Henderson will rank among greats

Fourth in a series on Packers' retired numbers and players who should receive consideration for that honor.

Super Bowl XXXI grows smaller in the rear-view mirror; the links to the current teams are few and far between.

Only four players remain from that championship season: Brett Favre, Marco Rivera, Mike Flanagan and William Henderson. Favre's number will never be worn by another Packer. Are any of the others worthy of that honor, or are their accomplishments more a matter of longevity than legend?

For quietly carrying the revitalized Packer running game on his back for a decade, fullback William Henderson should be recognized as one of the all-time great players. Henderson refers to himself as a glorified guard. That work ethic is a perfect fit alongside the tireless contributors already honored.

In the case for retiring No. 33, I present as evidence Ahman Green and Dorsey Levens.

Running behind Henderson, Packer running backs have compiled six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Green accomplished the feat in 2000-2004, while Levens got the string started in 1999. Levens also did it in 1997. The thousand-yard marks weren't cheap, either. Henderson blocked the backs' way to five of the top seven spots in Packer single-season rushing history, including Green's record-setting 1,883 yards in 2003.

The 2003 effort gave Henderson the NFL record, and the 2004 campaign made his accomplishment even better with a consecutive-years streak. Henderson had been tied with Howard Griffith and Richie Anderson as the only FBs to block for a 1,000 in five seasons.

When coach Mike Holmgren instituted his West Coast offense here in 1992, his Packers averaged just 96 yards per game over the next four seasons. Enter rookie William Henderson, who recovered from off-season arthroscopic knee surgery to become a starter in the final game of the 1995 campaign. With Hendu in place as the starter in 1996, the Packers' run production jumped more than 25 percent - from 89.3 to 114.7 yards per game. In the playoffs and Super Bowl XXXI, Henderson helped the Pack to a punishing 151.7 rushing average.

Ironically, the man Henderson had to beat out for the starting fullback role ended up benefiting greatly from No. 33 taking his job. Levens lost the fullback spot but gained another role after Edgar Bennett tore his Achilles tendon. Henderson helped make sure Levens' new assignment was a better fit.

Versatility is another of Henderson's strengths. He is a rarity as an NFL veteran starter who still contributes regularly to special teams. He is also a threat at receiver. In 2002 he became the first Packer fullback to reach 200 catches. In 2004 added 34 catches to bring his total to 278, passing Levens (271) and Gerry Ellis (267) on the team's all time list of receptions by a running back. Meanwhile, teammate Green edged past Henderson for the top spot with 282. They'll continue to battle for the team record this season.

Character counts in each discussion of Packers worthy of consideration for a retired number. Henderson aces this category. He is one of the most active Packers in service to the community. Included on the long and varied list is Henderson's Heroes, an project which brings disadvantaged children from Milwaukee to a Packer game at Lambeau Field; Henderson's Gifts from the Heart, a Christmas party for underprivileged children; service to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, American Red Cross, Special Olympics, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Leukemia Society and many more organizations; plus trips to visit troops in the Middle East and to Puerto Rico to assist with teammate Marco Rivera's youth football clinic.

For all his service efforts, Henderson was selected as the city of Green Bay's "Unsung Hero." That's a perfect fit for the quiet fullback who has put his team's running game back in gear for a decade.

Next: Final installment - What about Lombardi?

Editor's note: Laura Veras Marran grew up in Green Bay, Wis., and is a longtime sportswriter. Her column will appear regularly on PackerReport.com.

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