The Saints re-signed their all-time leading rusher and the 31-year-old running back participated in a closed practice at the club's suburban training headquarters on Friday, a day before the Saints (13-3) were to host the Arizona Cardinals (11-6) in a divisional-round playoff game.
"Deuce McAllister has always embodied the spirit of the New Orleans Saints and the city of New Orleans," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We're excited to have him back with the team and to have him lead us out on to the field [Saturday]."
• Saturday: Cardinals at Saints, 4:30 p.m. ET
McAllister has rushed for 6,096 career yards. His 55 total touchdowns and 49 rushing TDs also are club records, and he was a reliable pass-blocker throughout his career, stout enough at 6-feet-1 and 230 pounds to take on blitzing linebackers.
However, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees, first his right one in 2005 and then the left in 2007. He has needed minor cleanup operations since 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 would 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.
Then a roster spot opened in New Orleans this week when reserve defensive tackle Rodney Leisle hurt his knee and was placed on injured reserve Friday.
"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, 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 Philadelphia in the divisional round of the playoffs that season, also the club's last playoff win.
It was not clear how much McAllister might play against the Cardinals. Pierre Thomas has been the Saints' leading rusher this season with 793 yards and six TDs. Reggie Bush and Mike Bell also have 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.
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 that have seen one of his car dealerships in Jackson, Miss., enter bankruptcy, then close, 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 current 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.