Legendary 'Voice of the Saints' Jim Henderson announces retirement from broadcasting

Legendary 'Voice of the Saints' Jim Henderson announces retirement from broadcasting

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - If you stop and think about it. It's kind of funny how traditions come about. Take, for example, the Sunday routine for Saints fans during football season. It's not complicated.

For the past thirty years, turning down the television and turning up Jim Henderson was just something you did.

But, that, like a lot of things in our historical city, is now thing of the past.

"When you start thinking about retiring, you've really retired. And I think that's so true"' Henderson said.

It is true because Jim's been pondering retirement for a couple of years now and he is finally following through on it now, calling it quits on a broadcasting career that has spanned more than four decades.

Why now, you ask? Well, chances are we all know someone that said they knew when it was time to step away. For Henderson, the right time finally came in the middle of the Saints season, right when they were winning eight in a row, mind you. Jim felt the urge to step away at the end of the season. His thinking then was, "I've done everything professionally that I sat out to do, so why not now."

"Had I never gotten a chance to announce a Super Bowl, a winning Super Bowl, I think I would be a bit reluctant to leave hoping that this would be the year," Henderson said. "But, having done that, once you're part of that, they can never take that away.  They can never take 2009 away. They can never take those moments away, some of those calls. I'll have that fortunately because I was in that chair for the rest of my life."

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There is a lot about Henderson's life, his rise to stardom, if you will, that no one can ever take away. As a kid growing up in Rochester, New York, Jim was a multi-sport athlete, and a pretty good one, by his account: basketball, baseball, even soccer. If his school had a team, Henderson was on the roster.

"I'd always played sports and loved sports and paid attention more to the announcers than the game that I was watching. I kind of made an assessment that I was always comfortable in front of people, I had always done things in front of people being an athlete," Henderson said.

And being a musician in college, a little-known fact about Jim, he was in a couple of bands. First, The Legends, and later, Kal-De and the Showmen. They were a popular cover band in the 60s, a time when Beetle-mania was sweeping the nation and Jim and his bandmates just looked the part.

"We were just a cover band but it was great. We played all over in college the northeast. Dartmouth, Cornell, Bucknell, Williams College. It was really cool. If I look at my life, I would count three portions of it: one as an athlete, at least I thought I was in high school, then as a musician in college and then as a broadcaster afterwards," Henderson said.

In other words, Henderson knew that music was not his calling. But, his ability to put the right words together would eventually land him in and keep him in New Orleans.

He would spend the next 40 years working for two different television stations and one radio station where he eventually became The Voice of the Saints.

"I've been so fortunate, one of 32 people getting a chance to do this for over 30 years. You kind of become part of a fraternity," he said.

A fraternity that knew that once a week they had one job to do. To paint the perfect picture for those that could not make it to the game. Henderson understood that his listeners were seeing the game, not only through his eyes but also through his voice.

"Thanks for listening. Thanks for doing that because I know, initially, with Archie, we had the biggest turndown rate of any market in the country of people turning down their televisions to listen to the radio broadcast," he said.

It is that tradition I spoke of early on. Saints fans quickly got attached to Jim's game-day voice. And as his popularity in the market grew, so too did the popularity of his Monday Commentary.

"It broadened the people who'd watch me, especially from the women audience. It appealed to women to have something that was a bit more literary than maybe they were used to. It wasn't just X's and O's. I tried to bring a human side into it and the emotional side into it and speak to them as fans and tell them something perhaps they didn't know or to look down the road to something they might expect," Henderson said.

What he said on Monday brought clarity to what Saints fans saw or heard him say on the radio on Sunday. Jim's most famous calls never seemed rehearsed. Nor, did they ever seem rushed. But, they always seemed to 'fit' the moment.

"Hakeem dropped the ball" eventually led to "Pigs flying and hell freezing over" a decade later.

"I was mowing the lawn and I thought about in moments like that what would I say if the Saints ever won the Super Bowl.  There had been people in stands with pigs fly or hell freezes when the team is playing well. And I thought if the Saints ever won the Super Bowl, I would say, pigs have flown, hell has frozen over, the Saints have won the Super Bowl. Well, then when it came down to the (Garrett) Hartley kick, and it was such a climactic moment, (it) won the game and (was) such a great relief, I thought in the back of my mind, maybe I'd better not press my luck. Maybe I'd better just go ahead and use this call for whatever it's worth now. It almost became a symbol of the 2009 season," Henderson said.

Which culminated with the Saints getting ready to 'Party with the Lombardi' after winning Super Bowl XLIV.

But, since then, there has been a lot of ups and downs with the franchise, which has sometimes made Jim's everyday sports job less enjoyable.

He retired from the anchor desk five years ago. Then joined FOX 8 as a guest analyst, which included contributing to our Saints coverage. He also continued to give all of us our weekly fix with his Commentary.

But it's easy to understand why being in the Superdome's broadcast booth would give him the biggest thrill. Perched high above the crowd, Henderson still had one of the best views in the stadium. After all, he has to paint that perfect picture.

That was Jim's calling: the lead singer turned English teacher turned sports wordsmith. In a career that's spanned more than 40-years, Jim has done it all and now he is done with all of it because he says it is time.

But I wondered if the recent passing of his longtime friend and broadcast partner Hokie Gajan pushed him into retirement sooner. Turns out, it did.

"I think you're right on the money. Yeah, that was a tough time. I miss the guy so much. I think of him all the time. Especially, being on the road. His absence with the Saints. The things he would say, the takes he would have on certain things. I admired him so much and saw that struggle first hand. That changed things," Henderson said. "That kind of makes you realize your mortality maybe more so than you would."

And it left him with a welcomed decision. Wrapping up his Hall of Fame career the way he wants to. Walking away on his terms is what was most important to him.

"It was important. That's another thing I'd be proud of. You know how tough this business is and not many people leave it on their own terms and I was able to," he said.

"I have worked football weekends six months out of the year for 40 years and whatever time I have left, I need to find out what else is out there. This has been wonderful, no regrets. But it's time to turn the page," Henderson said.