Yesterday, The New Orleans Saints released their all-time leading rusher, Deuce McAllister.
McAllister, who would have received $7 million this upcoming season from the Saints, had come back this year from a serious knee injury suffered in the 2007 season. Deuce was also suspeneded for four games for steroid use by the NFL.
McAllister has been the face of the franchise since 2001, his first year professionally, after being the most prolific running back in Ole Miss football history. He replaced Rickey Williams and was instrumental in turning the Saints into a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. Deuce, who is 30 years old, is native of Lena, Mississippi and has become a successful businessman and philanthropist in his home state.
I remember the first time I saw Deuce play up close. It was in 2000, when it looked like he would have legitimate chance at winning the Heisman Trophy. It was an awesome display against Arkansas. I can't remember the stats for the game, but I remember one play, the opening kickoff. Deuce caught the ball on the 5 yard line, and ran it all the way for a touchdown. It was a long day for the Razorbacks as they had no answer for McAllister all game.
I knew he would be a special player then, and he is still a special player now. When he is healthy, McAllister is a load to tackle and he still has breakaway speed. He is not as fast as Reggie Bush, but he is more of an every-down back than Bush will ever be. The Saints, I believe, were pleased with the maturation of Pierre Thomas, the second year running back from Illinois, and figure he can be the every-down back that Deuce was for them.
As much as I like Thomas, I don't think he can replace McAllister, which will then put more pressure on Drew Brees, one of the most prolific passers in professional football. Deuce's hard running style kept defenses honest to allow Brees to maximize his weapons of Bush, Marcus Colston and Lance Moore. Saints fans will have to hope that Thomas brings that same respect on the field.
McAllister finished the 2008 campaign healthy, which means that an NFL franchise will pick him up. I am guessing that he will either go to the 49ers, Steelers or Patriots. The Dolphins, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Bills are probably going to look at him as well. Wherever he lands, he will have a great positive impact on that team and make the Saints sorry for letting him go.
Football is a business and loyalty in sports is all but extinct. The Saints looked at Deuce as a 30 year old running back with two surgically repaired knees and a $7 million contract looming, but he was much more than that. He was the identity of the Saints. Despite Brees' heroics and Bush's flair, the people in New Orleans, and Saints fans everywhere, loved Deuce. The two-time Pro Bowler was the ambassador of the team and his jersey was still more popular than Bush's or Brees'. When the Saints came back home after Hurricane Katrina made them wandering gypsies for the 2005 season, it was Deuce that the city embraced as a hero when they returned. It was Deuce's heroics that got the Saints one game away from the Super Bowl, a game the Saints have never played in.
His number 26 will probably be retired in the Superdome someday, and it should be. It sure would have been nice though to see a man that has given so much to make the team successful be given the chance to retire as a Saint.