NEW ORLEANS - In Deuce McAllister's locker, front-and-center on the top shelf, is a gold-painted wooden carving of the word: "Believe!"
After his second season-ending knee injury in three seasons, the Saints' 28-year-old all-time leading rusher wants to believe he will return to the NFL as an elite running back. It won't be easy, and he knows it.
"Obviously, the questions: Will you ever be the same? Will you ever be the back that you once were? Those are the different thoughts that obviously run through your mind as a player," McAllister said.
"I believe in myself. It's just a matter of me putting the time in and me putting the work in."
McAllister said an MRI exam yesterday confirmed his worst fears: He tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in Monday night's 31-14 loss to Tennessee.
During the second quarter, McAllister landed awkwardly after catching a short pass from Drew Brees. McAllister walked off the field on his own, but having torn his right ACL in 2005, he was worried.
"I just told myself to get up off the ground. One lesson I learned growing up was to never let your opponent see you hurt. Regardless of what it is, if you can walk, walk off that field," McAllister said. "Once I got to the sideline, I knew it. I didn't want to believe it, but just taking the walk to the locker room I could feel it just kind of giving way a little bit and that was just kind of reminiscent of how the other one felt."
McAllister said there was also some damage to his medial collateral ligament.
Five games into the 2005 season, McAllister tore his right ACL during a run in Green Bay. After reconstructive surgery, he returned to rush for 1,057 yards in 2006, helping the Saints to the NFC South title and starring in their playoff victory over Philadelphia.
Now McAllister needs reconstructive surgery on the other knee, likely a patellar tendon graft, followed by the long, painful rehabilitation that will last almost until 2008 training camp begins, if not longer.
In between, there will be an offseason, when uncomfortable reminders that the NFL is a business resurface in greater frequency. McAllister is in the third year of an eight-year, $50.1 million contract. And the Saints also have Reggie Bush, who in his second season will now be the undisputed featured running back in New Orleans for the remainder of this year, at least.
McAllister's injury is a potentially devastating blow to the Saints, who are 0-3 and in desperate need of a victory to have any hope of rallying back into postseason contention.
"You feel helpless because it's about making plays," McAllister said. "I can't do that right now."
BEARS/GROSSMAN: Rex Grossman reportedly will be benched by the Chicago Bears for Sunday's game at Detroit, with Brian Griese starting at quarterback.
Citing unidentified sources, NFL.com, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times reported the beleaguered Grossman will sit when the Bears (1-2) visit the Lions (2-1).
The Bears would not confirm that any decision has been made, saying only that coach Lovie Smith would be available for his regular news conference today.
DOLPHINS/CHAMBERS: Driving while impaired and reckless driving charges against Miami Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers will be dismissed after a plea deal was reached with prosecutors. Instead, he will plead guilty to speeding.
Chambers was arrested July 14 after being pulled over several miles south of downtown Charlotte. Chambers was charged with DWI despite a blood-alcohol level of .06 percent, below the legal limit of .08 percent. The police report said Chambers failed field sobriety tests.
STEELERS/WARD: Wide receiver Hines Ward has a sprained knee and is doubtful for Sunday's game at Arizona. Ward has missed only three games due to injury in 10 NFL seasons.
BENGALS/DORSEY: Former Indianapolis Colts running back DeDe Dorsey signed a two-year contract with the Bengals, who aren't sure whether Rudi Johnson will be available for their game against New England because of a hamstring injury.
Dorsey entered the Colts' training camp as Joseph Addai's backup, but was released in the final roster cut.