Call him what you like -- immature, undisciplined, a braggart, a flake, a clown -- but don't call him stupid, yet. Thomas Henderson could be the one who flew over the Dallas Cowboy cuckoo's nest.

"I don't think anyone else has ever been in my position to take advantage of everything the Cowboys have to offer," Henderson said. "I exploited the Dallas Cowboys for my personal gains. I beat them at their own game. I didn't let them use me up. I built the monster named Hollywood and they just couldn't handle it."

Down here they refer to the Cowboys as America's team. They're always in the playoffs and on national television. Their ideals supposedly reflect those of middle America, and that is the image the Cowboys like.

Henderson, who gave himself the nickname Hollywood, is not America's player, however. And even though he is no longer a Cowboy, at age 26 he still may have the last laugh.

Henderson perhaps had gotten all he wanted out of football. It may have been time to move on.

If there is one thing the Cowboys seem to lack, it is individual personalities. That's one thing Henderson brought to them.

"If ever a guy had 'I don't fit in with the system' written all over him, it was Thomas," said a former teammate said. "At one time or another he made everybody laugh, except Tom Landry. (Tony) Dorsett is probably the next one to go if he doesn't wise up. The only difference between Tony and Thomas is that Tony is tolerble."

In professional sports, a battle between individuals and the system usually is won by the system. In a nutshell, that is why Henderson is no longer a Cowboy.

To management, professional sports is a serious business, not a game and not a vehicle for a particular player to enhance his personal image.

If that should happen in the natural course of events, fine, but if it happens at the expense of the team, that player generally is doomed.

Henderson thinks he was as much a performer as he was a football player, though, and the Cowboys gave him the stage he couldn't have gotten otherwise.

"It's obvious that building Hollywood was my ticket," Henderson said, "because I knew this day was coming, whether I got beat out, limped out or was carried out.

"It felt like the weight of the world was off me when Landry said he was going to releae me. Now is a chance to see if Thomas Henderson can make it in the real world. I've been preparing for this for quite a while."

Henderson admits that he was hurt when Landry called him into his office Monday and told him he was going to put him on waivers.

Instead of going on waivers so that he could have been picked up by any other NFL team, Henderson voluntarily retired, a move he says is permanent. o

"I don't think I'll play any more," he said. "Football was my life, but there is a life after life.

"I'm relieved. I don't have to act like a Dallas Cowboy any more and listen to Tom Landry dictate to me. It was always his way or else. But I don't dislike him. He is a very kind-hearted man and he has a lot of understanding. I think he has some affection for me because he wanted to salvage my ability despite my personality.

"I never dreamed I'd be cut, though. I thought I might get fined, benched or suspended or something.

"I lost my job simply because I was being myself. I couldn't go in there and say I was going to give up Hollywood and become just plain old Thomas Henderson, football player. That isn't me.

Ironically, Henderson probably is bigger right now than at any time in his five-year NFL career, which included appearances in three Super Bowls and a Pro Bowl.

Henderson, who picked the name Hollywood because that's where he wants to end up, has appeared in various commercials and says he is thinking about going to Europe to make some movies. In the last week, he has appeared on the Tomorrow show with Tom Snyder, and the halftime shows of the Thanksgiving Day games on both NBC and CBS. He said he hag gotten a call from "Johnny Carson's people" and there has been interest in him as a color commentator for NFL games.

"I know the game of football and I'm objective. I think I'd be a good color man," Henderson said. "With my intelligence, articulation and antics, I'd be great."

During last offseason, Henderson hired a Hollywood agent and formed his own promotional firm called Hollywood 56 Productions Inc.

Henderson is a showman, no doubt, and his outgoing personaltiy makes him stick out all that much more when compared to stoic Cowboys.

"I created dissension because I was a star," Henderson added. "I couldn't help that. I'd be standing next to Dorsett or (Roger) Staubach and people would say, 'Hey, Hollywood,' and ignore them."

Henderson was replaced on the Cowboy roster by kick returner Wade Manning, and Henderson's place in the starting lineup went to Mike Hegman.

In their first game without Henderson, Thursday, the Cowboys lost to Houston, 30-24. It was their third straight defeat and dropped them out of first place in the NFC East for the first time this season.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Henderson was the strong-side linebacker, meaning he always lined up on the numberical superior side of the offense's formation. Speed and quickness were his biggest assets.

Henderson admitted that he was often late for meetings and practices, and that, compounded with his personality, contributed to Landry's decision to let him go. "I can't say I was a perfect player," he said. "I didn't fit into the organization, so they cut me."

Landry said the move was made because Henderson wasn't playing well enough to start and he didn't think Henderson "could function on the bench. It would have been hard for him to handle a second-string role. His ego is such that he needs to start," Landry added. "I difinitely thought it would affect the team with him on the sidelines."

Henderson says the last straw, though Landry denies it, was the player's behavior on the sidelines during the Cowboys' 34-20 loss a week ago to the Redskins at RFK Stadium.

While his teammates were being knocked around the field, Henderson smiled and mugged in front of a sideline television camera, pointing to a Dallas bandana hanging from his waist and lifting a finger in the air signaling No. 1.

Henderson later said he was wearing the bandana as a favor for teammate Preston Pearson, who was trying to sell them.

Henderson's teammates have been fairly silent on his dismissal.

Linebacker D. D. Lewis, however, said the Cowboys are better off without Henderson.

"There is so much intimidation that nobody is going to say much in my support," Henderson said. "But I understand."

Henderson appeared on a local television show Thursday before the Dallas-Houston game and, when asked if there was any last thing he wanted to say to the Dallas fans, he said:

"It's not what you say, but how you say it. I could say this whole thing was racially motivated, or I could blaspheme and talk about the organization, but no, not me. Hollywood was born here and he died here. I always want to be remembered as a Dallas Cowboy, and I'll always be pulling for them."