With each stutter step he takes in the revitalization of the Detroit Lions, Billy Sims also is emerging as the new super back of the National Football League.
Already, Sims has a new nickname, "Bye-Bye Billy," after breaking away for an 87-yard touchdown on one of his two pass receptions in the Lions' 29-7 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Milwaukee Sunday.
Those catches robbed him of one of his favorite after-dinner self-effacements. He used to say, "I had 1,000 percent pass reception record at Oklahoma. I caught the two balls thrown to me in four years there."
Already in this, his NFL rookie year, he has caught four passes for an average of 39.5 yards a catch. He has not yet matched his rushing record at Oklahoma, 7.09 yards a carry, but is up to 6.8 yards after 42 carries for 287 yards, and four touchdowns.
Sims' longest run with a handoff has been for 41 yards, and Sunday, against the weak-rushing defense of the St. Louis Cardinals, he can become the first rookie to run for 100 yards-plus in his first three NFL games.
Sims already has several firsts among his statistics. He signed what the Lions described as the richest rookie contract in the history of the league: a $1 million bonus and an average of $280,000 a year for the next three seasons.
He won that contract only after some acrimonious bargaining with Detroit General Manager Russ Thomas and owner William Clay Ford. But Jerry Argovitz, Sims' agent, said neither man regretted the contract after Sims helped the Lions upset Los Angeles in the season opener. "Ford and Thomas remarked to me that they got their money's worth," Argovitz said yesterday.
Argovitz also said Sims would collect $1.5 million, tax free, if he should suffer a career-ending injury. NFL clubs always have insured themselves against the loss of players by injuries; "I persuaded the Lions to insure Billy so that he would do the collecting," Argovitz said.
"Now my goal is to get him more money outside than he is making in football. A major food chain is printing 400,000 bumper stickers. They say, 'From Worst (2-14) to First (2-0); Thank You, Mr. Sims' and 'Billy Sims for President' and after every victory, 'Another One Bites the Dust.'
"He is going to be a goodwill ambassador for an athletic shoe firm. We're talking about a very lucrative contract for a 'Billy Sims' line.
"We have set up the Simbo corporation -- the nickname given him by teammate Greg Roberts at Oklahoma -- owned by Billy and his wife. We are arranging the manufacturing and distribution of Billy Sims T-shirts, jerseys and caps.
"A store wanted him to appear for an hour for another venture and when we told the store what the cost would be, the manager said, 'Reggie Jackson of the Yankees is the only athlete who gets that much.' I said, 'Well, now there's two of them.'
"I told Russ Thomas when we were negotiating the contract with the Lions that we were beginning a whole new era -- a shot that would be heard around the football world -- a changed salary structure for draftees. There are veterans who have made all-pro making $75,000 to $85,000 a year. I have got more than that for some second-round draft choices, and that's in base salary.
"That's why I fought long-term contracts. Some players are stuck in long contracts. Earl Campbell five years, Charles White six years, Ottis Anderson seven years. How do I know what a player's value will be in five years? Probably double what it is now with the NFL's TV contract up in two years and each club's payment likely to go from $5.8 million annually to $10 million.
"Sims' contract is for three years; Joe Cribbs with Buffalo is my only client with a four-year contract. The Colts offered Curtis Dickey $1.2 million for six years. We got our numbers for him in a three-year contract.
"I don't demand guaranteed contracts. The kind of bonuses they pay my clients amounts to a guarantee that they will not be dropped in an off year or because of an injury as in those series of one-year contracts. People ask, how can a player be worth that much. I tell them because he is an entertainer, in the business of selling tickets, like Kenny Rogers or Burt Reynolds.
"When a fan goes to the movies he doesn't say Reynolds doesn't deserve $5 million, or that Barbara Walters or Dan Rather don't deserve what they get. But the average fan says it about athletes, and there's only one Billy Sims."