rambunctious personality and peppiness make him a character that everyone around the facility adores.

The ‘Chico’ nickname is something that was given to him in high school. Allen has kept the same fabric from day one on the field. This is not just some practice phase, but who Allen really is at heart in the locker room. That has drawn the admiration of his teammates and coaches. It all starts back at home for Allen. He got it from his parents, who always taught him to be lively and have fun. That is where his entire personality starts.

“My personality is naturally gifted by my mother and father,” Allen said. “It’s just me being me. I’m glad just being me on the field and off the field. I don’t stop, it’s who I am. Chico and Marcus Allen are one and the same. I came out of the womb like this. Nothing’s changed.”

One of the things that make Allen stand out as that hype man is his brand of trash-talking. It is not the Jalen Ramsey get in the opponent’s head type of trash-talking. This is a friendly, brotherly style of trash-talking that Allen has developed throughout his life. Allen pushes his teammates to play at the best level they can through his verbal communication. For himself, that is what gets Allen into his comfort zone.

For every interception and big play that happens in practice, the first one to hype up his defensive teammates is Allen. Elaborate celebrations have culminated into a camaraderie that Allen personally has made in the locker room. When Allen is coming up to a teammate, it is almost always to hype them up. He is hard on himself, but celebratory around his teammates and coaches. There is no one that embodies Allen’s energy like him.

“Trash talking, being vocal, just being verbal out on the field, that’s my comfort zone,” Allen said. “It breaks the ice for the whole team. No one is tense when you’re having fun. I try to be the tone-setter.”

Allen’s trademark notion is to call his teammates ‘slime’ meaning someone who is a good friend, teammate, brother, and so on. It is Allen’s term of endearment for all of his teammates. It is not Allen’s own creation, as the term has caught wildfire in popular culture, but he has made it his own thing in the Steelers locker room. Close to his locker, a little to his left, is one of Allen’s best friends, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. Allen will frequently yell ‘hey slime,’ to his teammates. He uses the term explicitly to let his teammates know they are his brothers. Allen and Highsmith even have their own special handshake they have created. Allen has created so many unique handshakes with his teammates, that he can not even name how many he has.

“I always say ‘hey slime’ because those are my brothers,” Allen said. “I call everybody slime on the field. I’ll go ‘hey slime’, ‘what’s up slime’, ‘nice play slime,’. Everybody knows what’s up. It’s a brotherhood. They know it.”

Allen is known as the hypeman of the locker room. To Highsmith and others, Allen is that guy. He’s the one who brightens up the room whenever there could be a more somber mood. He tries to keep things light and fresh every day in and day out. Allen always wears a smile on his face, and is dancing, talking, and doing something to help keep the energy up on the practice field and in the locker room. It’s all about using his personality to teambuild for Allen. For Allen and Highsmith, the friendship revolves around movie impersonations.

“He’s that guy,” Highsmith said. “Like he said, he’s slime. Me and him, we’re always doing impersonations from movies, like ‘that one hurt my marble sack’. We just always laugh, man.”

Whether it is making jokes about the Longest Yard, or playing out on the field, Allen has to keep things fun. It would be accurate to say that Allen has four L’s that he carries with him: live, laugh, love, learn. That is the fabric of just who Allen actually is as a person. He comes to make others feel better, and have fun learning while loving, living life to the fullest, and laughing. Without Allen, the skies at Steelers practice would be a lot greyer. Allen feels it’s his duty to bring that air of fun to the team. Given

“You just have to laugh sometimes,” Allen said. “Let’s keep all the good vibes around here, man.”

Allen has always been like this, but he never did it with a purpose until recently. Only recently has Allen seen just how important it is to keep good vibes and put smiles on the faces of his teammates. It is easy to brush off emotions from the long view, but as a player, football is a grind. The players love the game for what it is, but when the season, including training camp, can span up to seven months long, it gets taxing. That’s one of the purposes of what Allen strives to ease with his personality. That’s why the job of ‘the hypeman’ is so important to him.

“Listen, this process is a grind man,” Allen said. “It’s a long season. We have 17 games, postseason, so you just have to keep things going. You have to keep things happy and keep those vibes strong. That’s what we need as a team.”

For Allen, it was a personal experience that shaped his view of the NFL. When he was cut and stashed on the practice squad during the 2019 season, Allen made a courageous switch to linebacker and has been on the roster ever since that moment. It made Allen feel something he almost never felt during his football career — sadness. Allen is who he is in the locker room not just for the starters, but for the lower-level guys. It permeates throughout the team and makes the experience all that much better.

Whenever Allen thinks about the day he was waived, his usual smile fades thinking about it. He gets serious and thinks hard about what happened on that day. It created something of a purpose in his career to reinvent himself into what he is now on the Steelers. Entering his fifth season with the team, Allen’s personality has been a mainstay for years at this point. It was the experience of hardship that drove his purpose, however.

“When I was on the practice squad, that was the worst I ever felt in my life,” Allen said. “I’m just trying to keep myself going. To do that, I’ve learned that I’ve got to be myself. I can’t be myself when mentally I’m in a slump. I can’t experience that again. I don’t want to experience that.”

From that experience and the mind of Allen, or maybe the mind of Chico, came a new celebration at this year’s minicamp. After an interception, the entire defense gathered around after a Cam Sutton interception. Sutton threw the ball up in the air as the team huddled around the ball, as it came down, they all fell back dramatically onto the ground together. It was a fun moment that earned a laugh from the offensive players and coaches.

So, who was the creator of the celebration? It was no one else than Allen. His passion for the game and his personality shone through in every aspect during the team’s practices.

“That celebration, yeah, that’s me,” Allen said. “This team feeds off that energy. We are just trying to have fun. It’s all about the good vibes. Let’s ball and have some fun doing it.”

The team is getting ready for the grind of the 2022 season to start in a month’s time. While the team breaks for their month-long break before training camp, soon enough, they will be reporting to Latrobe. When that happens, Allen will be back to being who he is on the field — talking, celebrating, smiling, and having a good time while balling out.

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