Friday, May 14, 2021

Hollywood Henderson—A Wild Ride

 By John Turney 
Plenty has been written about Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson's rise to fame, then fade into the ashed then his Pheonix-like rising after winning two Texas Lotteries. 

Henderson was a tremendously flamboyant character, once calling out Terry Bradshaw for being dumb "He couldn't speed 'cat' if you spotted him the "C" and the "A"". When he was signed by the Cowboys he whore a false tooth with a Cowboys Star on it, but took it out think it looked "foolish". 

Ya think?

He, in his biography he admitted to having a small inhaler filled with liquified cocaine hidden in his uniform pants during Super Bowl XIII. He was cut by Tom Landry in 1979 after a no-tackle performance in Washington when he clowned for the television cameras. He also played Super Bowl X high as well. 
Henderson with the Oilers in 1980
After the season he was then traded to the 49ers where he lasted about two weeks into the 1980 before Bill Walsh and seen enough. He was signed by Bum Phillips and finished that season with the Oilers and played a fair sub role. He was let go and signed by Don Shula but suffered a break in a bone in his neck which ended his NFL career.

However, like a couple of the linebackers we profiled in the last few days Henderson was likely the best (at his peak) of the small, fast linebackers of his era, again with the caveat of "when he was motivated".

We named Henderson our 1975 de facto Special Teams Player of the Year based on his ability to cover kicks, even return them (one for a touchdown) and a long one in Super Bowl X, but also his ability to block then—he got one and was close on several others. (He also blocked another one in 1976 and blocked a PAT in 1979). 

Henderson was taken by the  Dallas Cowboys in the first round (18th overall) of the 1975 NFL Draft—the second of the Cowboys two numbers ones that year, the other being Randy White.

He had starred for the Langston University Lions from 1971-1974 and earned NAIA All-American honors twice during his time as a Lion. He had legit 4.5 speed though was undersized—6-2, 221—but that speed made him especially effective as a cover linebacker. 

After spending1975 largely on special teams, Henderson was a nickel linebacker in 1976, sometimes covering sometimes rushing, and was very effective in coverage. Stats don't ever tell a complete story but sometimes they can give a glimpse into a player's abilities by reflecting plays he made. That year Henderson was credited with 2.5 sacks and 10 passes deflected which would be good for a full-time player. Handerson did that playing mostly in passing situations.

In 1977 Henderson was one of the young stars of a Cowboys team that dominated the NFL in 1977. He had 75 tackles as a strong-side linebacker and picked off the passes and deflected five others.
He began 1978 with an ankle injury missing some time early in the year but finished strong and was named to his only Pro Bowl (he was a Second-team All-NFC pick in 1977). He ridiculed the Rams in the 1978 playoffs by saying they didn't have enough "class" to go the Super Bowl and backed it up by returning an interception for a touchdown to seal the win in the NFCCG. 
In 1979 Dallas began to blitz Henderson more and in 11 games he had six sacks but then came the clowning (Henderson said he was waving handkerchiefs for the camera to help teammate Preston Pearson promote them) and his being cut. 
Dallas sent Henderson to the 49ers for a 4th round pick but he didn't impress Bill Walsh in the 1980 49er camp. "He has not played up to our expectations". Henderson had been plagued by a few injuries, including a hamstring issue in camp, and lost his job to Bobby Leopold and some 49ers teammates began to call him "Holiday" Henderson because he missed so many practices nursing those injuries. 

In 1981 Shula had told the press that Henderson had gone to rehab and was clean in the Dolphin camp and looking good. He had a plan for Henderson to play strongside linebacker and have Kim Bokamper play more on the defensive line. Shula also felt that Henderson would bring his special teams magic to the Dolphins since Henderson was trying to get a fresh start and was willing to return to special teams in coverage, something he had not done for five seasons or so.  But then the neck injury ended it all.

After football, his poor choices continued with drugs and other entanglements that led to a stint in prison.

After his time was served he eventually returned to Austin and founded the East Side Youth Services and Street Outreach helped raise money to build a track for those youth and also began giving speeches to both youth and adult audiences against the problems that drugs can bring.

Then, in 2000, he hit the lottery ($10 million after taxes).

Had he kept it together there is no telling what Henderson might have achieved. He was a great fit for Dallas who was a committed 4-3 team that would not follow the rest of the NFL into the 3-4 defenses we saw in the 1980s so Henderson wouldn't have had to try and play "big" like some of the smaller 'backers had to do when their teams deployed to 30. 

Like some others, Henderson would fit very well in today's NFL as perhaps a Lavonte David-type WILL 'backer or a "moneybacker", a linebacker safety hybrid. He certainly possessed the speed to do so and was a very instinctive player and a very good tackler. And he could blitz with skill as well. 

Henderson has overcome his addictions and other issues and that speaks well to his character. All fall, not all get up. We just wished he'd seen a longer "peak" in Henderson's career. He really was especially talented. 

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