One of Dallas Linebacker Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson's many prophecies about the Super Bowl was that Dallas would score 31 points. Henderson was right, of course. As for how many points he thought the Steelers would score, Hollywood said he was "thinking goose egg." Hollywood was wrong, of course—by 35 points.
Henderson's verbiage spewed forth nonstop all last week, and not by accident. Self-promotion has always been his game; in fact, it was he who gave himself the nickname Hollywood. "It's time to talk and I'm talking," Henderson said upon his arrival in Florida. "Do you want another one of those dumb football players who says, 'Uh, we're going out there, uh, and we're going to play as hard as we can, uh?' I'm doing everybody a favor. I'm getting some people to hate me. I'm getting some people to love me. I'm getting some excitement going around here."
That he did. While Dallas Coach Tom Landry put the press to sleep with his explanations of the Flex Defense, and while Pittsburgh Quarterback Terry Bradshaw talked about his wife's ice-skating career, the 25-year-old Henderson became the darling of large portions of the media simply by refusing to zip his lip. For those enamored with loudmouths, Henderson's harangues were the best thing that happened to Super Bowl week since that night in 1969 when another loudmouth flat out guaranteed that the 18-point underdog New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts.
Henderson said that "Bradshaw's so dumb he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the 'c' and the 'a.' " Noting that Steeler Linebacker Jack Lambert no longer has his two front teeth, Henderson called him "Dracula" one day and "a toothless chimpanzee" the next. Henderson wrote off Randy Grossman, Pittsburgh's starting tight end in the absence of injured Bennie Cunningham, as "a backup...who only plays when someone dies or breaks a leg or something." And Henderson thought that Steeler Defensive End L. C. Greenwood had some nerve calling himself "Hollywood Bags"—whatever that means—when the "whole world knows there is only one Hollywood in the NFL—me."
January 29, 1979
At times Henderson even chided the media he was courting. When reporters addressed him as Tom, he always corrected them with "Thomas." Why? "I have a niece and I don't want her to grow up calling me 'Uncle Tom.' "
Henderson doesn't try to hide the motive for his loquacity; he hopes that his motorized mouth will help him become a household name and, better still, a hot commercial property. ("But I haven't even heard from Oscar Mayer yet," he says.)
Indeed, money is the root of Thomas Henderson's football career. Raised in poverty in Austin, Texas, Henderson says he took up football because he was "broke and had to try to figure out something to do to make money." He was a walk-on at Langston University, near Oklahoma City, and even then he was brash.
According to one story, Henderson used to meet the buses bringing opposing teams to Langston, board them and announce, "I'm Thomas Henderson and I'm gonna kick your butts." Says a Langston coach, "Thomas was such a big shot that even his own guys were taking cheap shots at him in practice." Another story involves a Sammy Davis Jr. performance at Langston when Henderson was a student. After the show, Henderson presented Davis with an autographed picture of Thomas Henderson.
The Cowboys made Henderson a surprise No. 1 draft choice in 1975, but in his first two years he did not live up to his self-promotion. "I wasn't smart," he says. "I was cocky. I knew they wouldn't cut me, because I was a No. 1 draft choice, so I didn't work. I didn't care. I couldn't count the number of times I fell asleep in meetings. And I had trouble with the Cowboy system. At Langston we just played a '5-2, Sic 'em,' but the Cowboys had a Britannica playbook."
Last season Henderson finally began to apply himself. He won the strong side linebacker job in training camp, and later was rewarded with a lucrative five-year contract.
In the disciplined Cowboy system, Henderson is the least consistent linebacker, but he often comes up with big plays, as he did on Sunday when he helped fellow linebacker Mike Hegman strip the ball from Bradshaw, Hegman running it in for a Dallas touchdown and a short-lived 14-7 lead.
Henderson is not, as he claims, the game's best linebacker, but he isn't as bad as Steeler Coach Chuck Noll implied when Noll answered a question about Henderson's boasts by saying, "Empty barrels make the most noise."
The bottom line on Henderson is that he made the Pro Bowl squad this season, and voting for the teams is done by NFL players and coaches, not the public or members of the press.
Henderson played a commendable game against the Steelers, and also exchanged heated words with both Franco Harris and Mean Joe Greene; on a play following Harris' discussion with Henderson on the general subject of hitting after the whistle, Harris burst up the middle on his 22-yard touchdown run.
Afterward, Henderson held court for the last time. He said he had worked so hard against the Steelers that he felt "on the verge of a heart attack." To prove how physical he had been, he displayed two badly swollen hands. Trouble was, the hands were swollen because Hollywood had taped his wrists too tightly.