William Henderson still rattles off the names like they’re members of his own family.
“Adam Timmerman, Brian Williams, Darius Holland, Antonio Freeman, Craig Newsome, and myself, and Travis Jervey, … I can’t help but be proud of it,” Henderson said.
He was listing, of course, the Packers’ 1995 draft class, considered perhaps the best of former general manager Ron Wolf’s tenure and one of the top handful of drafts in team history.
Henderson was the second of four picks made by Wolf in the third round that year. On Saturday, he’ll become the second player from that group, along with Freeman, to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
“Ron trusted us,” Henderson said of that ’95 class, which played a huge part in the Packers winning Super Bowl XXXI. “We wanted to make the position coaches who went out there and put their reputations on the line with us … we wanted to make them correct.”
Henderson did that the old-fashioned way, of course, with hard work and selfless play. A bruising fullback with soft, reliable hands and a team-first attitude the organization and its fans embraced, Henderson toiled for 12 seasons in the backfield, fighting off numerous challengers for his job.
Despite the relative anonymity of the fullback position, Henderson did compile some statistics that stand out. In the 10-year span from 1996-2005, he averaged 30 receptions for 233 yards per year and caught 14 touchdown passes. He added five rushing TDs in that time, too.
Less remembered but more symbolic of his persona was Henderson’s prowess on special teams. Even as an established veteran, he remained one of the most productive blockers and tacklers on special teams.
He reached double digits in coverage tackles four straight years toward the end of his career (2002-05), when he said he often forced his way into the huddle when the coaches wanted to give him a breather.
“There were times they tried to take me off the field because I was the only (active) fullback,” Henderson said. “They were trying to take care of the old guy, trying to preserve me for the full 16-game season, but I refused to let them take me off, because I knew I was worth more than the guys they were trying to substitute for me.”
Henderson felt the embodiment of a team victory for him came on Dec. 22, 2003, in Oakland, the night after quarterback Brett Favre’s father passed away.
“As a team player, that was one of my most memorable games,” he said. “We knew what was on the line. We knew the pressure on his shoulders. We knew he needed us, and we went out there with the intention he was not going to be denied.”
The catches Favre’s receivers made, the blocks linemen threw, the intensity with which the defense played … Henderson will never forget it.
Favre threw for 399 yards and four TDs, Ahman Green rushed for 127 yards and a score, and the Packers won going away, 41-7, to stay tied with Minnesota for first place in the NFC North.
“It was the first time ever I played in front of an Oakland Raiders crowd that by the end of the game was not chanting negatives toward the opposing team,” Henderson said. “Guys dressed in black and silver, Raider-esque masks in every way, were chanting, ‘Go Packers!’ because they understood the mission we were on.”
Freeman was the only member of the ’95 draft class still with Henderson and the Packers at that time. Fittingly, the two each caught a pass in that game.
Henderson’s reception that night was for just one yard, but he couldn’t have cared less.
“When I go back to Lambeau Field, I hope people still remember that I was all about team,” he said. “It wasn’t about me. I tried to be unselfish in the way I played. I played a position people don’t consider a glory position, and I played it to the best of my ability.”