(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Billy Sims interview fast-forward to 1:05:35 of the attachment above)
Before Billy Sims was a great running back for the Detroit Lions, he was the greatest collegiate running back in the nation. In fact, he was the greatest collegiate football player in the nation, winning the 1978 Heisman Trophy while he was at the University of Oklahoma before becoming the first overall pick of the 1980 NFL draft.
But you know that.
What you may not know is that Sims never meant to attend Oklahoma. He had his mind set on Baylor University and fully intended to enroll there … until, that is, there was a last-minute intervention.
And, Barry Switzer, please step forward.
Then the Oklahoma head coach, Switzer pulled out his best recruiting tools to persuade Sims – then a high-school star in Hooks, Tex. – to leave his home state and play for the Sooners.
It wasn’t easy. Oklahoma was Sims’ last recruiting stop, and he didn't want to leave Texas. But, as he recalled on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, Switzer wasn’t about to let him get away.
“So I go to Oklahoma,” Sims said of the visit, “and OU had just won the national championship in ’74. And they had allowed Texas payers on the team. I didn’t realize they had all these Texas guys on the team. Of course, coach Switzer saw that and took advantage of me.
“And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, we recruit Texas all the time.’ And I said, ‘Well, coach, I had a great visit, but I’m going to go on to Baylor.’ He said, ‘I understand. But before you go’ … he’s recruiting me all the time, but I don’t know this … and he says, ‘Before you go home, I want you to meet my family.’ And I said, ‘OK.’
“At that time he had three kids. Still does, but they were young then. And they all run out with (the) number 20 on their jerseys. And I’m like, ‘Wow.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, Billy, they’re already selling you’re number 20 up here.’ And I said, ‘Really?’ I’m thinking I’ve got the only number 20. And one thing led to another …”
Including an extraordinary phone call the following weekend. Sims worked at a local gas station and was there listening to the Oklahoma game on the radio when Switzer unexpectedly entered his life again.
“He knew I pumped gas working the gas station on the weekends,” Sims said, “(so) he called me from the game at halftime. And my co-worker came and told me, and I’m thinking: They’re playing a joke on me because I listened to the game on radio.
“Because where Hooks is, we’re really not that far from Idabel, Oklahoma. So I could get the game. And I said, ‘Coach, I know you’re at the game,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, we’re kicking the (s#### out of the opponent), and I didn’t have anything to tell the players. And I was thinking about you.’
“Now this is when you had the pay phone. A lot of people don’t know about the pay phone, but I do. And he said, ‘Well, whatcha doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m just working, coach.” And he said, ‘Well, I’ve been thinking. If you re-commit, and come to this great University of Oklahoma, I’m going to promise you two things.’
“I said, ‘OK, what’s that, coach?’ And he said, ‘First of all, I’m going to make sure you get your degree and graduate,’ which I did. ‘And, two, you’re going to win the Heisman Trophy.’ Which I did. True story."
At that point, Sims couldn't help himself. He erupted into laughter.
"Come to find out," he said, "all the other guys, he told the same story to. He was Oprah before Oprah. 'You're going to win the Heisman. You're going to win the Heisman. You're going to win the Heisman.' Everybody was winning Heisman Trophies at that time … Of course, I ended up changing my mind and never looked back."