ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — In the five years since arriving in Buffalo, where his celebrity status shows no sign of cresting, Josh Allen has become accustomed to having most every step of his public life picked over and documented.
It’s not as if the Bills quarterback has much to hide by happily embracing his newly minted public stature and seemingly being everywhere at once. There are Allen’s many commercial appearances, he’s pictured on cereal boxes, the time he was mobbed at the PGA Championship in Rochester in May, and weeks later celebrated landing on the Madden video game cover by attending a bash at a downtown Buffalo bar with hundreds of “Josh!”-screaming fans.
“Who cares about the prize,” one middle-aged man yelled into the microphone when invited to answer a quiz question from the quarterback. “I’m on stage with Josh Allen, baby!”
And yet, there remain those few instances when Allen will draw the line on what he prefers revealing, as happened following a recent interview with The Associated Press. He made one simple request, asking to not publish the name of the actress he’s been linked to recently.
It makes no difference that her name appears instantly in an internet search for “Josh Allen dating,” and pictures of the two having dinner together went viral on social media. And though Allen won’t deny being friendly with the 2011 Oscar nominee, he reacts in mock defiance by saying: “I can’t go to dinner?”
At stake is Allen maintaining one last grip on his private life, however futile that might be for the 27-year-old, who still cherishes growing up in rural Firebaugh, California, and the times he could live in near anonymity.
“I’m from a small town. It’s just not how I operate. It’s not how I was born and raised,” Allen said. “I just kind of want to be in my own world when I can be because every time I step outside, it’s putting on the face and the mask and, you know what I’m saying. So I’m just trying to save that for myself. There’s some instances where it feels nice when I can do that.”
No one was clamoring for Allen when he was forced to open his college career at Division II Reedley or finally attracted a scholarship offer to play at Wyoming. And Allen was still regarded a raw prospect with accuracy issues upon arriving in Buffalo, before he began rewriting the Bills’ passing and scoring records and leading the team to three consecutive AFC East titles.
“The whole focus on the private life is so weird,” Allen said. “I play football. I’m a football player. That’s not what I do. It’s who I am.”
Smiling, Allen proudly revealed he borrowed that line from the movie “Top Gun,” which shouldn’t come as a surprise for a self-proclaimed nerd who often cites movie lines, enjoys spending his downtime playing the board game Catan and whose preferred jokes fall firmly in the groan-inducing teenage bathroom humor category.
Allen, however, is not joking about his passion for football in reemphasizing how his job defines him.
“I know it’s a weird quote, and some people might say the opposite. But I’m a football player,” he said.
For all that’s changed for Allen, Bills center Mitch Morse said the core of his quarterback’s focus hasn’t wavered.
“Nothing has been more important in Josh’s life — of course, excluding faith or family — than football,” Morse said. “When push comes to shove out here, he’s still the ultimate competitor that is looking to get something out of every day. And that’s refreshing.”
Since his rookie season in 2018, Allen has made a point to wander the hallways of the Bills’ headquarters and peek into most every open doorway and say: “Super Bowl.” And his approach to this season is no different by saying: “Every year we step on the field it’s Super Bowl or bust.”
If anything, the passing of time and each painful playoff loss have elevated the sense of urgency to succeed.
In April, Allen notably acknowledged there is a window of opportunity that will one day close. He wasn’t referring to himself as much as he was to his veteran teammates — players such as Morse and safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who have been in Buffalo since or before Allen was selected in the first round of the 2018 draft.
Allen says he wants to win for them as much as anyone else.
Hyde smiled upon hearing of Allen’s comments.
“I love Josh. I love him — everything that he brings to the table,” Hyde said. “Josh is going to play another, who knows, 15 years hopefully. So for him to be saying that, understanding the urgency for the older guys, that’s a wise move on his part, just understanding the game, understanding and being older than he really is.”
If there is a mask Allen said he puts on in public, it doesn’t hide much.
Allen still makes a point to sign as many autographs at training camp as time allows, because he is still burned by that time growing up when one of his baseball idols turned down his request. His charitable work in the community has increased. As for the Madden cover, Allen reveled in the moment knowing what it meant to him, his family and Bills fans.
Ultimately, Allen finds himself awestruck by having begun to realize his boyhood dreams.
“I’m exactly the person that I wanted to be as a kid,” Allen said. “Just trying to do it the right way, treating people the right way, and ultimately winning as many games and as many Super Bowls as I can.”