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John DeShazier: Jim Henderson, New Orleans Saints will always be linked

Longtime WWL Radio play-by-play man retiring while he's still at the top of his game

The problem is that we aren't quite ready. And, maybe, that's what makes it the very best time.

Regardless of whether we are, "Hondo" is, and of course that trumps everything else. Jim Henderson was the New Orleans Saints' radio play-by-play announcer from 1986 until today, and he velvet-voiced Saints fans through some of the most trying, and almost all of the most triumphant, occasions in franchise history.

Few men better have had command of the language, and fewer have been able to convey it in such a manner as to mesmerize listeners, to become their guides, to become the friend who sits on the couch and watches each and every game with them without fail, even though his couch was a radio booth, sometimes thousands of miles away.

So, heaven knows, after 31 seasons of the Picasso-like painting of football pictures with his words, the man knew best when it was time for him to lay down the headset. Often, he painted those pictures for people who couldn't attend games, but sometimes he did it even for those who could watch, but preferred to turn down the volume on their television and turn up the knob on the radio because Jim was the preference over some guy on TV who didn't really "know" the Saints.

Having called New Orleans' games for nearly half of his 70 years, he certainly earned the right to give the play-by-play on that.

But we weren't ready for the announcement. Not just yet. Not when we know that he still has great reps left in him.

"Congratulations to you, but I really think it's condolences to the rest of us," Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis told Henderson on WWL Radio. "You have absolutely been the best at what you do for a long period of time.

"I can't tell you how much we appreciate the job you have done for us and the support you have given us."

Typical of Hondo, he didn't want a fuss to be made over the announcement and, as usual, he's right. A monumental to-do would've been made all season if he'd told us, prior to training camp, that 2017 would be his last season. (Psst, Jim, we're still going to make a fuss over you, a really big one to match to the tribute you've earned, just so you know. You can't run from the love. We'll drag you away from your fishing hole in order to do it.)

But that's not Hondo.

Bells, whistles, tributes, fawning?


"I didn't want to make a big deal about it," Henderson said on WWL Radio. "It's all about the team. It's all about the fans. It's all about what transpires on the football field on Sunday afternoons.

"I didn't want to detract from that and I didn't want it too soon, and I didn't want to do it in the final game of the season because it's all about the game."

It's a game that has been good to Henderson, for sure. As a longtime sports director at WWL-TV and significant contributor later at WVUE-TV, the Saints are linked to his identity.

But let the record show that, at worst, the ledger is balanced and possibly, the game may have an outstanding balance when it comes to the Henderson account.

It's not just the iconic, and breathless, "Pigs have flown! Hell has frozen over! The Saints are on their way to the Super Bowl!" call that we'll remember and treasure. The highs are the easily identifiable marks.

Just as much or more, it was the charm and wit with which he entertained during the 3-13 seasons, and informed during the 13-3 years. It was the way he warmly wrapped an arm around the Saints' shoulder pads when the occasion warranted, and grabbed them by the face mask for an even-tempered chewing out when necessary.

You'd never know he received the Distinguished Journalism Award from the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, or that he was honored with the Joe Gemelli "Fleur-De-Lis" Award in 2012, awarded to a person who has contributed to the betterment of the Saints organization. Chest-thumping wasn't his thing, either; he was a master of self-deprecation.

But the truth is, he has earned too many honors to list here, and there's a pretty good chance that he still has the work ethic and the pipes to earn more. But…

"It's time," he said. "This is a good year to go out.

"I will miss our Saints Radio broadcast team; I will miss calling the games. But I'm looking forward to experiencing Saints football purely as a fan."

We're going to miss him, too. Because we weren't ready.

Sure, there were signs he was slowing and we knew it couldn't last forever. Father Time remains undefeated, on every battlefield.

But, selfishly, we wanted more. I wanted more.

The fact that Hondo will leave us that way probably is the best way to leave us. Probably, that's the way all the great ones should exit the stage.

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