That’s when he saw senior offensive tackle Chester Adams heading his way in what was the beginning of the biggest dog pile anyone around Georgia athletics can remember.
Defensive back Thomas Flowers described what Adams did to Henderson as “a frog splash,” a reference to a professional wrestling move that provides a vivid, and frightening, image of the 335-pound Adams eclipsing the 156-pound Henderson.
“I felt sorry for Mikey down there, he was about to suffocate,” Adams said. “It was scary at the bottom, everybody kept piling on top. I was telling people to get off of me, I couldn’t breathe.”
The image that kept going through Henderson’s head, the one he thought for a moment would be his last, was of a cartoon in which a falling person makes a body-shaped indention in the Earth.
“My head was stuck on the ground and all I could see was (Adams’) legs, his number and lower body,” Henderson said. “I thought I was in quicksand for a minute. I felt like I was sinking into the ground as more guys got on top, but I guess I was just sinking into my pads.”
The best guess is nearly 70 players got in on the action in some form or fashion. The most-asked question in Georgia’s locker room Monday was, “Where were you in the pile?” Henderson said.
“It was like a chain tugging everybody toward the pile,” Flowers said. “It was a great feeling.”
At one point, wide receiver Demiko Goodman was standing on top of the pile. Yes, standing.
“He took off full speed and dove all the way to the top and was on his feet, and then he dove again,” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “He spiked somebody, I’m not sure who it was.”
As head coach Mark Richt waited for his television interview after the game, a 26-23 win over Alabama that was sealed by Henderson’s 25-yard touchdown catch, he paused to take in the celebration and smiled at the sheer euphoria. Those are the moments, Richt said, football players remember most from their careers.
When NFL quarterback Brad Johnson addressed the Bulldogs several years ago, he said the dog pile was his favorite part of the game, Richt said.
“He didn’t talk about trophies or championships. He talked about the dog pile,” Richt said. “Those are the best memories, the opportunity to celebrate after a victory. There’s nothing like it.”
If there is such a thing as a dog pile historian, Opie Otterstad of Austin, Texas, would be it. Otterstad is a painter who has been commissioned by Major League Baseball to paint the official celebration portrait after each year’s World Series, and that almost always involves a large number of bodies stacked in an unruly formation. He also painted the University of Texas’ football celebration portrait after its 2006 championship.
“I certainly spend a lot of time studying dog pile photos, that’s for sure,” Otterstad said.
What made the Georgia pile unique, he said, was that it happened on a football field. The dog pile is traditionally more a baseball thing because the focus of the action is more concentrated -- a team wins a title and everybody meets at the pitchers’ mound to party.
“Usually you don’t have a dog pile situation in football because after the game everyone kind of celebrates wherever they are on the field,” Otterstad said. “There’s not usually a central area where everybody runs to.”
Several baseball players have suffered significant injuries in dog piles, including San Diego Padres pitcher Jake Peavy, who could not pitch in the 2005 playoffs after injuring his ribs in a dog pile after the team clinched its division.
Georgia made it out of the pile with only two minor injuries. Tight end Tripp Chandler suffered a thigh bruise, and offensive lineman Chris Davis suffered a slight shoulder sprain. Neither missed practice time due to their injures, but Chandler was nervous during the piling on, he said.
“I felt like my leg was about to break,” he said. “It got pretty scary there for a second.
Imagine how Georgia fans felt seeing franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford dive into the action sans helmet.
“I was in the thick of the thing,” Stafford said.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was very mindful of what can happen in the mass of humanity and didn’t participate for that reason, he said.
“Me and Kelin Johnson said, ‘We’re going this way,’” Ellerbe said. “I was directing the band. I had the whole crowd to myself.”
Henderson, though, says he wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It’ll be a memory that lasts a lifetime.
“Yeah,” he said, “since I survived.”