1. Billy Sims – Oklahoma RB: Few states put out Running Backs like the state of Texas did in the 1970’s. Earl Campbell, Billy Sims, Eric Dickerson and David Overstreet were as good as they come and they all played high school football in Texas. In high school at Hooks, Texas Billy Sims carried the ball a state record at the time 1,128 times for 7,738 yards 38 straight games of over 100 yards.
Oklahoma Sooner coach Barry Switzer said that Billy Sims thought he could fly, and he almost could. He was an incredible athlete and one of a kind Halfback in the Wishbone Offense. In 1978, Billy Sims ran for 1,896 yards and 22 Touchdowns. Sims was a junior in 1978 with another year of eligibility and he looked like the guy that was going to win the Heisman twice. But, that was not to be. As a senior, he ran for 1,670 yards and 23 Touchdowns, but Charles White would beat him out for the Heisman. He finished with at Oklahoma with 4,023 rushing yards and 51 Touchdowns.
But, when the NFL came into the picture, Sims was taken as the very first pick in the 1980 Draft. If you are a younger person reading this blog, you need to find some video of Billy Sims either at Oklahoma or with the Detroit Lions. This guy was truly special.
In 1980, Sims was the Rookie of the Year rushing for over 1,300 yards. He would top 1,000 yards in 3 out of his 5 NFL seasons and made All Pro 3 seasons. His career basically ended in 1984 when he suffered a severe knee injury against the Minnesota Vikings. In 5 NFL seasons, Sims ran for 5,106 yards on 1,131 carries and he scored 42 Touchdowns. He caught 186 passes for 2,072 yards. He was never required to catch out of the Wishbone Offense at OU so who knew he could catch the ball. Those aren’t Hall of Fame numbers, but he was great while he lasted and he was fun to watch in high school, college and the NFL.
Sims tried a comeback in 1989 after being out of the league for years, but he was never given a shot. Sims filed bankruptcy in 1990 after he failed at some business attempts and being swindled by corrupt individuals. But, now, Sims owns 44 Billy Sims BBQ joints with a partner.
2. Chuck Fusina – Penn State QB: Fusina was a senior in 1978 and he led the Penn State Nittany Lions to an undefeated regular season at 11-0. They lost to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 14-7, or they could have been national champs. These were different times and Quarterbacks just didn’t produce the kind of numbers that they do these days. Fusina threw for 1,859 yards and 11 Touchdowns. He also threw 12 Interceptions and was much better statistically in 1977. Fullback Matt Suhey was their leading rusher and he is more famous for being Walter Payton’s blocking Fullback with the Chicago Bears. But, Suhey was a talent in his own right possessing good size and speed.
Fusina was an All American in 1978 and won the Maxwell Award which is supposed to be for the best player in the country.
Fusina was only 6-1, 195 which cost him on draft day and he was picked in the 5th round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At Tampa, he was a back up to Doug Williams for three seasons before he signed with the new United States Football League in 1983. With the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars he was also a star leading his team to that league’s championship in 1984 and 1985. He threw for 10,000 yards for head coach Jim Mora. The USFL folded in 1986 and Fusina finished up his career with the Green Bay Packers. In four seasons in the NFL, Fusina only threw for 198 yards.
Fusina actually used football to earn his college degree and then after the NFL he received his MBA. He is a partner in East Coast Sporting Goods business AD STARR.
3. Rick Leach – Michigan QB: Leach was one of my favorite players back in the day. Coming out of Flint, Michigan Leach was a 4 year starter for Bo Schembechler and the Wolverines. Make no mistake about it, Bo Schembechler’s teams ran the ball. They weren’t much of a passing team, but they did throw it when necessary. Leach ran the ball for 2,121 yards in his career at Michigan and he scored 34 Touchdowns. During the 1978 season, he ran for 611 yards and 12 Touchdowns. The Wolverines had Harlan Huckaby, Russell Davis, Roosevelt Smith and Butch Woolfolk at the Running Back positions and they really moved the ball on the ground.
But, Leach also threw the ball for over 4,000 yards in 4 seasons with 46 Touchdowns. As a senior, in 1978, Leach hit 78 passes out of 158 attempts for 1,283 yards and 17 Touchdowns.
The Wolverines were 38-8-2 during the Rick Leach years in Ann Arbor.
Leach was picked in the 5th round by the Denver Broncos, but he was also picked in the 1st round with the 13th pick by the Detroit Tigers. Leach smartly picked baseball and he played for the Tigers, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants. He never was a great Major League Baseball player, but he spent 10 years in the Majors.
After his playing days were over, Leach was in the insurance business.
4. Charles White – USC RB: The Trojans and the Crimson Tide of Alabama split the national title in 1978, but USC beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa during the season. The Trojans finished the season 12-1 with a win over Rick Leach and Michigan in the Rose Bowl. White ran for 1,859 yards and 13 Touchdowns, plus he caught 22 passes for another 193 yards and 1 Touchdown.
White was a junior in 1978 and he would beat out fellow senior Billy Sims in 1979 for the Heisman Trophy. More about Charles White will be in the 1979 version of the top 10 in the Heisman voting. In the 1978 season, White’s back up was Lynn Cain who rushed for 977 yards and was picked in the 4th round by the Atlanta Falcons and he played 7 years in the NFL. Also, freshman Marcus Allen ran for 171 yards on this team and he would win the Heisman in 1981 while becoming the first college Running Back to top 2,000 yards in a season.
