As sports fans, we love our local broadcasters. If you’re lucky, your favorite franchise gets blessed with a legend. Cubs fans had the late Harry Caray. The Los Angeles Dodgers had the recently retired Vin Scully. Card-carrying members of the Who Dat Nation get the privilege of hearing their NFL football games called by “The Voice of the Saints”, Jim Henderson.
Voice of the New Orleans Saints: Jim Henderson
The road that led Henderson to the Saints probably didn’t come to be in the manner most would assume. The New York native began his professional career in front of a different type of audience: students. Jim Henderson taught English for three years and it didn’t take much time for him realize this wasn’t his passion. After a short stint in the Army, Henderson would return to school, this time as a student at Syracuse University to get his Masters in Radio and Television. After Henderson worked his way through a few broadcasting opportunities, the call came from WWL in 1978 to become the play-by-play announcer for the New Orleans Saints.
While Henderson started in the English class, let’s do some math. 1978 until 2016 (inclusive) is 39 seasons (keep in mind that the Saints have only existed for 50 years).
What is the secret to Henderson’s longevity and success? What makes him such a great listen?
“I try to be faithful to the fans, Henderson said. “Obviously, we tell the game from the Saints perspective. We try to be honest in good times and in bad. I think in the long run, the thing that guarantees you an opportunity to do this for a long time is the faith of the fans. I think being honest is at the very cornerstone of that.”
Is Honesty the Best Policy?
Keeping honesty at the forefront of his professional philosophy can be great for fans, but surely not everyone enjoyed Henderson’s candid approach.
“It’s kind of funny,” Henderson shared. “You’re more so an adversary in this role sometimes, especially when you’re doing television as I was in the news as the sports director at the station. I’ve always done commentary on Mondays after games and so sometimes you can be on the wrong side of some coaches saying what you have to say. But it’s really funny, you’re an adversary while they’re coaching and then after they’re done coaching, you’re part of a fraternity to a degree and they remember you and feel that there is somewhat of a friendship.”
That fraternity and those friendships that Henderson speaks of have developed some relationships that have transcended the X’s and O’s.
“Jim Mora and I always had a good relationship,” Henderson mentioned. “He didn’t always have the greatest relationship with other people in the media.”
He also got along with Bum Philips.
“I really cut my teeth on doing this job when Bum was the head coach and I did his coach’s show,” he stated. “I learned a lot about the inner workings of a football team and egos involved and being sensitive to every aspect of a player’s personality with Bum. Bum would actually bring you into the inner circle. He was very smart about that. If he thought that perhaps you could help him or that he trusted you.”
Those relationships didn’t stop at the coaching staff. Henderson gushed about his relationship with some of the players from yesteryear.
“As far as players, (I got along with) a ton of them,” Henderson noted. “Most recently, Hokie Gajan, who was my long-standing partner and just recently passed of cancer this past April. So, Hokie, Stan Brock, Sam Mills, I mean, so many players.”
Henderson went on to speak of how the league is so different now, franchises like to have one voice coming from the organization and keep player availability at an arm’s length. But that isn’t the only reason things have changed according to Henderson.
“I’ve gotten older too,” Henderson mentioned. “These guys that I’m covering now could be my kid’s age and younger and are my kid’s age and younger. So, that kind of makes a difference. You’re not the same starry-eyed person that you were when you first got in the media. You’ve gotten a little older. You’ve put things in perspective and you realize not all of these people are the most reputable people in the world and people you’d want to regard as friends.”
Henderson on a Personal Level
As the interview progressed, conversation went to Henderson’s time with WWL. When asked what he missed most, Henderson’s response was quick and deliberate.
“The people, definitely the people,” he stated emotionally. “It really was a family. You knew where you stood. You were appreciated for what you contributed and those days for the most part in local television are gone.”
With the New Orleans Saints finishing a third straight 7-9 campaign and missing the playoffs for the fourth time in the past five years, Henderson has plenty of time to kill between now and the kickoff of the 2017 season. Where will you find him? Odds are, he’s fishing. Whether he’s casting in the mouth of the Mississippi, taking a trip to Canada with his family or enjoying a quiet afternoon on the stocked lake out his backdoor in Poplarville, Mississippi, Henderson enjoys this hobby more than any other.
Here’s to hoping that both the New Orleans Saints and Jim Henderson reel in some big ones this off-season.