The pigs are in the pen.

Hell has thawed.

Jim Henderson is on his way to retirement.

The soundtrack of the New Orleans Saints will be narrated by a new voice next season. After bringing every play to life for the past three decades during radio broadcasts, Henderson announced Thursday he is stepping down as the team's play-by-play announcer.

In a market that is leery of outsiders, and where you attended high school is an important question, the 71-year-old Henderson arrived here in 1978 and managed to become a local icon, one as well known and revered as the players he covered.

But, he said, it is time to move on to something else. And like his career, he found a way to step away in an eloquent manner, making the announcement on WWL-AM.

"I didn't want to make a big deal about it. It's all about the team," Henderson said during the appearance. "It's all about the fans. It's all about what transpires on the football field on Sunday afternoons. I didn't want to detract from that and I didn't want it too soon, and I didn't want to do it in the final game of the season, because it's all about the game."

Related

Known for his eloquence and way with words, Henderson, who grew up in Ontario, New York, arrived in town as the sports director at WWL-TV, succeeding quintessential New Orleanian “Hap” Glaudi. He got his first taste of calling Saints games when he moved into the booth to serve as an analyst for preseason games during the 1982 season.

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Radio announcers Hokie Gajan, left and Jim Henderson walk together from the parkng lot before the Saints' morning Training Camp practice Sunday in White Sulphur Springs, WV.

In 1986, he took over as the play-by-play announcer on radio broadcasts. He later teamed up with analyst Hokie Gajan, a former Saints star who died from cancer in 2016, and then worked the past two seasons alongside former Saints running back Deuce McAllister.

A search for Henderson’s replacement will begin soon.

While he was considered a local treasure, Henderson also built a national profile by covering other sporting events throughout his career, including the Masters, Major League Baseball, boxing and several Super Bowls. He retired from WWL-TV in 2012 but continued working in TV with WVUE.

When he retired from WWL, Henderson did so with the idea that he would work four more years before stepping away completely. But after the Saints went 7-9 for the third time in a row, he wanted to come back for one more season and end on a higher note. He found that mark with this year's team.

“In the course of this season, in the course of the eight-game winning streak, I really became enamored with this football team and the city buying back into it," he said during his announcement on WWL Radio. "I thought it would be the best way to go out. I don’t want to stay too long when it becomes a drudgery. It never has been. It’s been a privilege.”

Before getting into broadcasting, Henderson served in the Army and worked as an English teacher.

Some of his calls throughout the years have become as iconic as the moments themselves. After Garrett Hartley hit the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship game that sent the Saints to the 2009 Super Bowl, he proclaimed: “It’s good. Pigs have flown. Hell has frozen over. The Saints are on their way to the Super Bowl.”

Related

The call quickly began showing up on T-shirts and will forever be remembered by Saints fans, much like Henderson himself.

Last June, he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as the 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for Sports Journalism. He is also a 13-time winner of the Louisiana Sportscaster of the Year award.

"Jim, congratulations to you. But, honestly, it's condolences to the rest of us," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. "Between the end of the game in Minnesota and (Pelicans star) Boogie (Cousins) getting hurt and now you retiring, I don't know if I can take more news like this."

Henderson got his start working in Panama City, Florida, and later moved onto a job at WSB in Atlanta before arriving in New Orleans. In a profile written for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association last year, Henderson said that he never planned to stick around and initially viewed this as a pit stop.

He didn’t know anyone in the city. He had no ties to it. His goal was to come here for a year and move onto something bigger and better. He was initially treated the same way by fans. Locals were not happy that Glaudi, who was beloved by many, had retired, and some picketed Henderson during his first week on the job.

Nearly four decades later, some might want to picket his retirement, and he’ll leave a shadow even longer than the one he eventually eclipsed.

Some might say he was the unlikeliest hero of all.

Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​

Outbrain