By The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Saints all-time leading rusher Deuce McAllister, club owner Tom Benson and longtime radio play-by-play announcer Jim Henderson were honored during a New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame luncheon held Friday for the 2012 inductees.
“It’s not really about myself. It’s about this great organization and the people that I played with,” McAllister said, adding that he hoped his success served as a reward for his mother, who worked two jobs to support the family when he was child in Mississippi.
McAllister and Benson are the 2012 inductees, while Henderson received the Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis award, given to a person who has accumulated a long record of off-the-field contributions to the franchise. Festivities this weekend include a Hall of Fame gala Saturday night and McAllister’s appearance at the Hall of Fame museum in the Superdome before Sunday’s kickoff between the Saints and Kansas City Chiefs.
Suspended Saints general manager Mickey Loomis received permission from the NFL to attend the lunch at the Superdome and sat at a table near the podium with Saints and Hornets executives including Hornets general manager Dell Demps. He received an ovation from several hundred lunch guests, many of them fans who purchased tables to benefit the Hall of Fame museum, which is run independently from the club.
Loomis shook hands and signed autographs, but said he did not believe it would be appropriate for him to comment on the Saints while serving an eight-game suspension in connection with the league’s bounty investigation.
Benson was elected to the hall by its selection committee after it suspended the rules to honor an active member of the organization. Benson is 85, and his induction comes about three years after he oversaw the club’s lone Super Bowl title in the 2009-10 season. He purchased his hometown team in 1985, when out-of-state interests had also expressed interest in buying and moving the NFL club.
“I said the only way I’m going to get interested in this, like we do everything else, is we have to bring a championship to New Orleans,” Benson said. “By all means we did that. It took longer than we wanted but we did it, and we’re going to do it again.”
After McAllister and Benson spoke, their Hall of Fame portraits were unveiled.
The lunch also included narrated video montages featuring each honoree.
For McAllister, it was a highlight reel of powerful and explosive plays in which he sometimes danced around, ran over, or simply ran away from defenders. McAllister played eight seasons for the Saints after they made him a first-round pick out of Mississippi in 2001. He retired as the leading rusher in franchise history with 6,096 yards and as the club’s all-time touchdown leader with 55.
“Deuce really deserves it for what he did for us while he was here playing,” Benson said. “Players today, when Deuce comes to a game, which is quite often, really respect this guy. … He really is a fine citizen. We all should be very proud that he was with the New Orleans Saints.”
Afterward, McAllister said he was proud to be part of the transformation of the Saints from a team known mostly for bumbling ineptitude to a franchise that routinely contends and is a source of pride in the region.
“You think about 10 to 12 years ago, we were probably not one of the organizations that would be in the upper echelon as far as what people thought around the country,” McAllister said. “Now, when you think of the Saints, you think of a team that can compete every year as far as the Super Bowl is concerned, so I’m happy that I could be a part of that.”
Benson’s montage was filled with him doing his trademark “Benson Boogie,” sometimes among the Saintsation cheerleaders, or jubilantly hugging coaches and players on the sidelines, after memorable victories throughout his tenure.
Another video was filled with memorable moments Henderson described from the broadcast booth, such as when he reacted to the Saints’ first NFC championship — and impending trip to the Super Bowl — by exclaiming: “Pigs have flown! Hell has frozen over!”
“So many great memories have been afforded to me by doing this,” Henderson said. “It was never a job. It was always a privilege — as it is to go into the Hall of Fame with people like Deuce McAllister, who I think is one of the classiest, nicest people I’ve ever seen in and out of a Saints uniform. … I’m truly honored to go in with him, along with Mr. Benson, who in many ways, saved the Saints for New Orleans, and in other ways, saved New Orleans for the Saints.”