Any time Billy Sims runs near the end zone, which is shut once every 36 seconds, he goes into this number where he leans way over and puts a hand about six inches off the ground. Then he necessarily turns left or right, depending, and finishes off what he calls "my balance move."
What the move is, as small children and lap dogs know, is a piece of hot-doggery. The good thing is that Billy Sims is such a nice guy the act doesn't make anyone mad. Football being show business, the Billy Sims balance move is a signature mannerism that is pleasing in the fashion of say, Loni Anderson taking a deep breath. Writers of purple prose night say the Sims move puts them in mind of a hunting hawk wheeling on a wing tip. It sure does.
Billy Sims and the Detroit Lions are good stories right now. Pitiable winners of two games last year, the Lions are undefeated in three games this time. Sims, a rookie from Oklahoma, has started with a splash and is averaging so many yards rushing per game -- 127 -- that if he keeps it up for the whole 16 games he will break O. J. Simpsons's cherished record of 2,003 yards (Sims would have 29 more).
And Detroit is going crazy. Forget crime in the streets. Forget umemployment. In the discos, they're doing "the Billy Sims End Zone Dance," in which you act like a hawk wheeling a wing tip about to score a touchdown. Billy Sims T-shirts, with his number 20, sell for $3. Sunday's home opener against St. Louis drew 80,027 customers, the largest opening day crowd in five years and 26,000 larger than last year's. t
Practically everyone had a towel called the "Big Blue Duster." That's because the Lions wear blue suits, and their adopted theme song (locker rooms are big on theme music these days) is the sentimental ditty by Queen, "Another One Bites the Dust." Queen, as even presidential candidates know, is a rock group that wears 9 million pounds of makeup.This big song is about cops being shot down in the street.It has a nice beat, the Lions say, and they can dance to it while waving their little feather dusters to the fans.
Yes, feather dusters in the NFL. Be glad Lombardi left early. The Lion coach, Monte Clark, once believed that smiling caused lung cancer. But now he has gone over the edge with the rest of Detroit. After his teamhs shocking 41-20 victory over the Rams in the season opener, Clark got in the spirit of Queen. Instead of presenting game balls, this big lug of an old lineman presented feather dusters. Honest. g
"Billy Sims is the best thing to happen for this town since Mark Fidrych was a rookie," said Detroit News columnist Joe Falls. "The Lions are the only team in town winning. Look. The Lions won an NFL championship in 1957. The Red Wings won in '55, the Tigers have won once in 35 years (1968) and the Pistons never. So in the last 22 years, in four different major league sports, Detroit has had exactly one title."
So here come Billy Sims into this trough of despair. Detroit, erstwhile "murder capital" of the country. Detroit, where every fifth person is out of work. "Run, Billy, run," says teammate Jimmy Allen, a defensive back who compares Sims to Superman, Mr. Universe, O. J. Simpson and Zorro. The way Detroit is going crazy, you'd think Billy Sims had invented a car that sells for $47.50 and gets 117 miles per gallon on bath water. Yea, verily, the Simsmobile will roll off the line soon, its hood ornament the Heisman Trophy, its cruise-control set at 617 mph.
A dream is what Billy Sims is. What's happening in the real world of Detroit isn't nearly so much fun. Uncle Sam is trying to pull Chrysler out of a ditch, even if all it gets him is a billion-dollar hernia. About the shiploads of Datsuns sailing to America, the Ford family sincerely wishes for them to sink. General Motors says we wouldn't have this 20 percent unemployment in Detroit if Anjin-san had become shogun instead of that Oriental Cowboy Toranaga.
"The K-Car is Coming," someone's T-shirt promised in the Silverdome on Sunday.
Until then, and maybe even after then (sorry, Mr. Iacocca), the best thing Detroit has going is the Simsmobile. Billy Sims in overdrive.
The guy is great fun to watch run. He'll tell you Earl Campbell is "a bucky, bruiser runner and I'm a low, slashy runner." What's fun is seeing him go low and slashy right by linebackers, who dive where he was, not where he is. It's as if Sims is sprinting down a motel corridor and men are falling out of the doors too late as he goes by.
By five yards Sunday he missed being the first runner ever to start his NFL career with three straight 100-yard games. It didn't matter. He did one of his hallway runs for a touchdown, leaving a linebacker despondently prostrate. Coming up, a safetyman flew at Sims' knees only to be hammered face down into the floor by a Sims' straight-arm. The run was a 13-yarder to remember.
"I've had 100-yard games before," Sims said with a straight face. At Oklahoma, he once had seven straight 200-yard games. No, he didn't mind missing the three-straight record. "I'll have some more 100-yard games. The bottom line is we won."
As flamboyant as Sims is afoot, he is pedestrain with quotes. It is as if by defining his gift he will lose it. All right. The "balance move" is a statement of art. He doesn't need to elaborate. Fact is, he's not much for even watching football, let alone talk about it.
Question: Who was your football idol in high school, Billy?
"Myself." Nice smile. "I never did watch football on TV. I wanted to be a professional basketball player, so I watched that." Another soft smile. b"But I was too short."
Question: Billy, it's a big deal in Detroit that the Monday Night Football people haven't shown any highlights of you yet. Does it bother you? f
"No, not at all. I don't watch anyway. My wife and I are moving into a new house here and I mostly just work on it and answer fan mail. I see all my highlights on the game films."
The return of quarterback Gary Danielson after missing 1979 with an injured knee has helped the Lions. Last year's 2-14 fire of adversity tempered a young defense. The schedule is a powder puff, too (as a reward for being so bad, the NFL's equalization schedule gave Detroit the easiest schedule in the weakest division in the poorest conference -- six games with teams no better than 5-11 last year and only four with any team that won as many as 10 games).
Even with all this, it is still Billy Sims who causes the words "Super Bowl" to be heard in the Detroit locker room.
"Billy is like O. J. with the cuts he makes, and he has the quick feet of Mike Pruitt," said Fred Scott, the Lions' wide receiver from Amherst. "Walter Payton and Earl Campbell are different, because they're so big and powerful. Billy can reverse field like nobody I've ever seen. He's in a league of his own at that."
If asked, Billy Sims could leap tall buildings in a single bound, the way Superman does. Sims is stronger than Mr. Universe, only not as tall (the washed-out basketball player is 5-foot-11, 210 pounds). Sims strikes faster than Zorro's sword. Jimmy Allen, a seven year veteran says he fell for the good guy Sims when he said that line at training camp this summer.
It was a good line, but risky for a rookie. The old hands make the rookies stand up and introduce themselves, the better to hoot and holler at the kids. "Hello, I'm Billy Sims from the University of Oklahoma," Sims said, "and I'm the reason most of you guys aren't getting a raise this year."
Sims gets $1.74 million for four years. But the old guys loved it. "It showed me Billy was a very loose guy," Allen said. "A million dollars on your shoulders can get very heavy and you can be negative about carrying it. He showed me that here's a guy out to have a good time."
Which reminded Allen of how much fun these feather-dusting Lions are having. "At the moment, we're on the way to the Super Bowl, and the only way we're not going to get there is to lay down and give it away."
If, that is, the Simsmobile doesn't get a flat.