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Saintly behavior

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister has the look and demeanor of a man with an old soul.

McAllister's reactions are measured and thoughtful, belying the fact that he turned 28 two weeks ago. In a game where players are often on edge, playing and acting as if they were about to be shot out of a cannon, McAllister is a wise man.

He has played this entire season, the most glorious the Saints have had in his six years, knowing that his time in New Orleans may be coming to a close. McAllister, who will try to help the Saints advance past the playoff's second round for the first time in franchise history on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, knows because, well, he once was Reggie Bush, the man who may ultimately replace him.

In 2001, McAllister was the first-round pick of the Saints, taken only two years after the team had traded an entire draft and more for Ricky Williams. Within a year, Williams was gone to Miami and McAllister was the starter.

"That's the way this league works," McAllister said. "Some guys get angry about that stuff. I don't have time for that. What you have to do is be a good teammate and work with the people around you … Yeah, I could complain, but who in this town really needs to hear that kind of stuff? Let's think about it with a little sense of reality."

Of all McAllister's gifts, including the ability to alter his game this season to complement Bush, the most striking may be his sense of perspective. It's born of a legitimate love for this part of the country and an understanding of business realities.

McAllister grew up in neighboring Mississippi. He owns two car dealerships and has an interest in a trucking company in his home state. He recently bought and renovated the historic King Edward Hotel in Jackson, Miss.

McAllister has tried to tutor his teammates in business and get them to share in his charitable efforts. Teammates like wide receiver Joe Horn and cornerback Mike McKenzie are regulars on his off-day excursions to help kids in Jackson or around New Orleans.

"He's the most unselfish person I know," said Philadelphia wide receiver Donte' Stallworth, who played with McAllister for four years before being traded to the Eagles last offseason. "He's one of the people in this world that I'm closest to. It's not just that we were teammates.

"You look at how he's handled the situation this year and he's become the power part of their running game and he's done that coming back from that knee injury. He's helped out Reggie and tried to teach him about the league and what to do. That's what I mean about unselfish."

After missing the final 11 games of 2005 with an ACL tear in his right knee that required season-ending surgery, McAllister has changed his game to become more of a prototype inside runner, leaving the outside stuff to Bush. McAllister grinded out 1,057 yards and scored 10 touchdowns on 244 carries.

While that computes to a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, the long runs that were once his trademark have almost disappeared. McAllister had one run of longer than 35 yards this season. In 2003 and 2004, he had a combined eight runs 35 yards or longer, including six of 50 yards or longer.

"Deuce has the talent that fools you," said Eagles defensive end Darren Howard, a former teammate of McAllister in New Orleans. "He doesn't look that fast, but then, when you think you have an angle on him, he outruns the angle

To make that transition, McAllister has bulked his body in the shoulders. Where he used to look angular and have more of a sprinter's style of attacking the line, he now lowers his shoulder more and takes the yards that are there.

"You have to adapt in this game if you want to keep going," McAllister said. "If you look at how our team is put together, this is my role."

That's a simple way of pointing out that the Saints, under gifted play caller and head coach Sean Payton, have maximized ways to spread the field both vertically and horizontally. They have an intriguing collection of complementary talents surrounding quarterback Drew Brees, ranging from rookie possession receiver Marques Colston to deep threat Devery Henderson and the perimeter quickness and speed of Bush.

That leaves McAllister to work the middle.

"I don't think there's any question that what Deuce does is provide us with that traditional back, the guy who is going to get you the tough yards in the middle," said Payton, the Associated Press coach of the year. "I know that's not what he was before, but he's been great about doing it for us and accepting a crucial role."

But there is a deeper sense of reality to McAllister. Football may be a salve for the people of New Orleans and the surrounding area, but it's an expensive one. McAllister knows that if the NFL is going to stay here long term, the business environment will have to change.

New Orleans is the only city in the NFL without a Fortune 500 company. It didn't have one before Hurricane Katrina, but some business leaders in the town believe that if a proper rebuilding plan can be formulated, it's possible to attract one.

"That's the kind of thing you need to have to keep the team," McAllister said. "They need to rebuild the infrastructure of the city and I think the Saints can be part of it. But there has to be a plan."

McAllister believes that the Saints can be part of that plan if business leaders and the NFL work together. He talks about a new stadium, jobs and using the team as a centerpiece for corporate entertainment.

It can all happen, McAllister thinks … as long as people accept their roles.