Sims’ city: 49ers lineman is only Miner with retired jersey number
August 6, 2010
It’s not surprising that 6-foot-5, 300-pound Barry Sims was once on the Park City High School track team, but as a high jumper?
Yes, it’s true. The San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman high jumped, long jumped and – more predictably – shot putted during his time at PCHS.
"I was able to jump pretty high, especially for my size," said Sims, who also used those hops as a forward on the Miners’ basketball team. "My problem was that being so big, I couldn’t bend backward. Even though I could jump high, my butt got in the way of the bar."
From 1991 to 1993, Sims led Park City’s football team to three state playoff appearances in Class 2A before subsequent playoff losses to Beaver. The Miners bowed out in the finals his sophomore year, the semifinals his junior year, and the quarterfinals when he was a senior – games that still stick in the big man’s craw.
"Any time you play in a big game and you come up short, those losses always stay with you," Sims said. Although he’s entering his 12th season in the National Football League (having spent nine with the Oakland Raiders and the last two with San Francisco), Sims said he and former Miners teammates still occasionally share memories of their prep exploits.
His No. 72 is the lone jersey number retired by the school, and his mother’s blown-up picture of his plaque above the Dozier Field press box resides on the wall of his Bay Area house. Sims even returned to Park City during the 49ers’ bye week last year. He can’t watch his old team play often, but he keeps apprised of its progress and knew, for instance, that rookie head coach Kai Smalley is installing a spread offense this season.
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"I think you can go further with that," he said. "With (the option), all you can do if you meet a team with good defensive discipline is get shut down."
Sims, who is yearning for some company on Dozier’s wall of fame, took the long route to the NFL but has well exceeded the league’s average career length of 3.2 years. He didn’t draw a lot of attention coming out of high school and played for two years at Dixie Junior College before earning a Division I scholarship at the University of Utah.
He was impressive both on the field and in workouts at the U, but his professional dream appeared to be over after he blew out his knee in a Hula Bowl practice. To everybody but Sims, that is. When he was drafted in the 17th round by the Scottish Claymores of the now-defunct NFL Europe, he decided to make the most out of his time in Edinburgh.
In one season starring for the Claymores, he showed enough athleticism to get a call-up from the Oakland Raiders. He got his first NFL start in his fifth game, and he has had 133 since.
So Sims knew his subject when he offered consolation to fellow PCHS graduate and offensive lineman Kyle Mutcher earlier this year. Mutcher was locked in as a late-round pick in the NFL Draft until those hopes were similarly derailed by injury, and his agent put him on the cell phone with Sims after the final round concluded without his name being called.
"It’s hard to get in and establish yourself in this league," Sims said to Mutcher, who then signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills but was later waived. "A lot of times, those things challenge you to rise up and see what you’re made of."
The 49ers, collectively, are hoping to do just that in 2010. Sims’ team stands in unfamiliar territory after last season’s 8-8 finish curbed six straight seasons of losing records. The retirement of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and the improved play of former University of Utah quarterback Alex Smith now has many in the media picking the 49ers to win the NFC West division.
Smith is blessed with a cornucopia of dangerous options on offense with running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis, and receivers Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan. "If we need to run the ball, we can," Sims said. "If we need to throw, we can. We have the ability to really dictate what the defense does on the field."
Sims is one of the elder statesmen on an offensive line that features new coaches and incoming first-round picks Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. Though Sims drew positive reviews in seven games as a starter last year, he figures to be a backup now that tackle Joe Staley has recovered from injury. The veteran takes the natural demotion in stride, however.
"When I came here, my role was to be able to start at tackle on both the right and left side whenever they need me," he said. "My role will vary, depending on the game plan."
When he doesn’t start, Sims will likely be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations to give the line an extra push while his teammates are winded. For now, Sims is concentrating on his role as a leader on a young team, showing them the "little things" that separate playoff contenders from cellar dwellers.
"I say things that need to be said when they need to be said," Sims said. "I also try to lead by example, just going out and working hard."