Only injury could stop Billy’s greatness
For many Detroit Lions fans, Barry Sanders is the greatest player in franchise history. For fans around the world, he is one of the greatest ever. Much Like the singular name ‘Jordan’ is used to reference the greatest basketball player ever, Sanders is forever known by fans everywhere simply as ‘Barry’.
Yet as great as Barry was when he came to Detroit there was a reason he was offered the number 20. A number he was familiar with because it was worn by one of his childhood heroes; Billy Sims.
Before Barry, there was Billy. The number one overall selection in the1980 NFL draft. The Heisman Trophy winner out of the University of Oklahoma. The Detroit Lions were opportunistic after a dreadful 1979 season and were able to add the ultra-talented Sims and reaped the benefits of his abilities.
From 1980 until a knee injury ended his career prematurely in 1984, Billy Sims was one of the best in the NFL. Before Barry, Sims 5,106 yards rushing was the best in team history. His combination of size and speed allowed him to run over or around defenders.
He was also a gifted receiver and contributed frequently to the passing game. It seemed like there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. Until October 21, 1984, when what just looked like an innocent short gain against the Minnesota Vikings defense turned into the end.
Billy’s torn knee ligaments at a time that medicine didn’t have the capability to surgically repair them, was the end of the road.
Despite a desire by Sims to make a comeback five years later, it never happened. The chapter was closed on him and one of the best runners in the game, if only for a few years, was done and quickly became forgotten.
Yes, there will always be some who will say that Sims didn’t play long enough to be considered one of the games great players, but those who watched him knew just how good he was. He was the reason Barry thought the number 20 was special and was honored to wear it instead of the number 21 that he wore at Oklahoma State.
Maybe Herman Moore is the greatest Detroit Lion not in the Hall of Fame. But If he is, Billy Sims isn’t far behind and at the very least definitely deserves to be an honorable mention for an outstanding career that was cut far too short.