NEW ORLEANS — To hear former New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister tell it Friday, it was only fitting that he would be elected to the Saints Hall of Fame along with team owner Tom Benson.
After all, McAllister, who became the club’s all-time rushing leader despite numerous knee injuries that curtailed his promising career, may have never played a down in the Saints’ black and gold colors if it hadn’t been for Benson.
McAllister and Benson, who purchased the struggling franchise from John Mecom Jr. in 1985, were announced Friday during a noon news conference in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as the newest members of the Saints Hall of Fame as voted on by a Media Selection Committee.
They will be inducted and become the 40th and 41st members of the Hall of Fame during All Saints Weekend festivities set for Sept. 21-23. In addition to the induction banquet, they’ll be recognized when the Saints play the Kansas City Chiefs in the Superdome.
Recently retired WWL-TV sportscaster Jim Henderson, the Saints radio play-by-play voice since 1986, was also voted as the recipient of the Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis Award for contributions to the franchise.
“I’m going in with individuals I definitely admire,” McAllister said as he glanced over at Benson, who was seated nearby. “Mr. Benson didn’t have to buy the team and keep it here, but he did. This means a lot to me because this is a special group.”
McAllister, a first-round draft pick in 2001, played eight seasons with the Saints from 2001-2008. A Pro Bowl pick in 2002 and ’03, he retired with 6,096 yards and a 4.3 average on 1,429 carries.
The former Ole Miss star, who had a rare combination of speed and power, also scored a club-record 55 touchdowns. He ranks fifth in franchise history with 330 points and is 10th in receptions with 234, which helped make him a unanimous pick by the selection committee.
He is the fifth running back to be elected to the Saints Hall of Fame, joining Dalton Hilliard, George Rogers, Rueben Mayes and Tony Galbreath.
“Words can’t describe this,” McAllister said. “When you speak about being inducted into a hall of fame, it’s not about me. … It’s about a lot of players and the things we accomplished were because of a lot of guys.
“You always dream as a player to be able to say that you contributed as one of the best players of an elite organization,” he said. “I think we can show for the next 15 to 20 years that this is one of the elite teams (of the NFL).”
The Saints took their first steps toward becoming an elite team under Benson, a native New Orleanian.
After buying the franchise from Mecom, which possibly saved it from being moved to Jacksonville, Fla., or another city, Benson quickly turned his hometown team into a winner.
Since Benson took over, the Saints have made the playoffs nine times. They won their first Vince Lombardi Trophy with a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010.
“He’s the most significant person in New Orleans Saints history,” Hall of Fame general manager Ken Trahan said in introducing Benson. “That’s not a stretch of the imagination by any means.”
Benson not only talked about the past, but the future in saying he’s looking forward to the Saints doing something no other NFL team has done. That’s win a Super Bowl, which will played in the Superdome in February, in its own stadium.
“It’s been a wonderful 25 years and I’m looking forward to more to come,” Benson said. “We’re looking to be better and stronger, and looking forward to making history and winning the Super Bowl in our stadium.”
The Media Selection Committee also voted to honor former Saints special teams star Steve Gleason with the creation of a legacy gallery at the museum in his name.
Gleason, who played for the Saints from 2000-06 and is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, is the first former player to be honored outside of the Hall of Fame. He is being honored for special contributions to both the franchise and New Orleans community.