To watch Henderson at work is to watch one of the games' ultimate team players. Need a key block? Just follow him through the hole. Short yardage? Feed him the rock. Throw him the ball on third down and he'll likely get you a fresh set. He even plays special teams, returning the occasional kick or notching a tackle. How many eight-year starters do that? And if the Packers ever needed an emergency linebacker, you can bet he'd probably be glad to do that, too. That's just who he is. As if that weren't enough, he's also an articulate, intelligent team leader and a mentor to Green Bay's younger players.
That said, it seems unfathomable that just five weeks ago Green Bay was shopping his services around as trade bait to the Texans, Rams and Giants. But back in August, all eyes were on newly acquired fullback Nick Luchey, a 26-year old, 270-pound bruiser from the Cincinnati Bengals. At the time, the attention was well deserved.
For all the hype surrounding training camp battles between Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson at receiver and Antuan Edwards and Marques Anderson at safety, Henderson-Luchey was the only clash that really lived up to its billing.
On more than one occasion, Luchey crashed through the offensive line and had defenders landing on their backs with legs kicking in the air like so many cockroaches. Luchey was tabbed as the fullback of the future when Green Bay signed him, but it looked like the future and the present were headed on a collision course.
Money was one factor. Henderson counts $987,500 toward this year's salary cap, while Luchey's $715,333 has him getting paid like a starter. All told, the team has $1.703 million tied up in the position for 2003. Henderson's age, and the ability of Najeh Davenport to play fullback in a pinch also entered the equation, as did Henderson's uncharacteristic fumbles during the summer. Suddenly, he seemed expendable.
Operative word there is "seemed." And the Packers should count their blessings that the Texans, Rams and Giants all passed on the chance to have Henderson in their starting lineup. Luchey's time will come. But it isn't here yet. And if there was any doubts about Henderson's talents during the preseason, Green Bay's contests against the Cardinals and Bears have put that to rest.
Against Arizona, Henderson was one of the only bright spots, with three catches for a team-high 47 yards. One of those grabs was a 22-yarder that set up a Ryan Longwell field goal and gave Green Bay their only lead of the game at 10-7. In Chicago, Green put up the eye-popping yardage, but Henderson contributed to nearly every facet of the Packers 38-23 victory.
In addition to his usual blocking duties (including a third-and-one block that Green ran behind for a 32-yard gain), Henderson returned the opening kickoff for 15 yards, hauled in four passes for 47 yards (Donald Driver led the team with 4-50), had a sweet catch-and-run that put Green Bay up 24-3 and then made the stop on the ensuing kickoff. Henderson also got his number called on a fake field goal, nearly reaching the first down marker.
In typical Henderson fashion, he couldn't have cared less about his own performance. All that mattered was the fact that his team won.
"We needed to get one on the road," Henderson said. "It's important for us to get some things established. Right now we're .500. It's a long season. We're not feeling we're successful right now, we're feeling that we're just trying to get ourselves on the right track. We've got a big game coming up next week. We're going to sacrifice and enjoy this win for the night, but tomorrow everybody is going to be back to business."
With Mike Holmgren and the Seattle Seahawks coming to town, it's easy to smile and be thankful for the lopsided trade that sent defensive back Fred Vinson to Eddie Vedder-ville and brought Green to Lombardi-land. But four games into the season, Packer fans should be equally grateful for a trade involving Henderson that never occurred.
(W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and longtime contributor to the Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column each Thursday.)