WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — On this postcard perfect Sunday morning, Jim Henderson and Hokie Gajan are having an animated discussion over whether Wu-Tang Clan or Lil Wayne was the better choice of the musical selection to drown out the chimes coming from a nearby church as the Saints warm up in the early part of practice at the Greenbrier.
No, not really.
But there’s little else the Saints’ radio broadcast team won’t find to talk about during their 26-day sojourn as the team goes though training camp here for the second year.
There are stories of training camps past, wins and losses, players both prominent and obscure, road trip experiences and just about anything else under the sun.
“There’s a lot of things that come up I’ve totally forgotten,” said Gajan, who joined Henderson in the booth in 2000 after a career as a Saints player and scout that dates to 1981, when the former LSU running back was the team’s 10th-round draft choice. “I’d like to tell you some of them, but I’ve forgotten them again.”
Added Henderson, who has been the voice of the Saints since 1986, “Most of the time we don’t have to tell the whole story. Just going to the punch line usually sums up the situation.”
The best part of that time may just be the two days of driving in Henderson’s Toyota Tundra, accompanied by WWL colleague Deke Bellavia, to get here and then going home.
As was the case last year, they made it to Sevierville, Tennessee, on the first day, leaving them an easy four hours from here. After the Saints practice with New England on Aug. 20, they’ll go back to Sevierville and then finish the journey the next day, getting home in plenty of time for the Saints-Patriots exhibition on Aug. 22.
“It’s not an easy place to fly to anyway,” Henderson said. “And the drive home helps us formulate our ideas about how the team is doing to do.” (Saints fans might not want to hear them, but they’re below.)
Needless to say there’s not yet been a need to liven up things with music or talk radio.
Gajan does most of the driving, a leftover from his 15 years as a scout (“I got lost so much I learned how to be a good driver.”) Henderson always has his Saints media guide handy to settle any disputes over things like who was the Saints leading receptions leader in 1984 (Hokie with 35).
But Jim and Hokie aren’t here to enjoy the scenery, the football or even each other’s company.
They’re working, although while Gajan is taking part in WWL’s daily four-hour post-practice shows, Henderson is basically here on his own time.
He’s a meticulous note-taker, especially concerning the Saints players who likely won’t be around when the season begins. That’s because they’ll be seeing most of the action in the first two exhibition games.
“I really try to immerse myself in the team while I’m up here,” Henderson said. “I can’t learn enough about the team reading blogs or seeing highlights.”
Gajan’s notetaking may surpass Henderson’s.
And what both see so far has them far less optimistic than this time last year when the Saints were being touted as Super Bowl contenders.
“I have a lot of concerns about the offense,” Gajan said. “They lost a lot of receiving yards in Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, and Sentavious Jones, Brandon Coleman and Josh Hill aren’t exactly household names.
“The only thing I’m confident about is quarterback, running back, and believe it or not, the secondary. Your front seven needs somebody that opposition needs to know where he is every play, and this team doesn’t have one of those guys.”
Added Henderson, “I’m worried as hell. There are so many questions to be answered, and it’s unlikely they will be in the affirmative.
“We lost 22 sacks over the last two seasons by cutting Junior Galette, and there’s not much of a pass rush besides him. And Junior Galette was a unique talent, especially in the red zone. I don’t know how you replace that.”
But even with the gloomy assessments, Jim and Hokie continue to enjoy the strong bond Saints fans have with WWL. “Turn down the sound and turn up Saints radio” is as relevant now as it was when the team seemingly always got the worst TV broadcast teams, mainly because the Saints were the dregs of the NFL.
“We know how much our broadcasts mean to the fans,” Henderson said. “That’s why we’re up here.”
So, guys, please get home safely.