There were very few on-field missteps in the football career of former Oklahoma Sooners’ great Billy Sims. Sims’ high-stepping, breathtaking runs made the 1978 Heisman Trophy winning running back a legend both on the college and NFL gridirons.
Off the field, the 55-year-old Sims has had his share of missteps that have received ample notoriety, from bad investments to personal strife but Sims appears to have once again hit his high-stepping stride with the success of Billy Sims Barbecue. He’s bringing his own version of a tailgate party to Enid when the Billy Sims Barbecue Ultimate Tailgate Tour stops at United Supermarket located at 4110 W. Owen K. Garriott beginning Thursday and running through Sunday. Sims will host autograph sessions on Friday and Saturday.
The tour consists of two custom-built trailers that include a mobile museum of memorabilia from Sims’ high school, collegiate and professional career in football as well as a 50-foot kitchen offering a taste of the barbecue that has made Sims’ venture a success. But don’t expect to see Sims huddled over the grill.
“I stay out of the kitchen and let the real pros do their job. I can run, but I can’t cook worth a darn,” said Sims when discussing his upcoming stop in Enid. The success of his restaurant chain has been a pleasant surprise for Sims.
“I was real leery at first of doing this with my name on it,” Sims said, looking back on when his latest enterprise was launched eight years ago. “But it has really turned out well. People love the food. I never imagined we would have 17 stores.”
The tour is into its fifth week with recent stops in Broken Bow and Woodward where Sims has enjoyed meeting his fans and talking football.
“Enid is a great football town and I always enjoy visiting there,” Sims said. “I was there last year with Jason White and Steve Owens and remember when Enid had an arena football team and I did autograph signings there. I always enjoy my time in Enid.”
A 1995 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Sims rushed for 4,118 yards and 53 touchdowns in his storied Sooners career and retains fond memories of his days as a Sooner. But if it weren’t for a surprise halftime telephone call from Barry Switzer, he likely would have been a Baylor Bear.
“I was headed to Baylor to play for Grant Teaff,” Sims recalls. “My grandmother fell in love with Teaff. They were Baptist, we’re Baptist, so I was going to Baylor.” Until Switzer called during halftime of the Sooners’ blowout win over Colorado.
In a story Sims enjoys recounting, the native of Hooks, Texas, who now splits his time between Dallas and Norman, was working pumping gas when a co-worker told him he had a phone call and it was Barry Switzer.
“I thought they were pulling my leg,” Sims recalls with a laugh. “I mean, what coach in their right mind would call a kid in the middle of a football game? I was listening to the game on the radio. But it was him. Remember, this was on a pay phone in those days. I asked him why he was calling me in the middle of a game and he tells me Oklahoma is up by 30 points and he didn’t really have anything more to say to the team. Then I actually heard the ref come in and tell him he had to get back out on the field because the second half was about to begin.
“He made me two promises. He said I would get my degree and I would win a Heisman and I did both.”
Quite a promise to make to a young player. “Except he made the same promise to Thomas Lott and Kenny King,” Sims recalls with a chuckle.
Sims went on to become one of the most prolific running backs in collegiate football history, winning the Hesiman in 1978 and finishing as Heisman runner-up in 1979.
But Sims says winning was more important than the Heisman.
“Nobody knew I was going to win the Heisman,” Sims said. “There was no preseason buildup. I just had a great supporting cast.”
That 1978 Sooners team finished the season 11-1 after an Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska that avenged the Sooners’ only loss.
Sims rushed for 1,896 yards in 1978 and was Heisman runner-up to USC’s Charles White in 1979 despite rushing for 1,670 yards, and nearly 600 yards in his final two games but by that time the votes had already been cast for the Heisman.
Sims stays in touch with Switzer and remains a loyal fan of the Sooners and believes the Sooners are primed to continue their longstanding history of success.
“I always say Bud Wilkinson created the monster and Barry Switzer continued it and I think (current OU coach) Bob Stoops is doing a great job in continuing that tradition,” Sims said. “The tradition lives on forever.”
Sims was drafted No. 1 by the Detroit Lions after his spectacular Sooners career and despite having his career shortened by a knee injury, still rushed for 5,106 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl three straight years, from 1980-1982 before retiring in 1985.
“I think the Lions were wondering at first if they made a mistake drafting me,” Sims said. “In college we just ran the ball. You know, we ran the wishbone. Here I was, having to learn things like reading defenses, study snap counts. But it all came together and I think we were both relieved,” Sims said with a laugh.
While he never made it to a Super Bowl, Sims has few regrets about his pro career.
“It was good while it lasted,” Sims said. “Detroit and fans in the state of Michigan are some of the greatest fans out there and they really deserve a winner. I think they have the makings of something good there now, especially if they can keep their quarterback (Matthew Stafford) healthy.”
Sims, who got his degree from OU in recreation therapy after being inspired by his late brother Darrell, who died in a car accident during Sims’ rookie NFL season, has advice for young players being recruited to play college football.
“At the end of the day, let your choice be your choice,” Sims advised. “Visit the campus and talk to the players – also the players who don’t get a lot of playing time.”
Sims enjoys chatting with aspiring athletes and his fans and looks forward to his stop in Enid.
“You don’t have to be a Sooners fan, just be a fan of barbecue,” said Sims of his upcoming visit. “Come on out, give me a thumbs up and enjoy something good.”
Billy Sims Barbecue Tailgate Tour
When: Thursday - Sunday
Time: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. each day
Where: United Supermarket
4110 W. Owen K. Garriott
On-site: Memorabilia museum (admission free) and 50-foot kitchen trailer
Billy Sims will be available to sign autographs Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. First autograph free. Additional autographs $10 or free if item purchased at memorabilia trailer.