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What Happened to Billy Sims and Where is He Now?
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

“Kung Fu Billy Sims”, possibly the greatest nickname of all time, belonged to an American football star.

Though he was never a martial artist, the nickname was well-earned. From the mid-1970s to mid-80s, Billy Sims was the Sensei of Kicking Ass.

His dojo was the football field and his Heisman Trophy career at Oklahoma landed him with the Detroit Lions for his entire professional career.

Sims’ life is told by three classic stories —  the story of athletic potential cut short by injury, a cautionary tale of short-sighted money management, and a story of survival.

Early Life & College Career

Billy Ray Sims was born September 18, 1955, in St. Louis, Missouri. It was the same year that Disney released “The Lady and the Tramp“.

St. Louis was a booming construction town. The local sports heroes played on the diamond, not the gridiron. Sims was a young Cardinals fan when he moved to Texas. He found football at Hooks High School and proceeded to run over everybody.

As a football player, he set all sorts of records and still ranks high in the Texas history books.

In college, Sims redshirted due to injuries under head coach Barry Switzer at the University of Oklahoma. He never shone brighter than his junior and senior Sooner seasons when he led the NCAA and Orange Bowl in touchdowns.

He was given the Heisman as a junior in ’78 and finished runner-up in ’79.

NFL Career

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Sims was the No. 1 pick in the 1980 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.

The running back ran away with Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl three times – 1980, ’81, and ’82.

Even though Sims made NFC defenses look defenseless, the Lions could barely muster a roar. Sims only experienced one winning season in the NFL and two trips to the playoffs.

Sims was well on his way to the Hall of Fame when a knee injury cut his career short. He is known for being a shooting star who burned out too quick.

Facing the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome, Sims was having trouble with the turf.

“I was complaining about the turf. It was terrible.”

Sims reportedly disliked the turf so much he found himself trying out new shoes to deal with the discomfort. He went down in the third quarter and knew the injury was serious.

“I knew once that happened, I had never felt pain like that in my life. I’m like, ‘Oh, man.’ It was so bad I just let the ball loose. Forget this ball. I was grabbing my knee.”

Sims tore several ligaments in his right knee and spent the rest of 1984 and most of 1985 in rehabilitation. The knee injury forced Sims to retire in 1986.

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Financial Woes

Billy Sims was flattened by financial troubles soon after his early retirement. He made unwise investments and ran out of money in under a decade. This led Sims to wonder, “How much is a 1978 Heisman Trophy worth?”

The answer: $50,000. Or $88,000, depending on who asks Billy and when.

Following his unexpected bankruptcy, Sims hustled to pay the bills. He sold his Heisman Trophy for $50,000 in ’95. Years later, he reneged on his agreement and sold the Heisman Trophy again, but this time for $88,000.

Dubious though his business may be, Sims was reportedly in a bind to pay for his children’s collective collegiate educations.

Sims survived this difficult period though he was left a little worse for the wear. Child support led to jail time and a tarnished reputation. These days, Sims is much more legit.

When life gives you beef, dress it like a brisket.

Billy Sims BBQ

By 2004, Billy Sims was back on his feet. He was working with charter schools when he met Jeff Jackson, a local businessman with a crazy idea to start yet another chain of barbecue restaurants Oklahoma.

Sims didn’t think it a great idea but eventually agreed to join the team. The first few years are difficult for most restaurants to turn a profit. Billy Sims Barbecue was no exception.

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Whether it be the pull of the pulled pork, power of the potato salad, cool of the coleslaw, crunch of the croutons, or heat of the hot links – whatever it was, Billy Sims BBQ restaurants made it through those difficult few years and is now a successful chain.

The brand sells BBQ sauce in Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Nebraska.

Billy Sims Net Worth

After all the ups and downs, the Heisman and the bad years, the profits and the losses, the BBQ and the pandemic… Billy Sims reportedly boasts a net worth of $100,000.

MORE: Brian Bosworth Dominated College Football, But Where is “The Boz” Now?

Daniell Marlow is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He lives to write and writes to eat. Daniell is a Georgia Bulldog with a California Shih-Tzu.
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