SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
September 22, 1980
Whether accelerating in the open field or hurtling over for a touchdown or—surprise!—catching passes, Billy Sims has powered the Lions to lopsided wins over L.A. and Green Bay
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September 22, 1980

Revved Up And Running

Whether accelerating in the open field or hurtling over for a touchdown or—surprise!—catching passes, Billy Sims has powered the Lions to lopsided wins over L.A. and Green Bay

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Then there was his pass catching. At Oklahoma they threw only two passes to him in five years. Sims says that ought to be nine years, because in four years of high school they threw zero to him.

That question was answered on May 3, in rookie camp, when the Lions' staff put Sims through a pass-catching drill and he dazzled them. He was in negotiations then, working toward a contract that's worth between $1.3 million and $1.7 million, depending on whom you listen to. He ran a 4.45 40 that day, bench-pressed 390 pounds and caught everything they threw to him. "Today," said Clark at the time, "he did one heck of a negotiating job."

Still, it's one thing to catch the ball in sweats in the May sunshine and another to catch it in full pads, through a picket fence of linebackers. But it has been two games now, and the people in the secondary are still trying to find him.

Gary Danielson, the Detroit quarterback, has thrown five passes to Sims in two games. One fell short. Two were little ones, four and seven yards. In the Lions' 41-20 season-opening victory over the Rams he ran a crossing route. Bob Brudzinski, the linebacker, stumbled, and when he got his bearings Sims was 15 yards away and unreachable. Johnnie Johnson, the Rams' million-dollar rookie, waved at Sims as he went by, and what figured to be a 10-yard completion became a 60-yarder.

Sunday's 87-yard TD was even more stunning. The play was designed as a deep pass to the split end. The linebackers dropped back to help in the covers. Danielson looked downfield and what he saw was a hole in the middle being filled very rapidly by No. 20. Danielson isn't short on IQ. He knew where to put the ball. About nine seconds later he had the longest completion of his career. "Who says I can't throw the bomb?" he said.

The best thing about the play was that it wasn't a routine catch. The pass was a little low, but Sims scooped it in with one fluid motion as he raced across the field.

"In camp I could tell right away that he was a natural receiver," Danielson says. "Sometimes when we run our seven-on-seven passing drill in practice you see a guy catching the ball, but it's not natural. He's fighting it. With Billy it's very smooth and easy. I have a theory about that. I think wishbone tailbacks have an advantage as receivers because they get so many pitchouts. They're used to seeing the ball in the air. A guy who spends his college career taking handoffs doesn't get that."

There was another question about Sims. Fumbling. At Oklahoma he'd been known to cough it up on occasion. But in two games and 42 carries with the Lions—zero. "He fumbled because he got hit from so many different directions," Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer says. "That's when fumbles usually come. Guys who never fumble are usually the ones who go down on the first hit."

Sims has been hit plenty so far. He's been running inside, and he's showed power when he's had to. Perhaps his prettiest run Sunday was on a trap play up the middle when he hit a hole that closed rapidly, bounced a quick yard to his left, ran through a couple of tacklers and turned a minus-one into a plus-25. "I honestly don't remember that one," Sims said. "You know, people ask me after a game about some of the runs I've made that day and I can't remember most of them. I can't tell you how I did it. It was just instinct.

"I remember looking at movies of one run I made against Vanderbilt my sophomore year. I started right and things were closed off, and I leaped to my left—five yards into the end zone. The guy who was watching the film with me said, 'Damn, how'd you do that, Billy?' and I couldn't tell him. I just did it."

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