Thomas Henderson (American football)

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Thomas Henderson
refer to caption
Henderson signs autographs in Houston in January 2014.
No. 56
Personal information
Born: (1953-03-01) March 1, 1953 (age 66)
Austin, Texas
Height:6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Weight:221 lb (100 kg)
Career information
High school:Oklahoma City (OK) Douglass
NFL Draft:1975 / Round: 1 / Pick: 18
Career history
 * Offseason and/or practice squad member only
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Player stats at
Player stats at PFR

Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson (born March 1, 1953) is a former American football linebacker in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Oilers, and Miami Dolphins. He played college football for Langston University.

Early years[edit]

Henderson was raised by his teenage mother on the east side of Austin, Texas and played football for the L. C. Anderson High School "B" team until his sophomore year (1969), when he moved to Oklahoma City to live with his grandmother and find a more stable environment.

Although as a senior he earned All-City honors playing defensive end at Douglass High School, he was not recruited by colleges because his career had been shortened after having to sit out his junior year after transferring. After graduation Henderson joined the Air Force, but quit before being sworn in.

College career[edit]

Henderson would eventually walk-on at the NAIA Langston University. His personality earned him the nickname "Wild Man" and helped him become a two-time small-college All-America defensive end.[1] As a senior, he was named Southwest district Defensive Player of the Year. He also practiced track and field.

In 2002, he was inducted into the Langston University Athletic Hall of Fame.

Professional career[edit]

Dallas Cowboys[edit]

Henderson was selected in the first round (18th overall) of the 1975 NFL Draft, as part of the Dallas Cowboys Dirty Dozen draft. He made his mark on special teams during his first two years, until becoming a starter at strongside linebacker 1977. He was selected to the Pro Bowl at the end of the 1978 season. Henderson gave himself the nickname "Hollywood" for his flamboyant play and high-visibility lifestyle.

"Hollywood" was such a good athlete that the Cowboys used him to run reverses on kickoffs, returning one for a touchdown. He helped lead the Cowboys to one Super Bowl. Lawrence Taylor, perhaps the greatest player ever at the position, said that he was inspired to wear 56 because it was Henderson's number.[2]

Before Super Bowl XIII he started a war of words against the Pittsburgh Steelers, that ended up with him sharing a Newsweek magazine cover with quarterback Terry Bradshaw.[3]

However, Henderson's destructive lifestyle of drugs and alcohol began to catch up with him. During many games, he snorted liquid cocaine from an inhaler he hid in his pants.[4] The final straw came in 1979 against the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium. While his team was being soundly beaten 34–20 on national television, Henderson mugged for the camera and displayed handkerchiefs with the Cowboys team logo. When interviewed about it, he blamed teammate Preston Pearson, saying that Pearson had asked him to show off the handkerchiefs, which Pearson was marketing, as a favor. Coach Tom Landry was so angered by the episode that after threatening to waive him, he instead deactivated Henderson for the remainder of the season by placing him on the reserve-retired list. According to sources close to the team, Landry did not intend for Henderson to ever play for the Cowboys again, even though the coach was still personally fond of Henderson.[5][6]

San Francisco 49ers[edit]

On May 15, 1980, he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a fourth round draft choice (#91-Scott Pelluer).[7] However, he was waived after only playing one game. Henderson believed that 49ers coach Bill Walsh unloaded him because he suspected he was addicted to cocaine.[8]

Houston Oilers[edit]

On September 24, 1980, he signed as a free agent with the Houston Oilers.[9] He played in only six games because of a hamstring injury and played in the Oilers playoff loss to Raiders in 1980. He was not signed for the 1981 season. After leaving the Oilers, he became one of the first football players to publicly admit to a drug problem, and with the help of the NFL, he signed himself into a drug rehabilitation program.[8]

Miami Dolphins[edit]

On June 10, 1981, Henderson signed with the Miami Dolphins,[10] but suffered what proved to be a career-ending neck injury in the final preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.[11] On August 31, he was placed on the injured reserve list and was not re-signed after the season.[12]

Personal life[edit]

In November 1983, Henderson was arrested for doing cocaine with two teenage girls in California. He was accused of threatening them with a gun and sexually assaulting one of them. He claimed that he gave them drugs in exchange for consensual sex. Henderson had no history of assaults or sexual misconduct prior to the 1983 incident. He pleaded no contest to the charges and entered a treatment center and remained there for seven months before his 28 months in prison. He states that "Hollywood" died on November 8, 1983, and he has remained clean and sober ever since.

Henderson made the news again in 2000 by winning the Lotto Texas US$28 million jackpot. He started a charity (East Side Youth Services & Street Outreach) and has made major donations to the East Austin community where he grew up. He currently gives motivational speeches and sells videos of his anti-drug seminars (HHH 56 Investments Ltd.). When asked by The Dallas Morning News what he does every day having won the lottery, Henderson responded, "Not a damn thing, and I don't start that until after lunch."[13] He is the father of two daughters and five grandchildren. Henderson says crack cocaine was his downfall, and that embarrassing his mother, family and friends ultimately changed him. He is now retired and lectures across America.[14] As of November 8, 2013 Henderson reportedly had been clean and sober for 30 years.


  • Out of Control: Confessions of an NFL Casualty by Thomas Henderson and Peter Knobler (1987) (ISBN 0-399-13264-3)
  • In Control: The Rebirth of an NFL Legend by Thomas Henderson and Frank Luksa (2004) (ISBN 0-9759890-0-6)


  1. ^ "My, How You Do Run On And On". CNN. 1979-01-29.
  2. ^ Harvey, Randy (2000-03-28). "It's Real Hollywood Ending for Transformed Henderson". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ Roza, Greg (2003). Terry Bradshaw (First ed.). New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. p. 71. ISBN 0-8239-3609-0. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  4. ^ "Hollywood Henderson Went Through Hell and Lived to Tell About It" Los Angeles Times, September 7, 1987
  5. ^ "Sports Transactions". Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  6. ^ ""Hollywood" sorry but won't beg Landry". Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  7. ^ "Sports Transactions". Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Hollywood high". Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  9. ^ "Hollywood Joins Oilers". Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  10. ^ "Transactions". Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  11. ^ "Hollywood Will Return". Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  12. ^ "Transactions". Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  13. ^ "Lore of the Ring", Dallas Morning News'
  14. ^ "Thomas Henderson's odyssey is a tale made for Hollywood," Las Vegas Sun, April 3, 2011

External links[edit]