Lion great Sims never wonders what might have been; Polian wonders about Manziel

Billy Sims photo courtesy Detroit Lions.

Billy Sims has no regrets that his potential HOF career was cut short by a devastating knee injury. He knows who he was.

Billy Sims was Terrell Davis before Terrell Davis, a runner on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory cut down by debilitating knee injuries back before modern surgery made full recovery possible. Yet Sims tells the Talk of Fame Network this week that he looks back on his career without regret.

“Not really too often unless people bring it up,’’ Sims said when asked if he wonders what might have been. “I wanted to be a pitcher for the Cardinals.’’

Baseball was Sims’ first love, but when he moved from St. Louis to Hooks, Tex., everything changed. His love was still baseball, but in 10th grade he joined the football team. Three years later he’d rushed a then state-record 1,128 times for 7,738 yards, including 441 carries his senior year.

Maybe the Cardinals weren’t calling, but every college in the Southwest Conference was.

Ultimately he went to Oklahoma to play for Barry Switzer, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1978 and where the Lions made him the first selection in the 1980 draft. He did not disappoint, rushing for 1,303 yards and 13 touchdowns to become Rookie of the Year.

He went to three consecutive Pro Bowls and rushed for over 1,000 yards in three of his first four seasons. It would have been four straight, but the 1982 strike reduced the season to only nine games. That year Sims ran for 638 yards in eight games, a pace that would have given him 1,276 for the year.

Nothing changed until Oct.21, 1984. On pace to rush for over 1,300 yards once again, he suffered a catastrophic knee injury against the Vikings and never played again despite two years of rehabilitation, retiring with 5,106 rushing yards, 42 touchdowns and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average in barely four full seasons of NFL play.

So remarkable was his brief moment in the NFL that the Lions retired his number 20 in honor of the three men who wore it: Hall-of-Famers Lem Barney and Barry Sanders and Sims. It is called “the Triumvirate.’’

Sims recalled how sure the Lions were about him when they came to work him out in Norman before the draft. Sims ran a 4.45 40 in a warmup suit and volunteered to take it off and run again.

“They told me, ‘Don’t bother. We’re not going to trade you any way,’’’ Sims recalled with a laugh. "They didn’t know if I could catch. I told them I’d caught two passes, one in high school and one in college. My rookie year I was our second-leading receiver. They figured out I could do it.’’

There wasn’t much Billy Sims couldn’t do, averaging over 1,200 yards rushing in his brief NFL career. What might have been we’ll never know, but it is clear where he was headed before his injury.

He was headed to Canton.

Also visiting the Talk of Fame Network this week is Hall-of-Fame general manager Bill Polian. Polian is a co-founder of the Alliance of American Football League, which just signed troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Polian tells the Talk of Fame Network he believes Manziel is “Kyler Murray in a bigger body’’ and thinks he still has the skills to play in the NFL if “he can concentrate on the job at hand.’’

Polian also discusses the explosive and often inflated salaries handed out to what he calls “B class’’ free agents in the opening days of free agency this year. Polian was always a reluctant participant in the free agent frenzy because “people need to understand the best players aren’t free. The best players aren’t on the market. B players are getting A money.’’

To listen to the full interviews with Sims and Polian as well as the rest of our weekly show, go to your local SB Nation Radio Network or listen to our free podcast. That can be downloaded and subscribed to on iTunes and on the TuneIn app. You can also access the show any time on our website, talkoffamenetwork.com.

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