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Billy Sims

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No. 20
Position: Running back
Personal information
Date of birth: (1955-09-18) September 18, 1955 (age 60)
Place of birth: St. Louis, Missouri
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Career information
High school: Hooks (TX)
College: Oklahoma
NFL draft: 1980 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career Template:If empty statistics
Rushing yards: 5,106
Average: 4.5
Touchdowns: 42
Stats at

Billy Ray Sims (born September 18, 1955) is a former American college and professional football player who was a running back in the National Football League (NFL) for five seasons during the 1980s. Sims played college football for the University of Oklahoma, where he was a two-time consensus All-American, and won the Heisman Trophy in 1978. He was the first overall pick in the 1980 NFL Draft, and played professionally for the NFL's Detroit Lions. Sims was the last Oklahoma player taken Number 1 overall in the NFL Draft until quarterback Sam Bradford was taken first in the 2010 NFL Draft.[1][2] He was given the nickname "Kung Fu Billy Sims" by ESPN's Chris Berman, after a game where the Detroit Lions played the Houston Oilers. In the NFL Films highlight, rather than be tackled during a rushing attempt, Sims ran at, jumped, and, while fully airborne, kicking Oilers Cornerback Steve Brown in the head.[3]

Early years

Sims was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but in the eighth grade he moved to Hooks, Texas, to live with his grandmother. Sims initially played baseball and grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan. He showed no interest in football until moving to Texas.[1] In three years of varsity football at Hooks High School, he rushed 1,128 times (a state record at the time, currently second behind Robert Strait) for 7,738 yards, including 441 carries in 1973 (another state record at the time, currently tied for second behind Ketric Sanford). Sims currently holds the state record for most consecutive games with 100 yards or more, 38 (1972–1974).

College career

Sims attended the University of Oklahoma, where he played for coach Barry Switzer's Oklahoma Sooners football team from 1976 to 1979. After injuries kept him out of the lineup for most of his freshman and half of his sophomore seasons (rushing for only 545 yards in two seasons plus one game of 1976), he rushed for 1,762 yards on 231 carries as a junior, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Including the postseason, Sims had 1,896 yards, a total yardage school record that stood until 2004 when freshman Adrian Peterson ran for 1,925 yards. In 1978 Sims was awarded the Heisman Trophy, becoming only the sixth junior to do so.[4][5] He was runner-up for the Heisman the following season in 1979, coming in second to Charles White of USC.[6]

In 1979 against then-unbeaten Nebraska, who had the No. 1 rushing defense in the country at the time, Sims ran for 247 yards and helped the Sooners to a 17–14 win. He led the nation in rushing with 1,896 yards and had 22 touchdowns. He also became the first running back in Big 8 Conference (now merged to form the Big 12 Conference) history to rush for 200-yards in three consecutive games, and had four 200-yard games in a single season.

After losing to the Arkansas Razorbacks 31–6 in 1978, Sims led the Sooners to two consecutive Orange Bowl titles in three straight appearances. In the Orange Bowl following the 1978 season, he scored two touchdowns in a 31–24 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In his final game, he ran for 164 yards as Oklahoma defeated the Florida State Seminoles 24–7. Sims ended his career at OU with 3,813 yards; most of those yards came in his final two seasons.


Rushing Receiving
1976 3 44 14.7 18 0
1977 71 413 5.9 43 6
1978 256 1,896 7.4 63 22 1 35 35.0 25 0
1979 248 1,670 6.7 71 23 1 42 42.0 42 0
Totals 578 4,023 7.0 71 51 2 77 38.5 42 0

Professional career

Sims was the first overall pick in the 1980 NFL Draft. He spent his career with the Detroit Lions, making the Pro Bowl in 1980, 1981, and 1982. Sims led Detroit to the playoffs in 1982 and 1983, but they would go on to lose in the first round in both appearances. In the 1983 wild card game at Candlestick Park against the San Francisco 49ers, Sims ran for 114 yards on 20 carries, but Joe Montana would lead the 49ers to a comeback victory, as Detroit kicker Eddie Murray missed a field goal in the waning moments.

Sims' career would ultimately end midway through the 1984 season when he suffered a catastrophic knee injury in a game against the Minnesota Vikings. Sims finished his career with 1131 carries for 5106 yards (4.5 yards per carry), and 186 receptions for 2072 yards (11.1 yards per catch). He spent two years attempting to rehabilitate his knee before retiring in 1986.[7] Sims remains a beloved former sports figure in Detroit.[8] His number "20" would go on to be worn five years after his retirement by Barry Sanders, and is currently retired as an unofficial "Triumvirate" of the greatest Lions in the modern era to ever wear the number, which also includes Hall of Fame defensive back Lem Barney.

Comeback attempt

In 1988, four years after the knee injury that forced his retirement, Sims announced he was attempting a comeback with the Lions for 1989 season. Speaking with Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, Sims claimed to be "as fit as he was in 1983." He offered to play the season with a blank check, allowing Lions' management to assess his value and fill in the salary amount accordingly. Sims hoped to meet with then-General Manager Russ Thomas and owner William Clay Ford, Sr. to discuss a spot on the team's roster.[9] Despite some interest from Lions' head coach Wayne Fontes,[10] Sims never returned to the NFL.


