William Henderson never planned on having a long NFL career. It’s not that the former Green Bay Packers fullback didn’t want to achieve that level of sustainable success, but it was difficult for the 66th overall pick in the 1995 draft to imagine it turning into the 12-year journey that it did.
“I came in with the desire to make enough money to go to grad school,” Henderson told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. “I just wanted to keep my student loans down and sustain myself. I had no idea I’d spend 12 years with the most storied franchise in sports. I just happened to find a niche and the Packers believed in me, and we worked well together.”
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Henderson’s niche was as a strong run-blocker who also caught a lot of passes out of the backfield. Not only did Henderson lead the way for Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Ahman Green to all run for 1,000-yard seasons, he also ranks 11th on the Packers’ all-time receptions list.
Henderson’s work helped the Packers win the Super Bowl in his first year as a starter. Achieving that ultimate team goal wasn’t what Henderson remembers most, though, about his career.
“The best moment for me, and it was a defining moment for me, was my first time meeting Reggie White in my first practice in Lambeau,” Henderson said. “Before practice, Reggie had to calm my nerves and in just a few moments helped me believe in myself to go into an NFL training camp. It was amazing, and he stayed constantly supportive and I appreciated him for it.
“It’s the locker room stuff, hanging out with Wayne Simmons and George Koonce and Keith Jackson and Don Beebe. That’s what I loved the most. These were the giants in the locker room and everyone had respect for them. So many talented people and all of them were so good at their craft and worked so hard at it.
“They played for the right reasons and wanted to make sure that if we win together, we all share in the treasure. If we go out separately to win individual accolades, only that person gets to celebrate.”
Henderson’s notable individual accomplishment during his career was being named to the 2004 Pro Bowl team (he was later inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2011), but it was Green Bay’s team success that made his career special. The Packers had only one losing season (2005) in Henderson’s 12 years with the organization.
“There was a statement we made in the locker room: ‘When we all win, we all eat,'” Henderson said. “When we won the Super Bowl, everyone benefitted from it, whereas only one or two guys got accolades when we only made it to the first round of the playoffs (in 1998).”
After Green Bay
When Henderson’s phone rang in March 2007 and the Packers’ front office was on the other end, he knew what the conversation was likely going to be about. But Henderson was ready for it.
“When the Packers told me they were going in a new direction, I was already planning my exit,” Henderson said.
The Packers released Henderson, with general manager Ted Thompson saying in a statement that the timing of the decision was to allow the then-36-year-old “to pursue other opportunities within the National Football League.”
But Henderson was never interested in extending his career beyond Green Bay.
“Everyone talks about how green the grass is on the other side, but I didn’t see it that way,” Henderson said. “Green Bay is a small market, yes. You can’t get a great meal after 10 o’clock at night. It’s not Dallas or Atlanta or New York, so it is limiting. But you knew what you were there for. I became a man in Green Bay and Wisconsin had become home for me.
“It is a very special feeling knowing that every career special moment I had happened with the Packers. I was spiritually blessed to land in Green Bay, of all places. Running through those tunnels like the Packers’ founding fathers had who did it with style and with class, I got to follow in their footsteps.
“I got a chance to play for the organization in sports, the best franchise there is.”
Henderson wanted to become a sports orthopedic surgeon. Basically, he wanted the job that Packers team doctor, Pat McKenzie, has. Henderson was originally a pre-med student when he began college at the University of North Carolina at age 18. He ended up graduating with a double-major that included physical education and sports science.
When Henderson’s football career was over, he tried to pick up where he left off more than a decade earlier.
“I went back to school to work on continuing education programs,” he said. “Anatomy, physiology, subjects like that to get myself ready to go.”
That’s when, upon doing further research, Henderson realized that he was never going to have a successful career in that field.
One simple reason was because of his age at 36 and the time it would take for him to be qualified enough to be a sports orthopedic surgeon. The bigger issue was his medical condition that resulted from his time in the NFL.
“I was diagnosed as disabled, according to the NFL doctors,” Henderson said. “The collateral ligaments in my thumb was ruptured, which won’t allow me to flex my thumb. The collateral ligaments relocated from the side of my thumb to the top side of the thumb, then scar tissue healed in and I had to have surgeries to replace them to push them to normal position, and it may not have healed properly.
“That’s one of the many things (injuries) they (the NFL doctors) found.”
Given that diagnosis, Henderson said the insurance to have a career as an orthopedic surgeon would’ve cost him more money than he could possibly earn.
“I was going to be a 50-year-old surgeon with bad thumbs, so it didn’t seem like a logical career anymore,” Henderson said.
Henderson has what is called a Line Of Duty disability. He is in the process — one which has already lasted for three years — of being re-evaluated as the NFL looks through all of his files.
So, instead of chasing that medical dream any further, Henderson stayed active in working with 150 charities throughout the state of Wisconsin.
Recently, he began running four locations of a frozen yogurt restaurant called sweetFrog. There are 240 stores nationwide but Henderson runs the Wisconsin branches in Brookfield, De Pere, Stevens Point and Whitefish Bay.
“We offer programs and groups to join us, and we’ll offer a percentage off the top to give to the charities we’re working with,” Henderson said. “Sometimes it’s to benefit a local church or all the local sports teams, or whatever people or things we can help.”
As a fan
Henderson cheers for two NFL teams. One is the Packers, the team he was loyal to as a player. The other is the Washington Redskins, the team he grew up rooting for.
“I’m a cheesehead Packers fan,” Henderson said. “I still try to show my support for the team. I’m usually somewhere around the stadium when they’re at home, and I even made one away game.
“But I grew up with (former Redskins players) Art Monk and John Riggins. The only jersey I have hanging up in my house is John’s. I don’t even have my own up.”
Henderson’s permanent residence is in Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C. So if the Packers and Redskins are playing at the same time on a Sunday afternoon, Henderson has a difficult time choosing which game to watch.
Most important to Henderson, though, is sitting back and watching any game in the league that brought him 12 years of life-long memories.
“I just try to enjoy being a football fan,” Henderson said.