Last December, former Detroit Lion Billy Sims was a guest at the Heisman Awards, one of the most prestigious honors of any sport. For three days, the legendary running back ran with college football greats like Barry Sanders and Charles Woodson.
Days earlier, by contrast, he was glad-handing with fans in Troy. And just as happy in both places.
Such is the life of Billy Sims, who films commercials with celebrities one day, and enjoys pulled pork with fans the next in his Troy restaurant, Billy Sims BBQ (billysimsbbq.com).
A standout at Oklahoma State, Billy won the Heisman in 1978 and was drafted by the Detroit Lions as the first overall pick in 1980. He led Detroit to the playoffs in 1982 and 1983.
The next season, after setting the all-time Lions rushing record, he suffered a knee injury that ended his career.
But this story isn’t about football. It’s about a man who values people over trophies. One who scores with community, kindness – and a fabulous slab of ribs.
“Life is all about the supporting cast around you,” says the one-time Troy resident. “You can’t get through this world by yourself. It’s not all about me.”
Humble words from the man who was a Pro Bowler his first three years in the NFL.
“It’s about community. I’m no better than anyone else. I’m just grateful to be here.”
He’s not just here. He’s hard at work with his partner Jeff Jackson, growing a celebrated barbecue franchise with 36 restaurants in six states. The gem, Billy says, is in Troy.
“Billy helped develop the menu, the processes, seasonings, sauces, everything," says Jeff. "He's part of everything we do, but what he loves most is shaking the hands of fans."
And he shakes a lot. While in Troy recently, more than 500 people lined up over two days for a photo and autograph. Billy stayed until everyone was satisfied.
“I lived in Troy when I played for the Lions,” he recalls. “I need to take care of the people who come to see me.”
He raves about how the community has grown since he was a player. “I loved getting out when I lived here as a player, and there are still so many loyal, loyal fans here. It's all about people who respect what you did on the field.”
It’s also about ribs and pulled pork and the tastiest barbecue sauce this side of Texas. But when Billy shows up at his Troy restaurant, the fans line up for the main course: Billy Sims.
“Life is all about the supporting cast around you. You can’t get through this world by yourself. It’s not all about me or you. It's about community.” – Former Detroit Lion and Troy Restaurateur Billy Sims