Come back in time with me. Twelve years ago to this very day, to be exact. April 21, 2001, when the second-year coach/GM combo of Jim Haslett and Randy Mueller (The Has-Mue Team, if you will) prepared to make their 1st round draft selection.
Hopes were high for this draft to strengthen a surprisingly powerful team following a 2000 season that saw this rookie head coach and general manager lead a rebuilding Saints franchise to untold levels of success: garnering the second division title in team history and earning its' first-ever playoff win.
What's more, this would be the first 1st-round pick made by the new regime as the 2000 Draft suffered the last ripples of the wrath that Mike Ditka and Bill Kuharich had rendered the team in the 1999 Ricky Williams trade. Since Has-Mue had made all the right player personnel moves in 2000's free agency and draft to build the team that reached these new heights without the benefit of a first round draft pick, what more could be achieved with the 2001 first-rounder?
Prior to the draft, Sports Illustrated's trio of experts were split in their mock drafts on which way the Saints would go with the 23rd pick in the first round. Peter King predicted the Saints would take yet another Fred to shore up the secondary - CB Fred Smoot from Mississippi State, while Pat Kirwan gave them the U's dazzling WR/KR, Santana Moss. Don Banks gave them Todd Heap, the tight end out of Arizona State. CITATION
Although Deuce's stock as a former projected #1 overall pick was dropping because of injury concerns and specific team needs at the top of the draft, SI's draft triumvirate was still pretty high on him, seeing him go no later than 12th to the Chiefs.
(HansDat side note: Dig deeper into the above citation, and you'll realize, as did I, that this was Drew Brees's draft year, too. Get this - PK had him going to the Chiefs at #12 in that first round, while both Kirwan and Banks sent him to Miami at #26 - Ha! How about that? In a sense, that means the Phins missed out on Drew Breeeeeees TWICE!)
For a little perspective and context, check out this wikipedia page on the 2001 Draft to see how that whole first round (and the rest of it, too) actually played out.
According to this nola.com extended feature article on Deuce from 2011 by Mike Triplett, the selection of Deuce was a textbook example of choosing the Best Player Available:
Although the Saints didn't rank running back among their greatest needs, with Ricky Williams already in the fold, they did have McAllister among their top six overall prospects. So the decision-makers all agreed that they wouldn't hesitate to take him.
In fact, there was barely even a discussion in the Saints' draft room when they were on the clock and McAllister was available.
"I think everybody agreed it was a pretty simple answer: You have to take him," recalled former Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy. "It was a no-brainer."
Here's Deuce writing a bit about how it went down on draft day, first describing how he took it low-key with family and friends in the South, instead of going to New York...
My decision not to go to New York was based on the fact that I couldn't get a definitive answer on when I would be picked. I'm glad that I decided to stay home in Mississippi at my parents' house. We had a great turnout and I was excited to see all of their expressions when I got picked. There were probably between 75-100 people there. It was so loud that I had to go outside and talk on my cell phone because I couldn't hear. They started cooking around 8:30 in the morning and we had a DJ out there to play some music, so we had a pretty nice little time.
...and then leading up to his selection:
The Saints called me before I got picked, probably right when Indianapolis traded its 22nd pick to the Giants. And right before New Orleans called, Minnesota had called and told me if I got past the Saints, they would pick me at 27. And then the Saints called me back and told me they were leaning toward picking me. And five minutes later, general manager Randy Mueller and head coach Jim Haslett called and asked me what I thought about being a Saint. They said they had sent the pick into the commissioner and I was very pleased by it.
All these excerpts come from the final Draft Diary Deuce penned for Sports Illustrated that year. If you chase this link, you can eventually get to each of his eight entries.
In this installment, he also compared himself to the top running back selected in 2001, whom you may have heard of before:
I still think I should've been the first running back taken in the draft because of my versatility. I think overall LaDainian Tomlinson is a good running back, but I don't think his talent matches up with mine. I think San Diego went with a safe pick. He's been durable over his career and he has some skills in the Chargers' opinion. It was a safe pick judging on our past histories injury-wise, and San Diego has to win now and it has to have somebody who is going to be there. You can look at the situation with Ryan Leaf not panning out and they went with a safe pick.
Ha! I wish "safe" worked out that well for the Saints more often.
The Associated Press's lead in their story on the pick poked fun at the Saints and foretold the future for Ricky Williams:
Look out, Ricky. The Saints made another running back their No. 1 selection in the NFL draft -- and this time they even had some picks left over.
The rest, as they say is history, as Deuce set it numerous times on his way to becoming one of the most successful players in the, um, history of the franchise.
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I know I was pretty stoked about the selection of Deuce on this day. I had visions of Deuce and Ricky forming a potent one-two punch on offense that would carry the team for years and years. And on the heels of that 10-6 and playoff-win dream season of 2000, I felt like the sky was the limit for the Saints in the near future, which made this one of the most enjoyable draft days for me.
But what about you? What do you recall about this draft day? Let's all share in the comment section...