Veteran RB McAllister rejoins Saints
The Saints re-signed their popular all-time rusher on Friday with the intention of making him an honorary captain, but McAllister won't play in Saturday's divisional-round playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Payton said the Saints first discussed the idea of making McAllister an unofficial guest captain a couple weeks ago. When reserve defensive tackle Rodney Leisle hurt his knee and was unable to practice this week, Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis decided to make McAllister an official part of the team.
"We felt like it was appropriate for the divisional game," Payton said. "He's so well thought of. He's so well respected by the players."
McAllister has been out of football for about a year but participated in a closed practice at the club's suburban training headquarters.
"I'm speechless," McAllister said. "I don't know that there are words to describe this feeling. I do know that we have some unfinished business that we started a few years ago and we want to finish the deal."
McAllister has rushed for 6,096 career yards. His 55 total touchdowns and 49 rushing TDs are also club records, and he was a reliable pass-blocker throughout his career, stout enough at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, to take on blitzing linebackers.
However, he tore anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees, first his right one in 2005 and then the left in 2007. He's had minor cleanup operations and played hurt throughout the 2008 season, having fluid drained from his left knee on a routine basis.
Since the Saints released him last February, he has been working out at a sports medicine institute run by orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Gulf Breeze, Fla., and on his own in his hometown of Jackson, Miss.
McAllister said when the Saints released him last winter that he thought he'd have at least three more good seasons in him, but as this season wore on it did not appear any team was going to give him a chance.
"Teams were looking at injuries, looking at age, looking at salary. One thing I learned through the whole thing is to savor the moment," McAllister said. "I feel pretty good. The knees are doing pretty good. You never know how it will respond to a game, but we have to get to that point."
McAllister, a first-round draft choice out of Mississippi in 2001, was a big part of the Saints' last playoff team, rushing for 1,057 yards in 2006. That was the last time the Saints had a 1,000-yard rusher.
He rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown when the Saints beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs that season, also the club's last playoff win.
Pierre Thomas has been the Saints' leading rusher this season with 793 yards and six TDs. Reggie Bush and Mike Bell have also been regular contributors in the ground game all season long, and the Saints have a fourth healthy running back on the roster in Lynell Hamilton, who also plays on special teams.
But Thomas has been practicing this week with injured ribs, which he sustained three weeks ago in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Whatever McAllister's role, his introduction to the fans in the Superdome is certain to be one of the highlights of a difficult last 12 months for him. One of his car dealerships in Jackson entered bankruptcy and then closed, with related lawsuits and countersuits following.
Yet even as his businesses struggled, McAllister maintained his ties to New Orleans and his extensive community service work in the region, hosting a charity golf tournament with Saints players last May.
He was long regarded as a locker-room leader by teammates, who praised his work ethic and team-first mentality. That is one role he should have little trouble resuming, regardless of playing time.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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