Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Billy Sims: the Man, the 'Fro, the BBQ

Today, Naptime Huddle welcomes back guest writer Gary Hailey, creator of the wildly popular "2 or 3 lines" music blog. Gary grew up in Joplin, Missouri, which was devastated by a tornado in May 2011.  Since the tornado, Gary (who, like me, resides in the Washington, D.C. area) has made many trips to Joplin and his hometown has inspired several “2 or 3 lines” posts including, most recently, Edwin Starr – “25 Miles” and Quicksilver Messenger Service – “Prideof Man.”  
During his latest trip to visit his parents and see how rebuilding efforts were coming along, he got dragged to a local barbecue restaurant named after the famed University of Oklahoma and Detroit Lions running back, Billy Sims. Gary grew up loyal to the University of Missouri and St. Louis Cardinals football teams, and while his interest in both teams has waned over the years -- largely because the Cardinals moved to Arizona and Missouri moved to the SEC -- he maintains his loathing of their traditional rivals . . . especially the Oklahoma Sooners.


You can’t miss the Billy Sims BBQ restaurant in Joplin, Missouri. It’s painted a particular shade of red that exactly matches the color of the jerseys worn by University of Oklahoma football players.


That’s not surprising given that Billy Sims was a star running back for the Sooners. In fact, he may have been the best of the many great Oklahoma tailbacks over the years. (He still holds the career OU rushing record.)

Ordinarily, I never would have set foot inside such an Oklahoma-glorifying place. (I hope my sister doesn't read this post -- she would be so disappointed in me. Like me, she is a Mizzou fan.) But my mother ate at Billy Sims BBQ once and loved it, so she suggested we have lunch there during my recent visit to Joplin.

Billy Sims grew up in the projects in St. Louis, but was sent to Hooks, Texas (population 2973) when he was an 8th-grader to live with his grandmother. In high school, he gained a remarkable 7738 yards in three years as a running back for the Hooks Hornets, which got the attention of Oklahoma Sooners coach Barry Switzer.

Sims missed much of his first two seasons at the University of Oklahoma due to injuries, but scored 22 touchdowns and rushed for 1896 yards on 256 carries as a junior (a spectacular average of 7.4 yards per carry) and won the Heisman Trophy, given every year to the most outstanding player in college football.
Here are a few highlights from Sims's college career:


He did almost as well his senior year, finishing second in the Heisman voting to USC running back Charles White.* But the Detroit Lions showed who they thought was the better player by drafting Sims with the very first pick of the 1980 NFL draft.

Sims put up much better numbers in the NFL than White did. And he certainly had a better Afro:

The only professional athlete I remember who had a clearly superior 'fro to Sims was baseball player Oscar Gamble:


The Lions had the #1 overall pick in 1980 because they had finished a woeful 2-14 in the previous season. But with Sims rushing for over 1300 yards, catching 51 passes, and scoring a league-leading 16 TDs, the Lions tied for first place in the NFC’s Central Division with a 9-7 record. Sims was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and went to the Pro Bowl.



Sims' 1981 numbers were about the same, and he was selected to go to the Pro Bowl again. He was voted to the NFC Pro Bowl squad a third time based on his performance in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

Jerry Argovitz, who was Sims's agent, demanded that the Lions give his client a new contract in 1983. Argovitz, who was a dentist before he was a sports agent, later wrote a book. (That's Argovitz with Herschel Walker, Marcus Allen, and Sims on the cover.)**



When Detroit dragged its feet, Sims signed with the Houston Gamblers of the fledgling United States Football League. But it was later revealed that Argovitz owned 29% of the Houston franchise, and that he had failed to give the Lions a chance to match Houston's offer to Sims.


Sims then sued Argovitz in federal court for breach of fiduciary duty and won. The court rescinded the star running back's contract with the Houston team and Sims returned to the Lions for the 1983 season. Click here if you'd like to read the Sixth Circuit's decision in that case.


The ex-Sooner star led the Lions to a division title that year. When they faced off against the mighty Joe Montana-Roger Craig-Dwight Clark-Ronnie Lott 49ers in the playoffs, Sims rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries. He scored two fourth-quarter TDs, turning a 17-9 deficit into a 23-17 lead. But the Niners scored a late TD and the Lions’ placekicker missed a field goal attempt on the last play of the game.
This is the 1983 play that earned Sims the nickname "Kung Fu Billy Sims" from ESPN's Chris Berman:


Well ain't that a kick in the head?  Tune in tomorrow to learn how the career of Billy Sims ended, what he did with himself after he hung up his cleats, and how it came to be that a music writer would nosh on ribs at a Sims-inspired BBQ joint.
*Charles White played in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams.

**You can pre-order this book by clicking on the link at the top of the left sidebar.

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