Rushing Receiving
1980 DET 313 1,303 4.2 52 13 51 621 12.2 87 3
1981 DET 296 1,437 4.9 51 13 28 451 16.1 81 2
1982 DET 172 639 3.7 29 4 34 342 10.1 52 0
1983 DET 220 1,040 4.7 41 7 42 419 10.0 54 0
1984 DET 130 687 5.3 81 5 31 239 7.7 20 0
Totals 1,131 5,106 4.5 81 42 186 2,072 11.1 87 5


Life after football

Billy Sims with a fan.

Financial difficulties

When Billy Sims retired from the Lions in 1984, he received a $1.9 million insurance settlement from Lloyds of London, in addition to the several million dollars he earned during his playing career.[12] Sims lost his accumulated wealth through a series of failed business ventures, and he was forced to file bankruptcy in 1990. His numerous businesses included a nightclub, a radio station, a dry cleaner, and a car parts manufacturer. The bankruptcy eventually led to the end of his first marriage to Brenda, a junior high teacher in Hooks, Texas.[13] Sims also struggled with legal problems stemming from jail time for unpaid child support in 1998, and a conviction of domestic violence against Edna, his second wife in 1999.[13]

Selling the Heisman

In 1995, he sold his Heisman Trophy to Texas businessman Bob White, who had been a father figure to Sims since he was in the ninth grade; White's son played high school football with Sims.[14] The trophy was sold to White for $50,000, with the agreement that it could be re-purchased by Sims by paying the original price plus 8.5% interest. White had maintained possession of several of Sims' trophies, including the Heisman, for safekeeping. Sims would occasionally borrow the Heisman for use during public appearances, but in June 2001 he sold the trophy to Scott Goodman for $88,000. Goodman was president of Sports World, a memorabilia company. Goodman intended to sell the Heisman through a telephone auction, but cancelled the sale when an attempt by Federal agents to seize the trophy for back child support, and a lawsuit from Bob White brought negative publicity to the auction. White was able to prove his ownership of the Heisman, and Texas court ordered the trophy to be returned to him.[13]

Recent years

In 2007, a bronze statue of Sims was dedicated on the University of Oklahoma campus in Heisman Park, commemorating his 1978 award.[15] The life and one half size statue was created by sculptor Jim Franklin in his studio in Perry, Oklahoma. The bronze was cast by the Bronze Horse Foundry in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

He has enthusiastically began the "Boomer! Sooner!" Oklahoma cheer immediately following the naming of the winner at the Heisman Trophy induction ceremonies of the two most recent Oklahoma Sooner winners, Jason White and Sam Bradford, and held up a sign reading "Boomer" during the 2009 Heisman ceremony. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995. A hero in his hometown of Hooks, Texas, there is a city road named Billy Sims Road and the local library wall is adorned with his photos.[16][17] Sims maintains 44 Billy Sims Barbecue restaurants franchises with co-founder Jeff Jackson.[18]

Career accomplishments

  • High School (Hooks High School 1972–74, High School Coach: Jack Coleman)
    • Consecutive 100-yard games: 38 (state record)
    • Total 100-yard games: 38
    • Total points: 516
    • Carries-season: 441 (1973; 378 in 1974)
    • Rushing yards in a seasons: 3,080 (1973; 2,885 in 1974)
    • Career carries: 1,128
    • Total yards: 7,738
  • Collegiate
  • NFL
    • 3-Time Pro-Bowl selection
    • 32nd – NFL All-Time Rushing Yards Per-Carry (4.515)
    • 75th, along with Calvin Hill & Don Perkins, – NFL All-Time Rushing Touchdowns (42)
    • 92nd – NFL All-Time Rushing Yardage (5,106)
    • 1st player to score 3 TD's in first NFL game.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b Tramel, Jimmie. "Distant dreams: Billy Sims watches as new Sooner generation makes it big." Tulsa World, September 5, 2010. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  2. ^ "All Time Number 1 Draft Picks." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  3. ^ Hailey, Gary. "Billy Sims: The Man, the 'Fro, the BBQ." Naptime Huddle, October 23, 2012. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  4. ^ "1978 Heisman Trophy Voting." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  5. ^ "Heisman Trophy Winners." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  6. ^ "1979 Heisman Trophy Voting." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  7. ^ "A Billy Sims Comeback?" Observer-Reporter, December 20, 1988. Google Books. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  8. ^ "Detroit Lions Gridiron Heroes: Billy Sims." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  9. ^ Associated Press. "IN BRIEF : Sims Hoping for Detroit Comeback." Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1988. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  10. ^ "A Billy Sims Comeback?" Observer-Reporter, December 20, 1988. Google News Archive. Retrieved November 201, 2014.
  11. ^ "Billy Sims". Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  12. ^ Hailey, Gary. "Billy Sims: Bankruptcy, Bouncing Back...and BBQ." Naptime Huddle, October 24, 2012. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  13. ^ a b c Whiteside, Kelly. "Sims still getting hit hard." USA Today, March 7, 2001. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  14. ^ Taylor, Jeff. "A Most Desperate Option Play: Sims Once Sold His Heisman." The Seattle Times, March 29, 1998. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  15. ^ "Heisman Park." Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  16. ^ Richardson, Steve. 100 Things Oklahoma Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2014. ISBN 162937007X. Google Books. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  17. ^ Pasche, Paula. 100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2012. ISBN 9781623680213. Google Books. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  18. ^ "About: Billy Sims BBQ." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  19. ^ "NFL First Game Records". Retrieved 7 August 2013. 

External links