Tom Planchet / WWL-TV.com News and Operations Manager
Jim Henderson did a commentary after the Saints won the Super Bowl where he extolled the reasons that New Orleans is special and why we deserved the fun, excitement and attention showered on us by the success of that team.
There are many benefits to having been a sports fan or even a non-sports fan in New Orleans the past three decades, not the least of which has been having the good fortune to have enjoyed the eloquence of the best local TV sportscaster in America.
I have no qualms in saying that you will never see the likes of Jim Henderson on a local sports channel for a 30-year time span again.
Jim is the Sean Payton, the Drew Brees of local sportscasting.
Jim followed in the footsteps of the well-liked local icon Hap Glaudi to the appearance of protesters picketing his hiring.
Gentleman Jim never wavered. He came in, wrote his prose on the pros and colleges and high schools and quickly won over the populace and the respect of his peers.
A good friend of mine, a typical New Orleanian who was born and raised in Gentilly, summed up Jim’s flair for words once when Jim turned a catchy phrase while we watched a sportscast in the early 80s. It was a routine story on the Cleveland Browns, something that probably didn’t make any other sportscast in town and a story that was nothing special, but written in an entertaining way and with a well turned phrase and a play on words. My friend looked at me and said, – “How does he come up with s**t like that?”
That was Jim, taking a nothing story and making it entertaining. Taking an entertaining story and making it memorable.
I had the pleasure of working with Jim in sports for 17 years during which time I witnessed some classic stories – The Final 4 Poor Boy package, the story on Stan Brock’s training camp wheels, the and the tongue-in-cheek look at the economic impact of the Super Bowl on the Waffle House in Tampa.
Jim could turn a phrase, but he also operated with the utmost professionalism. His commentaries could take digs at local sports players, owners, coaches and GMs, but he did so without the WWE-type of incendiary commentary you find on web sites and 24-hour sports channels these days.
I had a public relations man with the Saints tell me years ago that the organization didn’t like it when Jim criticized them, but, they respected his opinion.
Then there was the time when the Saints were in the midst of their first-ever winning season in the mid 80s when owner Tom Benson began his infamous “Benson Boogie.” While most commentators were enjoying and replaying tape of the victory dance, Jim waited that Sunday evening and Monday morning and scoured the local media to make sure no one was going to take the same point of view as he was planning.
He crafted a commentary that began roughly with “How do you tell the owner of a new multi-million dollar toy not to play with it?” It was a column on why he thought the Benson Boogie was not a good idea. He was the only local to go on record against it. The next time he was out at the Saints facility, he said that Mr. Benson came over to him and he was a bit nervous as to what would be said. He told me that Benson said “I caught your piece the other day” and then he merely told Jim that he gets excited when the team is doing so well.
There was no anger, no bitterness, and if there was, it was kept in house and it was tempered with the respect for Jim’s perspective.
Jim was also unbelievably prepared for his Saints game broadcasts. He would begin putting together his charts for the next week’s game on Tuesday nights. He would scour the computer for news from the media outlets covering the next week’s opponent. He would also call a broadcaster from the other market to get the low down.
There’s a reason people “turn down the sound” on the national broadcasts and listen to Jim and Hokie, or Stan or Archie.
He had phrases ready to go, prepared for big moments that he would put in the memory bank for future use. While “Hakim dropped the ball” was at the moment, and so was, perhaps, “There is a God after all,” (the one phrase Jim took some flack for), “Pigs flying” and “Party with the Lombardi” were crafted ahead of time.
Watch some of the ESPN or NFL Films highlights that include local radio broadcasters’ calls of games. There are no one’s calls you hear used more often than Jim’s.
John Madden was so impressed with a tape Jim sent him to study for an upcoming Saints broadcast in the early 90s that the legendary color commentator recommended Jim to CBS and he spent a year doing NFL games for the network.
CBS was in town for a Final Four one year and they were using locally-produced stories to share with their nationwide affiliates. One was Jim’s classic Final Four sandwiches piece. They were so impressed that Jim and photographer extraordinaire Bob Parkinson landed a gig covering major sports events – The Masters, Final Four, Super Bowl, for all the CBS affiliates for years.
For those who didn’t know Jim personally, he was just as he appeared on the air – educated and well-written, but never condescending; funny, but never demeaning; gracious, but never self-inflated.
He is one of a kind.
And so as he prepares his tackle box for the fishing trips he’s had to put off for years and continues to call Saints games on the radio and sips from the martini glass of life, Jim’s contributions to local broadcasting can be remembered in the words from his Super Bowl winning commentary given the day after the Saints defeated the Colts.
This is such a wonderful time to be a Saints fan, a resident of New Orleans and the Gulf South. We are special. And now, thanks to the massive exposure the Saints have given us, the whole world knows.
Embrace that feeling as you embrace one another. No one can begin to understand it, to appreciate it, and to revel in it like you do.
Know Dat. Believe Dat.
Hope that we could, faith that we would, have both been realized as this wonderful feeling washes over us.
Been Dere. Done Dat. Finally.
*Tom worked with Jim Henderson for 17 years in the sports department before moving to the Internet where he has worked with Jim for 13 more.