National outlets of all sizes, among them ESPN, made the trek to Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine last weekend to witness former Minnesota Viking/now aspiring Olympic curler Jared Allen take to the ice with his team of ex-NFL players for an event that could ultimately land them in the U.S. Men’s National Championship bracket.
Spoiler: Team Allen lost three out of three matches and was quickly eliminated.
But that didn’t stop fans of curling (and football) from catching arguably the biggest story to come from the target-covered ice sheets since Team Schuster’s historic win for America at the Winter Olympics a year ago.
Roughly a couple dozen friends and family members were there at all times for the 15 other teams in the tournament, says Sean Murray, who ran scoring over the weekend as the site chair of the Men’s Challenge Round. The remaining crowd, he believes, was there for Team Allen.
“At one time it wouldn’t surprise me if we had 100 people in [the Four Seasons and connected restaurant Sticks and Stones],” he says, “and over the course of the day maybe a few hundred.”
Many came from an ongoing youth hockey tournament at a neighboring facility, oftentimes just to peek in and see the former footballers compete.
“We had kids coming over asking at our office for a Sharpie because they wanted Jared Allen’s autograph,” Murray adds. “You never see that at a curling event, so it’s definitely heightened the exposure—more exposure for this event that it would normally bring, for sure.”
Even early morning matches, which typically don’t draw a crowd, were driving in fans thanks to Team Allen, says Fred Fetzer, an Eau Claire, Wisconsin resident who was the tournament’s chief umpire.
“Be it curlers or spectators, you don’t get a lot of people out to watch 9 a.m. games, but Saturday morning Team Allen was playing and because of them there were more people [than usual] popping in periodically,” says Fetzer. “It’s good for the sport. It’s good for the Four Seasons. It’s a win-win all around.”
But measuring the strength of the hype around Team Allen was impossible to judge, says Jared Kerns, bar manager of the Sticks and Stones restaurant, which offers up-close seating for the Four Seasons curling action. “We had prepared for an onslaught, and it wasn’t quite that,” Kerns says.
Sunday was quieter at the Four Seasons Curling Club and Sticks and Stones restaurants once Team Allen was knocked out of the tournament. (Photo by Sam Schaust)
Instead, the quick elimination of Team Allen—consisting of former quarterback Marc Bulger, linebacker Keith Bulluck, and offensive tackle Michael Roos—led some latecomers to turn right back out the door.
“For a lack of a better term, there were more Jared Allen enthusiasts than curling enthusiasts [at the tournament],” says Kerns. “I do think if Jared and his team had won a game or two and had been around a little bit longer, you probably would have seen a little bit of an uptick in people that hung out and spent a little more money. But it certainly wasn’t a disappointment.”
Nor was their level of play a disappointment, adds Murray.
“A lot of established curlers think this is great for exposure for the sport, but there have also been a few who think this is nothing but a sideshow and these guys are bored, retired, rich ex-football players who are looking to do something to get their names in the papers,” he says. “The work these guys have done—they only started in April, mind you—it’s impressive and they’re going hard at it.”
Exterior of the Four Seasons Curling Club and Sticks and Stones restaurant in Blaine. (Photo by Sam Schaust)