Billy Sims

American football player (born 1955)

American football player
Billy Sims
refer to caption
Sims in 2010
No. 20
Position:Running back
Personal information
Born: (1955-09-18) September 18, 1955 (age 68)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Height:6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
Weight:212 lb (96 kg)
Career information
High school:Hooks
(Hooks, Texas)
College:Oklahoma (1975–1979)
NFL draft:1980 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1
Career history
  • Detroit Lions (1980–1984)
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:5,106
Rushing average:4.5
Rushing touchdowns:42
Receiving yards:2,072
Receiving touchdowns:5
Player stats at PFR
College Football Hall of Fame

Billy Ray Sims (born September 18, 1955) is an American former football running back who played in the National Football League (NFL) for five seasons from 1980 to 1984. Sims played college football for the Oklahoma Sooners, 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, selected by the Detroit Lions.

Sims was the last Oklahoma player taken number one overall in the NFL Draft until quarterback Sam Bradford was taken first in the 2010 NFL Draft.[1][2]

Sims was nicknamed "Kung Fu Billy Sims" by ESPN's Chris Berman, following a game between the Lions and the Houston Oilers. In the NFL Films highlight, rather than be tackled during a rushing attempt, Sims ran at, jumped, and, while fully airborne, kicked Oilers cornerback Steve Brown in the head.[3]

Early life and education

Sims was born in St. Louis, Missouri. In 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, setting a state record at the time that is 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' 38 games with 100 yards or more rushing from 1972 to 1974 is tied for third in all-time Texas high school records with Ken Hall and Steve Worster and behind Robert Strait's 41 games, and Wes Danaher's 43 100-yard games.[4]

College career

Sims attended the University of Oklahoma, where he played for coach Barry Switzer's Oklahoma Sooners football team from 1975 to 1979. After playing only one game in his freshman year of 1975, injuries kept Sims out of the lineup for most of his sophomore season, which allowed him to red-shirt to gain an extra year of eligibility. Injuries continued to plague Sims for half of his (red-shirt) sophomore season in 1977 (he rushed for only 545 yards total in two seasons in 1975 and 1977, plus one game in 1976.) In 1978, Sims rushed for 1,762 yards on 231 carries as a red-shirt junior, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Including the postseason, Sims had 1,896 yards. Both the before and after bowl game totals led the NCAA. He also set a total yardage school record that stood until 2004, when freshman Adrian Peterson ran for 1,925 yards. Subsequently, Sims was awarded the Heisman Trophy for the 1978 season, becoming only the sixth junior to do so.[5][6] He was runner-up for the Heisman the following season in 1979, coming in second to Charles White of USC.[7]

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. Including the bowl game he had 248 attempts for 1,670 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per carry, and scored 23 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 rushed for 134 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 31–24 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In his final game, he ran for 164 yards as Oklahoma beat the previously-undefeated Florida State Seminoles by a score of 24–7. Sims ended his career at OU with 3,813 yards; most of those yards came in his final two seasons.

College statistics

Big 8 record
Led the Big 8
NCAA Record
Led the NCAA
Bold Career high
Billy Sims Rushing Receiving
Season Team GP Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
1975 Oklahoma 11 15 95 6.3 0
1976 Oklahoma 11 3 44 14.7 0
1977 Oklahoma 12 71 413 5.8 6
1978 Oklahoma 11 231 1,762 7.6 20 1 35 35.0 0
1979 Oklahoma 11 224 1,506 6.7 22 1 42 42.0 0
Career[8] 56 544 3,820 7.0 48 2 77 38.5 0

* Includes bowl games.

National Football League

Sims (with ball) against the San Diego Chargers in 1981

As was widely expected,[9] 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 lost in their first game in both appearances. In the 1983 NFC divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park against the San Francisco 49ers, Sims ran for 114 yards on 20 carries, but Joe Montana led the 49ers to a comeback victory, as Detroit kicker Eddie Murray missed a potential game-winning field goal in the waning moments.

In 1983, Sims' agent, Jerry Argovitz, took control of a USFL expansion franchise, the Houston Gamblers. On July 1, 1983, while seeking a new pact from the Lions, Sims secretly signed a five-year, $3.5 million contract with the Gamblers; in December, he also signed a new, five-year, $4.5 million contract extension with Detroit. The matter wound up in court, and on February 10, 1984, a federal judge voided the Houston pact, sending Sims back to Detroit.[10]

Sims' career ultimately ended midway through the 1984 season when he suffered a catastrophic right knee injury in a game against the Minnesota Vikings on October 21; in that game, Sims set the all-time Lions rushing record (now held by Barry Sanders) with 5,106 yards on 1,131 carries, or 4.5 yards per carry.[11] Sims also caught 186 passes for 2,072 yards (11.1 yards per catch). He spent two years attempting to rehabilitate his knee before finally retiring in 1986.[12]

Sims remains a beloved sports figure in Detroit.[13] His team uniform number 20 was 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 the 1989 season, which would be Sanders' rookie year. He told Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, that he was "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 Lions general manager Russ Thomas and owner William Clay Ford Sr. to discuss a spot on the team's roster.[14] Despite some interest from Lions head coach Wayne Fontes,[15] Sims never returned to the NFL.

