MIAMI — As Deuce McAllister sauntered into a lounge inside the stadium that will host Sunday’s Super Bowl, Saints running back Pierre Thomas caught sight of him and shouted “Doooooose!”
“He’s done so much for New Orleans. He’s done so much for this team, in the community, for the fans,” Thomas said. “The coaches, they did a good job of bringing him back because he deserves it.”
McAllister won’t be getting any carries against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but he might get a ball.
“I really want to go out there and play for him,” said Thomas, the Saints’ leading rusher this season. “My first touchdown, my first (game) ball is going to Deuce.”
McAllister, who has not played since last season, officially retired only days after being re-signed for a purely ceremonial role in the Saints’ divisional-round playoff victory over Arizona.
He ended his playing days as the Saints’ all-time leading rusher with 6,096 career yards. His 55 total touchdowns and 49 rushing TDs also are club records.
At 31, McAllister wasn’t really ready to retire, but operations on each knee had slowed him. After it became apparent that no team was going to give him a chance to play again, he got a call from the Saints. Head coach Sean Payton said he wanted to find a way to make McAllister a part of what seemed destined to be a special season.
With McAllister at practice and on the sideline during games, the Saints made their first Super Bowl run in franchise history.
“It’s better than nothing and this is the closest that I’m getting as far as to be a player, be a part of it,” McAllister said. “You’ve always seen this on TV and just to be this close to it, to be a part of it makes it special.”
A Saints first-round draft pick out of Mississippi in 2001, McAllister has been wildly popular among fans along the Gulf Coast for the past decade. Teammates loved him and opponents respected him.
“Deuce is a great guy, and although (the Saints) didn’t need his services as a running back, his leadership skills are tremendous,” said former St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, a New Orleans native and unabashed Saints fan. “I hear about Deuce. I’ve listened to the Willie Roafs, I’ve listened to the Joe Horns talk about how much of a leader Deuce McAllister was in the locker room and I think that coach Payton understands that having him around is advantageous to the program.”
Although McAllister didn’t have breakaway speed, he was renowned for his vision and ability to set up blocks, as well as his toughness, balance and nimble footwork, which made him tough to tackle. He could move piles and reliably succeed in short yardage situations. He rarely missed a block on a blitzing linebacker, sparing the quarterbacks he helped protect from untold pain.
He was accessible to fans, never losing touch with his humble, small town Mississippi roots. He’s ben a constant presence at charity functions ever since he turned pro, shaking hands and chatting with fans from all walks of life.
Thomas recalled a turkey giveaway McAllister hosted during a recent Thanksgiving.
“So many fans came up to Deuce saying, ‘Thank you for all you’ve done,'” Thomas said. “I’d seen one lady just start crying, and when you see that, you know that this is a special guy,”
McAllister isn’t yet sure what his long-term future may hold with he Saints. He said he’s had “conversations” with Payton about various roles he could fill. McAllister said he’s not yet ready to be a coach, but might be interested in working in the front office, perhaps one day moving up to general manager.
For now, though, he’s enjoying his current role as honorary captain.
When McAllister led the Saints onto the Louisiana Superdome field for their playoff opener against the Cardinals, the Superdome crowd went wild. Although McAllister was not in uniform, fans still called out, “Deuce!” in key short-yardage situations during that game.
“I heard it and I’m not even dressed. I’m in street clothes,” McAllister said, starting to laugh. “That just shows you I guess the love that I have from that city.”
“I loved it,” Saints kicking consultant John Carney said of the chants for Deuce during the game.
Carney played with McAllister in New Orleans for a half-dozen seasons and said it was important to have McAllister along for the playoff ride.
“When I think of Deuce, I think of a player that embodies what we want to be about and we want to represent as a New Orleans Saints,” Carney said. “That is tough, dependable, strong – a guy who’s got strong faith in his abilities, a guy that anybody would want as a teammate and friend.”