‘Hollywood’ Henderson says his Black College Football Hall induction is his proudest achievement
He wants players to know football shouldn’t be the most important thing in their lives
Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson came to the Black College Football Hall of Fame event last year to meet his friend, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and while he was standing in the lobby, someone approached and told Henderson that Jones had nominated him for the Hall. In the middle of a room full of people, Henderson started crying. He walked to the restroom, went into a stall, sat down and cried some more.
Henderson had been confused as to why Jones was so adamant that he come to the event, and now he knew.
“One of the board members comes over and says, ‘They were talking about you,’ and they were saying basically that I went to Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma, and I was a No. 1 draft choice,” he said, “And they go, ‘Now, wait a minute, wait a minute, [how] is it the Black Hall of Fame can’t put a No. 1 draft choice in this Hall?’
“This is huge. My kids are coming, my friends. I’m buying my coaches tickets and rooms. … It’s huge. I’m 64 going on 30, and I might drop dead tomorrow, but I’m good.”
After walking on at Langston University, a historically black university in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Henderson was a first-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 1975. Three years later, he helped the Cowboys win their second Super Bowl and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. At the turn of the century, Henderson won $28 million in the Texas Lotto, which he used to start a foundation.
“I go to church once a year,” Henderson, a lecturer, filmmaker and philanthropist, said, “and it’s always for Easter.”
“Because [Jesus] died and was born again, and I died and was born again.”
Being clean of drugs and alcohol for 34 years is an achievement that Henderson values more than that Super Bowl or Pro Bowl. Why? That’s because his football life was only going to last for a finite amount of time. The sport was not going to define his life, nor should any mistakes he made.
That was the message he sent to nearly 300 people at Thursday night’s Champions Circle event at the Black College Football Hall of Fame. The event included both Grambling State and North Carolina A&T’s football teams and was moderated by ESPN’s Jay Harris. Henderson was among seven men who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in February, including former players Raymond Chester, Harold Carmichael, Leon Lewis (posthumously), Greg Lloyd, Everson Walls and coach Bill Hayes.
One after the other, their messages were consistent: When the players get older, they will realize their historically black college and university (HBCU) family, education and experiences will be among the crowning moments of their lives. Not because they won’t go on to do amazing things, but because this family is unique to those who attend HBCUs.
And that was readily apparent when each of the four players vying for the Black College Player of the Year Award walked on stage. Whether people celebrated because they shared the same hometown, fraternity or team bond, players and people, across school lines, the crowd cheered loudly.