Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Billy Sims: Bankruptcy, Bouncing Back . . . and BBQ

When we left off yesterday, Billy Sims was running roughshod over NFL defenses, earning three straight Pro Bowl selections to start what was sure to be a long and successful career.  Take it away, Gary…


Sims was on track for another outstanding season in 1984, averaging a career-best 5.3 yards per carry in the Lions' first eight games. But Sims suffered a devastating knee injury against the Minnesota Vikings and never played again.

The former Sooner had earned several million dollars as an NFL running back, and an insurance policy from Lloyds of London paid him $1.9 million when he was injured. "I'm not leaving the game broke," he said at his farewell press conference in Detroit.

Famous last words. In 1990, Sims and his wife filed for bankruptcy. Their bankruptcy filing listed their assets as their home in Hooks, Texas, a van, a pickup truck, a tractor, four horses, and $150 in a checking account. Their debts totaled $2.263 million.

According to a USA Today story, Sims' unsuccessful business ventures included a dinette manufacturer, a mini-supermarket, a nightclub, a chain of eyeglass stores, an apartment complex, a car parts manufacturer, a chain of catfish restaurants, a radio station, a dry cleaner, and a water-purification business.

Sims and his wife (who had four children) got a divorce after the financial problems reared their ugly head. In 1998, Sims spent a month in jail for failing to pay child support. Later that year, he was charged with domestic abuse after allegedly shoving his second wife to the floor during an argument about car keys.

In 1999, he was convicted of assault for choking wife number two. He was placed on probation for 18 months and ordered to undergo family violence counseling.

At the time of his conviction, Sims didn't have a real job. He picked up some money by appearing at autograph shows. And he appeared on a cable TV show called Tough Bowl, which featured boxing matches between former NFL stars. (Sims was knocked out in his first-round bout with former Bengals’ running back, Ickey Woods, who is remembered today mainly for his “Ickey Shuffle” end zone dance.)

In December 2000, word got out that Sims's Heisman Trophy was being auctioned off.* (Sims had previously sold a number of his trophies to a Hooks businessman whose son had been a childhood friend of Sims, and who became a father figure to the ex-gridiron star.)


The news got an Oklahoma assistant U.S. attorney all hot and bothered because Sims owed back child support to a daughter born out of wedlock when he was still in college.

(Some days, you wish you had just stayed in bed . . .)

[Editor's Note:  Sims must have hit hard times if he was willing to part with his Heisman.  The pride he has in being a Sooner and a Heisman winner was evident in 2008 when he, rather infamously, yelled "Boomer" (as in "Boomer Sooner") several times when OU quarterback Sam Bradford was announced as the winner of the Heisman Trophy.  He was on the stage with several other past winners and many criticized his display of school pride as Bradford took his place on stage.]
Today Billy Sims is doing much better. He looks very happy in this recent picture, which was taken in front of a bronze statue depicting him in his playing days that stands outside Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium.



Sims works with a sports marketing company, gives motivational speeches, does personal appearances, and works with a nonprofit educational organization called America Can! And he has lent his name to the Billy Sims BBQ franchise chain.

Billy Sims BBQ currently has 23 locations -- ten in the Tulsa area, six in greater Oklahoma City, four elsewhere in Oklahoma, two in Missouri, and one in suburban Detroit, where loyal Lions fans still remember him fondly.

Billy Sims restaurants aren't fancy. You order at a counter and take your food to your table yourself. They don't sell beer or wine -- soft drinks only. Click here if you'd like to check out the menu. (Prices valid at participating restaurants only!)

But all the meats are smoked on the premises and sliced to order, and most of the customers who have posted online reviews agree with my mother and say it's pretty good eatin'.

Not surprisingly, the restaurants are awash in Sims and Sooner-related memorabilia. Here's the big-ass Billy Sims bobblehead doll that stands next to the cash register in the Joplin store:

Here's a framed and autographed jersey that belonged to Steve Owens, another Oklahoma running back who won the Heisman Trophy (in 1969), was drafted by the Detroit Lions, and had a good NFL career cut short by knee injuries. (Owens appeared with Sims last month to shake hands and sign autographs at the grand opening of the Detroit Billy Sims BBQ restaurant, so I'm guessing the two are good friends.)


I had a smoked Polish sausage sandwich when I visited to Billy Sims store in Joplin with my parents. It was quite tasty, but you have to work pretty hard to make smoked Polish sausage anything but delicious. My mother gives high marks to the chicken, but I didn’t try it.

If I ever go back, I'll give the ribs a chance. But I doubt that I ever will go back. I don't care how good the smoked Polish sausage and ribs are. There's WAY too much Oklahoma crap there to make eating at a Billy Sims restaurant a pleasant experience for me.

It could be worse -- Sims could have been an Arkansas Razorback. If he had, there's no chance I go in his restaurant. (Sorry, mom. You and dad go ahead without me.)


*Sims wasn’t the first Heisman winner to make the call to sell his trophy, nor will he be the last.  At least six Heisman Trophies are known to have been sold, and for various reasons (not all bad):  most famously, former USC running back O.J. Simpson sold his trophy in 1999 for $230,000 to help pay the $33.5 million wrongful death judgment entered against him for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.  Other former winners who have sold the bronze statue include Larry Kelley (Yale, 1936); Bruce Smith (Minnesota, 1941—its $395,240 price tag is the highest so far); Paul Hornung (Notre Dame, 1956); and Charles White (USC, 1979—his trophy has actually been sold more than once).

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