5. Charles Alexander – LSU RB: Nicknamed Alexander the Great by LSU fans, Charles ran for over 4,000 yards and 40 Touchdowns for the Tigers. His best season was actually in 1977 when he ran for 1,686 yards. In 1978, Alexander only ran for 1,172 yards and 14 Touchdowns. The cool story regarding Alexander the Great is that he was primarily a Fullback in high school at Galveston Ball in Texas. He never put up big numbers and he was lightly recruited before he signed with the LSU Tigers. It’s always nice to see the underdog do well.
After his junior and senior year in which he was a consensus All American, Alexander was picked in the 1st round by the Cincinnati Bengals. He played 7 seven seasons in the NFL, but was never a star with the Bengals. His best season was his second year when he ran for 702 yards and after 7 seasons he only ran for 2,645 yards.
After football, Alexander worked in the oil business and then worked for LSU for a while. He founded C’mon Man Cajun Seasoning in 2011.
6. (tie) Steve Fuller – Clemson QB: In the Chicago Bears Super Bowl Shuffle hit song in 1985, Steve Fuller was the guy wearing the #4 jersey who was about the 6th guy to do a solo. Fuller backed up Jim McMahan on that Chicago Bears Super Bowl Champion team.
Fuller played high school football at Spartanburg, South Carolina before signing with Clemson. Fuller played quite a bit as a freshman and he improved every season. He was a good athlete and ran for 1,703 yards while at Clemson while throwing for 4,201 yards. As a senior in 1978, Fuller led the Tigers to an 11-1 record and passed for 1,515 yards and 7 Touchdowns, with 649 rushing yards and 10 more touchdowns.
Steve Fuller was picked by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 23rd pick of the 1st round. Fuller played a lot his first two seasons with his second year being his best in the NFL. He was replaced in his third season by Bill Kenney and was with the Chicago Bears by 1984. He gained a Super Bowl ring with the 1985 Bears who were one of the best NFL teams of all time.
Fuller played 7 years in the NFL and then got into high school football coaching in South Carolina. Even though he was a part of the rap song Super Bowl Shuffle, Fuller never got into music after football.
6. (tie)Ted Brown – North Carolina State RB: Fuller’s ACC opponent Ted Brown of North Carolina State tied him in the Heisman voting. Brown probably never got the national attention that he deserved. At North Carolina State he was all ACC for all 4 seasons he was there, plus he was consensus All American in 1978. As a freshman, Brown ran for 913 yards and improved that every season and he finished with an ACC record 4,602 career yards.
The Minnesota Vikings picked Brown with their 1st pick in the 1979 NFL Draft with the 16th pick overall. Brown had a few good years for the Vikings with 912 yards rushing in his second season. He followed that up with his only 1,000 yard season in 1981. He finished with 4,546 yard rushing with the Vikings. In 1981, Brown almost jeopardized his own career when he shot himself accidentally with his own gun.
Ted Brown played 8 years in the NFL and all with the Vikings.
Brown stayed in the Minnesota area and his son is a hockey player and plays with the Tampa Bay Lightening of the NHL.
8. Eddie Lee Ivery – Georgia Tech RB: Ivery ran for 301 yards as a freshman, then 754 as a sophomore in 1976. As a junior, Ivery carried the ball for 900 yards, and then he finished up with 1,562 yards as a senior in 1978.
Ivery threw 2 passes and completed both and they both went for Touchdowns.
The Green Bay Packers picked Ivery with the 15th pick of the 1st round. He played with the Packers for 8 years and ran for just under 3000 yards.
Ivery dealt with some substance abuse issues while playing football, but he got his life back together. He worked in the strength and conditioning program at Georgia Tech for a long time and he was working at his old high school as of 2011.
9. Jack Thompson – Washington State QB: Nicknamed the ‘Throwin Samoan’ because he slung the ball around pretty well while he was playing college football and obviously he was of Samoan descent. These were different times and a different era and the game has changed a great deal. Thompson threw for 7,818 yards and 53 Touchdowns. The yardage total was an NCAA record at that time.
But, he also threw for 49 Interceptions in 4 seasons. Quarterbacks just threw a lot more picks back in those years. Archie Manning, for example, threw 31 career Touchdowns and 40 Interceptions and he was the best of his item period.
The Throwin Samoan had his best season as a sophomore in 1976. In 1978, the Washington State Cougars finished 3-7-1 and playing on the West coast pretty much cost Jack Thompson any shot at the Heisman.
In the 1979 NFL Draft, Thompson was picked by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 3rd overall pick. Thompson was a bust in Cincinnati and had little success for 4 seasons. In 1983, he had his best season in the pros at Tampa Bay. But, he was out of football after the 1984 season.
He moved back to Seattle and became a mortgage banker.
10. Jerry Robinson – UCLA LB: Robinson may have been the best player on this list, but he was a Linebacker and they never win Heisman Trophies. He may have finished in 10th place, but Robinson was a rare 3 time All American at UCLA. Supposedly, Robinson was recruited as a Tight End by Dick Vermeil. Later, Vermeil left his head coaching job at UCLA for the Philadelphia Eagles and he drafted Robinson with the Eagles first pick in the 1979 Draft.
Robinson played 13 years in the NFL with the Eagles and with the Los Angeles Raiders. He played in a Super Bowl and in the Pro Bowl. Robinson was recently named to the Pac 12 All Century team and he is one of the top UCLA players of all time.