NFL career statistics

Year Team GP Rushing Receiving
Att Yds Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Avg Lng TD
1980 DET 16 313 1,303 4.2 52 13 51 621 12.2 87 3
1981 DET 14 296 1,437 4.9 51 13 28 451 16.1 81 2
1982 DET 9 172 639 3.7 29 4 34 342 10.1 52 0
1983 DET 13 220 1,040 4.7 41 7 42 419 10.0 54 0
1984 DET 8 130 687 5.3 81 5 31 239 7.7 20 0
Totals[16] 60 1,131 5,106 4.5 81 42 186 2,072 11.1 87 5

Post-NFL life

Financial difficulties

When Sims retired from the Detroit Lions in 1984, he received a $1.9 million insurance settlement from Lloyd's of London, in addition to several million dollars he earned during his playing career.[17] Sims lost his accumulated wealth through a series of failed business ventures. His numerous businesses included a nightclub, a radio station, a dry cleaner, and a car parts manufacturer.

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.[18] The trophy was sold to White with the agreement that it could be re-purchased by Sims by paying the original price plus 8.5% interest.[19]


In 2007, a bronze statue of Sims was dedicated on the University of Oklahoma campus in Heisman Park, commemorating his 1978 award.[20] 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.

Sims has led a "Boomer! Sooner!" chant at the Heisman Trophy presentation whenever a Sooner wins the trophy. He has done so for the four most recent Sooner winners, Jason White, Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield, and Kyler Murray. He held up a sign reading "Boomer" during the 2009 Heisman ceremony.

In 1995, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Sims is honored in Hooks, Texas with Billy Sims Road named in his honor. The local library displays a collection of his photos;[21][22] Sims said while at Oklahoma that he preferred his home town to big cities.[9] He maintains 54 Billy Sims Barbecue restaurants franchises with co-founder Jeff Jackson.[23] Before Joe Burrow was announced to win the 2019 Heisman, Sims yelled "Boomer", in hopes Jalen Hurts would win the Heisman Trophy.

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)
    • 135th – NFL All-Time Rushing Yardage (5,106)
    • 1st player to score 3 touchdowns in first NFL game.[24]

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. ^ "Texas HS Football Hall announces 2013 class".
  5. ^ "1978 Heisman Trophy Voting." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  6. ^ "Heisman Trophy Winners." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  7. ^ "1979 Heisman Trophy Voting." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  8. ^ "Billy Sims college statistics". College Football at Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  9. ^ a b Martz, Ron (November 28, 1979). "BIG RED: When OU fans go to games, it's like going to church". St. Petersburg Times. pp. 1C, 5C. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  10. ^ Lions win Sims, Detroit Free Press, 19 February 1984, p. 1A
  11. ^ The '84 Lions won that game to up their record to 3-5, but without Sims won only one game in the second half of the season to finish a 4-11-1. (Despite missing half the season, Sims still led the Lions with 687 rushing yards.)
  12. ^ "A Billy Sims Comeback?" Observer-Reporter, December 20, 1988. Google Books. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  13. ^ "Detroit Lions Gridiron Heroes: Billy Sims." Archived November 13, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  14. ^ Associated Press. "IN BRIEF : Sims Hoping for Detroit Comeback." Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1988. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  15. ^ "A Billy Sims Comeback?" Observer-Reporter, December 20, 1988. Google News Archive. Retrieved November 201, 2014.
  16. ^ "Billy Sims". Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  17. ^ Hailey, Gary. "Billy Sims: Bankruptcy, Bouncing Back...and BBQ." Naptime Huddle, October 24, 2012. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  18. ^ Taylor, Jeff. "A Most Desperate Option Play: Sims Once Sold His Heisman." The Seattle Times, March 29, 1998. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  19. ^ "Sims still getting hit hard." USA Today, March 7, 2001. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  20. ^ "Heisman Park." Archived December 2, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  21. ^ Richardson, Steve. 100 Things Oklahoma Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2014. ISBN 162937007X. Google Books. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  22. ^ Pasche, Paula. 100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2012. ISBN 9781623680213. Google Books. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  23. ^ "About: Billy Sims BBQ." Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  24. ^ "NFL First Game Records". Retrieved August 7, 2013.

External links

  • Billy Sims at the College Football Hall of Fame
  • Billy Sims at
  • Career statistics and player information from · Pro Football Reference
  • NFL Films Presents – Billy Sims: The Forgotten Legend on YouTube
Billy Sims—awards, championships, and honors
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Clark (QB)
Layne (QB)
Sanders (RB)
Sims (RB)
Walker (RB)
Schlesinger (FB)
Cogdill (WR)
Moore (WR)
Sanders (TE)
Flanagan (C)
Glover (C)
Wojciechowicz (C)
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Pietrosante (FB)
B. Sanders (RB)
Schlesinger (FB)
Sims (RB)
Walker (HB)
Baker (DE)
R. Brown (DT)
English (DT)
Karras (DT)
Porcher (DE)
Lucci (LB)
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