They are officially the 40th and 41st inductees into the Saints Hall of Fame. While their number just got called, the significance of their induction cannot be understated. They constitute perhaps the most significant class in New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame History.
Saints owner and chairman of the board Tom Benson and former Saints running back Deuce McAllister were formally inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame on Friday at a noon luncheon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
McAllister gained induction in his first year of eligibility.
You know Deuce.
The Ludlow, Mississippi native came to the Saints as a first-round pick from Ole Miss in 2001. The Saints chose him despite ominous presence of Ricky Williams. It proved to be a brilliant move.
Deuce made two Pro Bowls with New Orleans and he retired as the leading rusher in the history of the franchise, amassing 6,096 yards on 1,429 carries (4.3 avg.). He is the Saints all-time leader in touchdowns with 55 and in rushing touchdowns with 49. He ranks fifth all-time in scoring with 330 points and tenth in receptions with 234. He led the Saints in rushing in four different seasons and was named All-NFC twice.
A New Orleans native, Benson bought his hometown team from John Mecom in 1985. It did not take long for him to make his mark.
Benson fielded the first winning team and first playoff appearance in Saints history in 1987. His teams have subsequently made the playoffs nine times. Under Benson, the Saints reached the NFC Championship game in 2006 and won Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010. During Benson's tenure, New Orleans has hosted four Super Bowls and will host a fifth on February 3, 2013. Benson has been one of the NFL's most important and influential owners, serving three stints as chairman of league's finance committee.
The accomplishments are clear. What makes this class perhaps the most special ever are a couple of basic truths.
McAllister is a class act, on and off the field. He was a great player. He was a great teammate. He was great in the community and throughout the gulf coast. He remains an iconic figure in Mississippi and beloved in New Orleans. He is about as easy to deal with as any player we have ever inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame. You can toss the "high maintenance" tag in file 13 with regard to Deuce. He is a pleasure.
Benson saved the franchise in 1985. John Mecom was flirting with relocating the team to Jacksonville in 1984 and flirted with selling the team to other prospective owners who may have moved the team away from small market New Orleans. Instead, Benson stepped up in a big way.
While he has not always endeared himself to Saints fans, he has always found his way back into good graces, doing the right thing. The franchise has never been stronger financially and is here to stay. The hometown hero is a hero to many.
Making his induction more significant is the fact that the media selection committee which nominates and elects the inductees chose to waive the waiting period for Benson.
The bylaws state that a Saints Hall of Fame candidate must be out of the Saints organization for three years to be eligible. In the case of Benson, that requirement was waived. The timing was right. Mr. Benson deserved the opportunity to receive his just reward while he can truly appreciate it. He deserved it for leading the Saints to a Super Bowl championship. He deserved it for keeping the faith in this most difficult of years for the franchise.
The only other occasion in which the media selection committee elected to waive the waiting period was for Jim Finks in 1994, just after he had passed away.
The proverbial cherry on top of the whip cream for this year's class comes in the form of Jim Henderson, who received the 2012 Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis award, honoring an individual who has given tirelessly of his or her time, love and devotion for the betterment of the New Orleans Saints Football Club.
The eloquent, fair, balanced wordsmith of nearly 35 years in the New Orleans market is a member of the selection committee. Needless to say, he had no say in his selection.
Henderson replaced a legend in Hap Glaudi at WWL-TV. He endured barbs, boos and picketing. Now, he is beloved. His work in television and his calls of the most celebrated, appreciated and special moments in Saints history as the radio voice of the franchise for so many years makes him an iconic figure in the industry.
I remember the first year of the Saints Hall of Fame vividly. We inducted Archie Manning and Danny Abramowicz into the Hall. It was special. That is always the case with the first time.
Other marquee inductions included Stan Brock and Rickey Jackson in 1997, Dalton Hilliard and Sam Mills in 1998, Vaughan Johnson and Pat Swilling in 2000, and William Roaf in 2008. Like Jackson before him (2010), Roaf was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
Deuce is among the top five most beloved players in New Orleans Saints history, along with the likes of Drew Brees, Jackson, Archie Manning, Tom Dempsey. Bobby Hebert, Morten Andersen, Johnson, Swilling, Joe Horn and Finks are others who clearly rank highly in the popularity preference of long-time Saints fans.
Benson is the most significant person in New Orleans Saints history. It is that simple.
As a result, Friday was a special day for special people in a special city which has a special NFL franchise.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In addition to serving as CAO and Executive Producer of sportsNOLA.com, Ken Trahan is the only General Manager and Chairman of the Board in Saints Hall of Fame history, dating to the museum's opening on July 16, 1988.
Tom Benson, Deuce McAllister and Jim Henderson (Gemelli Award winner) are honored at a luncheon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Photos by Parker Waters).
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