Billy Sims was recently on the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast. He shared about his high school football career in Hooks, Texas, and his road to winning the 1978 Heisman Trophy. He also told stories about why he didn’t go to Texas and that he almost went to Baylor.
It Started With a Love of Baseball
If you know much about Billy Sims, you likely know that his uniform was always number 20. This was true in high school, college, and in the pros. He said that he chose that number because of Lou Brock, the Hall of Fame outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sims said that he remains a big Cardinals fan to this day. He added that he didn’t really have a favorite football team growing up. That’s how much he loved baseball more than football. Although football had been king in Texas for a long time, Sims didn’t start playing football until 10th grade.
Billy Sims Was Heavily Recruited
Billy was highly recruited coming out of high school. At the time, he stood second for most high school rushing yards in the history of the United States. (Derrick Henry finally broke the national high school rushing record set by Ken Hall in the 1950s.)
Of course, one of Billy Sims’ suitors coming out of high school was the Texas Longhorns. Sims spoke about his recruiting trip to Austin and the very simple reason he ruled out the Longhorns.
“Well, I went down there on recruiting day. I’m thinking, ‘The only way I’m coming here, (is if) I’m going to wear number 20.’ I knew Earl wasn’t giving up number 20, so I wasn’t going to Texas.”
So, it was a combination of Billy’s love for the jersey number 20 plus the fact that Earl Campbell already owned number 20 at Texas that halted Darrell Royal’s recruiting plans for Billy Sims.
Baylor head coach, Grant Teaff, also recruited Sims. Billy says that he was all set to play for the Baylor Bears and he made that clear before his recruiting trip to OU. “I thought I was going to be at Baylor, really. I had orally committed to Coach Teaff. I was going to Baylor because of my grandmother. And Baylor, they’re Baptists and we’re Baptists. I was just going because we were Baptist.”
Sims might have become the first Heisman Trophy winner in Baylor history. Instead, Billy’s love of baseball offered a ray of hope for another school.
“My last visit was Oklahoma. I wasn’t even going to visit, but my baseball coach was from Durant, Oklahoma. He’s a big Sooner fan. And I said, ‘Well, I’ll go visit, but I’m not going to Oklahoma. I’ve already committed to Coach Teaff. I’m keeping my word and going to Baylor.'”
Oaklahoma Coach Barry Switzer Wouldn’t Give Up On Billy Sims
Oklahoma football coach, Barry Switzer, was a master recruiter. He didn’t take no for an answer when it came to Billy Sims, even though Sims told him that he was committed to Baylor when he made his official trip to Oklahoma.
“I get up there and they had all these Texas players on the team. It was about 60/40. I said, ‘Wow, Coach! I didn’t know you had all these Texas players. He said, ‘Oh yeah, we recruit Texas pretty good. You know, they’ve got good players down there.'”
So, that was part one of Coach Switzer’s pitch. Part two was on its way.
“One thing led to another. I told coach, I said, ‘Well I’m going back home….I’m going to Baylor.’ He said, ‘Well, before you go back home, I want you to meet my family.’ I didn’t realize that he was going to turn up the heat on me. So we get to the house, his kids — he had three kids — they run out to meet him and they’ve got on my jersey number. Number 20. I’m thinking, ‘Wow!’ And Coach says, ‘Yeah! They are already selling your jersey number up here!’ I’m thinking I’ve got the only number 20 and I’m thinking they are really selling my jersey. (Laughs)”
Switzer had turned up the heat on Sims, but he wasn’t finished with his recruiting pitch. Sims worked a part-time job pumping gas in Hooks, Texas. Hooks is located close enough to the Oklahoma border that a person could tune in to hear OU football on the radio. The weekend after his visit to OU, Billy was working at the gas station and listening to the Sooners game on the radio. What started out as an ordinary work shift turned into a very memorable afternoon.
“That following weekend, they were playing the University of Colorado,” Sims remembered. “At halftime, my coworker at the gas station said, ‘Billy, Coach Switzer is on the phone, he wants to talk to you.'”
Sims scratched his head, wondering how Barry Switzer could be calling him on the phone while he’s coaching a game in Colorado. “I go to the payphone, and it’s Coach Switzer on the payphone at halftime! What coaches do that? They don’t do that. They go and talk to the players.”
The surprising phone call was another piece of Switzer’s pitch, one that included two serious promises.
“This is a true story,” Sims said. “We talked the whole halftime. I can hear the referee come in and tell CoachSwitzer, ‘You’ve got to get back on the field.’ (Laughs)”
Hurried by the referee, Coach Switzer closed the call with two promises. Sims recalled Switzer’s closing remarks. “He said, ‘You hear that? I gotta go finish this butt-kicking. I’ll call you later on tonight when I get home.’ I said, ‘OK.’ He said, ‘Before I go, I want to promise you two things. If you recommit and come to the great institution of Oklahoma, I’ll first of all make sure you graduate and get your degree, because I know your grandmother will love it. And two, you’re going to win the Heisman Trophy.”
Billy Sims and the Heisman Trophy
Sims said that he didn’t go to Oklahoma to win the Heisman, although he did win the 1978 Heisman Trophy, as Switzer promised in his recruiting pitch. Things worked out great for Sims at Oklahoma in that regard, but he says he still has one regret about not signing with Baylor.
“The hardest thing I think about today was that I didn’t tell Coach Teaff, at the time, that I changed my mind, on signing day. Oh, man. And, my grandmother, she was upset for quite a while, but she eventually got over it.”
Sims said that he and Coach Teaff ended up having some fun with the situation over the years.
“I used to see Coach Teaff at different functions or whatever, and he’d see me look around and he started shaking his his finger at me. (Laughs) He’s a great coach, a great person. So when RG3 got his ( Robert Griffin III won the 2011 Heisman Trophy), I got in touch with Coach Teaff and said, ‘Well, after 37 years, Baylor finally got their Heisman Trophy!’ (Laughs) So, he was good about it.”
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Hear Billy Sims share these stories and more on the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast. Simply press “Play” on the player below. You can also download the podcast or find it on your favorite podcast app. The interview with Billy Sims took place at a Tristar Productions event in Houston, TX.
NOTE: Interviews are edited for clarity.