MIKE O'HARA

Billy Sims has no doubt Reggie Bush will make an immediate impact

Posted May 17, 2013

New Lions' RB Reggie Bush is under the same kind of pressure RB Billy Sims experienced his rookie season

Billy Sims may have taken a more direct path to the Lions' backfield than Reggie Bush, but both arrived in Detroit carrying the expectation of being "the missing piece".
Billy SimsRB Billy Sims

Sims came nonstop from Oklahoma as the No. 1 pick in the 1980 draft. Bush signed as a free agent in March after previous stops in New Orleans and Miami.

The pressures are similar for Bush in his eighth NFL season as to what Sims experienced as a rookie.

Lions Nation turns its eyes to Bush to inject sizzle and production into the run game the way Sims did in 1980. As great debuts go, the way Sims raised the curtain on his career in Detroit has to be at the top of any list – for the entire NFL, not just the Lions.

Sims had one of the most spectacular debuts in franchise history, and he has no doubt that Bush will make an immediate impact, too.

"As long as the big guys up front make it happen, he'll be OK," Sims said last week in an appearance in Metro Detroit. "I still think he's got a little juice.

"From watching him, it seems like he'll fit in."

Sims and Bush have a touch of showmanship in their football repertoire.

Sims high-stepped when he ran out of the tunnel in the pre-game introductions at the old Pontiac Silverdome. He held one arm out as though he were a plane landing as he glided into the end zone to complete a TD run.

Bush has a less flamboyant entry, but he did have one notable moment of showmanship in his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints in 2006.

In a game against the Bears in the NFC Championship, Bush pointed at Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher as he completed an 88-yard TD reception, knowing that Urlacher had no chance to catch him.

Clearly Bush is a player who enjoys the spotlight and should therefore enjoy the passion of Detroit's football fans.

He expects the atmosphere to be similar to what he experienced in New Orleans, where he played his first five seasons.

"That's the same kind of vibe I get here in Detroit," said Bush, who talks about Detroit's football fever in his weekly blog on detroitlions.com. "It's a football-first town, and no matter what - what I've heard – the fans are always going to be there to support the team through the tough times.

"I'm definitely a guy that feeds off of the crowd. I love when the fans get involved, and I love it when the fans are behind us and loud and cheering for us. I feed off that especially."

Similarities and comparisons abound in the way Sims and Bush were introduced to Detroit.

Sims won the 1978 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma and was runnerup for the award to Southern Cal's Charles White in 1979. Sims joined a Lions team in 1980 that had bottomed out with a 2-14 record in 1979. The Lions needed a star running back, and expectations were high that Sims could lead a revival.

Bush won the 2005 Heisman at Southern Cal but eventually returned the award because of violations of NCAA rules.

Bush was also a high draft pick, but by the Saints, who took him second overall in 2006. After five years and a Super Bowl championship in the Big Easy, Bush spent two seasons with the Miami Dolphins before signing with the Lions in March as a free agent.

Sims' first game was on the road against the Los Angeles Rams. His performance in the exhibition season was unspectacular, and it fueled debate as to whether the Lions made a mistake drafting him first overall instead of taking White. White went to the Browns 27th overall in 1980.

Sims quieted the doubters by leading the Lions to a 41-20 win in his debut. He rushed for 153 yards and three TDs and caught two passes for 64 yards. It was more of the same the next week against the Packers in Milwaukee – 134 yards rushing, 94 yards receiving, three TDS and a 29-7 victory.

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush

The Lions started 4-0, and Sims made the cover of Sports Illustrated. This was at a time when making SI's cover was a proud accomplishment, not part of Time Inc.'s marketing program dependent on regionalized fluff.

They finished the 1980 season with a 9-7 record. Sims made the first of his three Pro Bowl appearances in five seasons as a Lion. His career was cut short by a career-ending knee injury sustained in Game 8 of 1984 against the Vikings.

Sims was in Metro Detroit last week for the opening of a Billy Sims Barbecue restaurant in Troy. He has other restaurants in Lincoln Park and Southfield.

Judging by the turnout of people who wanted to shake hands and get his autograph, Sims is still popular with Lions fans.

He retired as the Lions' all-time leading runner, with 5,106 yards, since surpassed by Barry Sanders. He made three Pro Bowls in his first four seasons and was well on his way to a fourth at the time of the injury.

Sims and Bush both came to the Lions at a relatively late age. Sims turned 25 the week of his third pro game. He had changed schools, and the NFL did not begin letting underclassmen enter the draft until 1989.

"I knew whatever I was going to do, I had to do it in a hurry," Sims said, laughing.

And he did just that, with a fast start.