Thomas Henderson: Lending a hand

Former Cowboys linebacker Thomas Henderson talks about using his experiences to inspire others in our next Where Are They Now?

Originally Published: June 11, 2007
By William Bendetson | ESPN.com

Throughout the offseason, we'll catch up with former NFL players and coaches to find out what they have been up to since leaving the game.

Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson has lived two very different lives -- the first as a talented athlete overcome by problems with alcohol and other drugs, the second as a teacher and philanthropist. Henderson, a Dallas Cowboys linebacker from 1975-1980, says he has been sober and drug-free since 1983.

"It is something I am most proud of," he said.

Henderson List
When Hollywood Henderson was asked to list his favorite linebackers of all time, he made it clear he feels he is the best linebacker ever to play the game. Henderson argues he has the best qualities of all the linebackers listed below, as he could play the nickel and cover the best receiver. With that said, here are his five favorite linebackers:

1. Seth Joyner
2. Lawrence Taylor
3. Wilber Marshall
4. Robert Brazile
5. Cornelius Bennett

Henderson, 54, who has two daughters, a grandson and a granddaughter, uses his life story to motivate others. Once a month, he lectures about overcoming drug and alcohol addiction at the Hanley Center, a large rehabilitation complex in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"I invite anyone to come who wants to," Henderson said.

The former Pro Bowler still remembers the one lesson that turned his life around. It is a lesson he tries to teach young people.

"While in recovery, I was told something very profound by a clergy member," Henderson said. "He told me, 'Without alcohol and drugs, everything is possible. With alcohol and drugs, nothing is possible.' "

Henderson, who has lived in Austin, Texas since his retirement in 1980, has done plenty of charity work through the years. In the 1990s, his nonprofit, East Side Youth Services and Street Outreach, built two football stadiums with tracks around them in Austin, the first at a high school and the second at a local park.

Thomas Henderson
AP Photo / Darwin WeigelThomas Henderson was one of the premier linebackers in the league.
Henderson agreed to fund the second project without having the money to pay for it. He slept in a tent with no food for a week and was prepared to stay in the tent as long as it took to raise the $350,000 needed.

"I told my doctor that he could put me on an IV, but I was not going to eat any food," Henderson said. "It was one of the greatest things I ever did, but it was also one of the most difficult."

Money has not been an issue since 2000, when Henderson won $28 million in the Texas lottery. He uses some of that money to maintain the athletic facilities his nonprofit helped build.

Henderson also plays a lot of golf, and he still keeps in touch with former teammates Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson and Ed "Too Tall" Jones. Henderson is very candid about his coach, Tom Landry, who died in 2000.

"I didn't always like him when I played because he was tough, but he taught me about organization, commitment and sacrifice," Henderson said.

William Bendetson is an intern for ESPN.com