As the Saints head into the home stretch of the 2018 season, there’s a feeling of déjà vu permeating the Superdome. After losing early in 2017, the New Orleans Saints rode an eight-game winning streak into November, eventually capturing the NFC South en route to the divisional round of the playoffs.
From high atop his perch in the Superdome press box, former New Orleans Saints running back-turned-color analyst Deuce McAllister is not the only one to notice the Black and Gold are following a similar script into November once again. The Saints’ career rushing leader knows the current team’s success is due to revamping the roster and coaching staff, including personnel involved in the franchise’s lone Super Bowl win.
Following three consecutive mediocre 7-9 seasons, many fans and pundits questioned whether the Saints would be able to rekindle the magic they had witnessed earlier in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era.
“When you talk about those 7-9 years, it started with the roster makeover after releasing some veteran players and getting the right leadership back in place,” McAllister says. “One of the toughest things Sean [Payton] has had to do since he arrived here in 2006 was reshaping the staff.” From there, McAllister says, the Saints “were able to hit on some key draft picks,” including a pair of 2017 Rookies of the Year—running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
“It’s all been coming together for them. We knew the Saints had some veteran guys that are able to alleviate some of the pressure off Drew Brees, but those young guys have really elevated the overall talent on that team.
McAllister, who’s in his third full season as color analyst for the New Orleans Saints radio network, has been impressed with the Saints’ dominant offensive line, citing the unit as one of the major positive results of the retooled roster.
“The Saints have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL,” McAllister says. “A lot of people were upset at the trade of tight end Jimmy Graham [to the Seattle Seahawks], but with that trade, the Saints were able to solidify the center inside with Max Unger. Max has been outstanding, and he’s probably underrated throughout the league because of the Saints’ offensive line talent on the outside with tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead.”
McAllister, who spent his career relying on the blocking of the big guys up front, notes that the offensive line, which also includes Andrus Peat and Larry Warford, has been “outstanding” in both the run game and pass protection all season. “They can batter you, beat you up, play physical, or they can get out in space and gain yards,” McAllister explains.
While the Saints’ offense seems to be running on all cylinders yet again, the team’s stingy run defense and its ability to force teams into a one-dimensional, pass-heavy approach has caught McAllister’s eye. “Teams are having to double-team or triple-team [defensive end] Cam Jordan, so that’s leaving other players in one-on-one situations, and they’re excelling,” McAllister says. “Guys inside are winning their matchups. They are a salty bunch up front.”
McAllister sees the Saints’ main weakness as the propensity to allow explosive plays, something that has ailed the secondary, especially during the season, but he says all the team can worry about at this point in the season is to “keep stacking W’s.”
“As fans and journalists, we look forward to the big and not necessarily the small picture,” McAllister says. “First and foremost, you want to qualify for the playoffs. You want to win your division, and then everything else will start to unfold for you at that point.”
McAllister has been able to notice the big picture as a broadcaster the past few seasons. The former Pro-Bowler began filling in for longtime color analyst Hokie Gajan late in the 2015 season and became a permanent fixture in the booth after Gajan passed away the following April. Paired with legendary Saints play-by-play announcer Jim Henderson for two seasons, McAllister now shares the broadcast booth with his former teammate Zach Strief.
“With me and Zach, it’s almost like being in the locker room,” McAllister says. “You want it to be fun regardless of who your partner is, but for us, we’re just talking football.”
McAllister’s interests extend beyond the Superdome, as the blossoming restaurateur owns and tends to Deuce McAllister’s Ole Saint: Kitchen & Tap, or just “Ole Saint.” McAllister’s Royal Street restaurant serves up Southern coastal cuisine, boasts an impressive 54 beers on tap—showcasing many of the burgeoning area breweries—and will soon be adding a second location in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the next few months.
“We’re trying to chop away and make a name for ourselves,” McAllister says. “We want to add a little variety to the awesome cuisine that’s already in the city.”
When he’s not dissecting football plays for radio listeners or touting the scores of local beers at his restaurant, McAllister loves to fish, travel, and enjoy New Orleans food and music. Though his favorite dishes include spaghetti and lobster, McAllister relishes charbroiled oysters at Drago’s or steaks at Desi Vega’s, depending on the mood.
But McAllister’s favorite thing about New Orleans is that it’s a place for people to be themselves. “People may recognize and know who you are, but when I go out to Frenchmen Street or I’m hanging out with friends just to hear some music, someone may say, ‘Hey, it’s Deuce.’ After that, they’re going on to hear the music as well. They see you as a person.”
Photos by Romney Caruso