NEW ORLEANS -- Deuce McAllister will lead the New Orleans Saints into the playoffs, at least during introductions.
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."
The 31-year-old McAllister has rushed for 6,096 career yards. His 55 total touchdowns and 49 rushing TDs also are club records.
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 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, he thought he'd have at least three more good seasons in him. 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."
A first-round draft choice out of Mississippi in 2001, McAllister 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.
Even if the Saints advance in the playoffs, there's little chance of McAllister getting on the field in later rounds. 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, who also plays on special teams.
Whatever McAllister's role, his introduction to the fans in the Superdome is certain to be one of the highlights of a difficult 12 months for him. One of his car dealerships in Jackson, Miss., entered bankruptcy, then closed, with related lawsuits and countersuits following.
Yet even as his business 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.
"Deuce McAllister has always embodied the spirit of the New Orleans Saints and the city of New Orleans," Payton said. "We're excited to have him back with the team and to have him lead us out on to the field."