Simms' Final Numbers Add Up To ‘Respect'

It&#146;s about damn time. QB <B>Chris Simms </B>said so himself.

When he exited the Cotton Bowl last October, a red-faced Chris Simms lowered his head and walked forlornly into the dark heart of the Sooner section as minions of the Evil Empire chanted "Chris-sy! Chris-sy!…" It was the same song, first verse, the season before. And Texas Stadium wrath cascaded into a chorus of derision in the 2001 Big 12 Championship loss to Colorado, and that was from his own fans.

But following ninth-ranked Texas’ 35-20 come-from-behind victory against LSU (No. 25/No. 26), the senior bounded into the press conference and didn’t even wait to field reporters’ inquiries.

"No questions about that interception," Simms laughed, knowing that his last attempt as a Longhorn resulted in a pick. "I’m walking into the (Cotton Bowl) locker room with a smile on my face. About damn time, too."

Indeed. His previous appearances in Dallas bordered on macabre. Wednesday, it was a different story. Save for three sacks and that one meaningless pick, the golden-haired boy with the golden arm produced an otherwise stellar game as completed 15-of-28 passes for 269 yards (two touchdowns) in his final outing as a Longhorn.

The final numbers on Simms are now in: he finishes his career as the UT record holder for single-season touchdowns (30) and single-season TD passes (26). His 58 career TD passes ranks second on the Texas chart. He was the 2002 Big 12 pass leader (efficiency) as a senior. He finishes his career in third place in both Big 12 passing yards (7,097) and in Cotton Bowl history. Most important, his 26 career victories ties Marty Akins (1973-75) for second best in Longhorn history.

"Chris finished his career today like he should have," head coach Mack Brown said, "I’m really, really proud of him. He has matured as much as anyone I have seen. He’ll be able to buy all of those people who have criticized him in a year or two because he is going to be a great pro player."

The rub on Simms, of course, is that he won every game but the big ones. (Apparently, three straight wins over Texas A&M plus this past season’s Kansas State triumph don’t qualify as ‘big’).

"I don’t think Chris has to apologize to anybody for anything he’s done here," Brown said. "He handled himself with class. He handled himself with dignity. He wasn’t alone. Quarterbacks across the country are now getting criticized like head coaches and like offensive coordinators. The only difference is he’s a young man who doesn’t get paid for it. But he’s sure ready to go where they do get paid for it and be criticized because he’ll be able to handle whatever is said to him, I can promise you that."

Surely, this is something Brown did not learn since the last time he sat next to Simms at this stadium following the 35-24 loss to Oklahoma. Last October, Brown was lambasted by reporters for intercepting a question directed at Simms about his "big game" performance. (Brown later said the reporter was "just rude".)

"I’ll answer that one," Brown bristled, as he defended his signal caller. When the sports broadcaster directed the question specifically at Simms, Brown said, "That was his answer."

Brown is no dummy; he just has a tendency to protect (coddle?) his athletes. But Wednesday, it was all smiles, as Brown told the throng of media (on more than one occasion), "Anyone who wants to ask Chris a question, go ahead."

Simms said it was difficult to remove his jersey and "return home, knowing I won’t be seeing these guys in a long time" in the bittersweet aftermath of Texas’ consecutive bowl wins (something that hasn’t happened in 33 years).

"I am very happy to be taking off my jersey a winner," Simms said.

While recognizing Simms extraordinary on-the-field skills and exceptional off-the-field class, I will admit that I wanted Major Applewhite to start every game last year, And the year before. At the same time, the number of "haters" Simms endured the past three seasons (particularly among Longhorn legions) bordered on irrational. To be sure, there were times (at least three games come quickly to mind) that Simms’ decision made this "honorary coach" absolutely livid. But there was never a time when this Life Member of the Texas Exes wasn’t proud that one such as Simms wore the Burnt Orange.

Now, as Simms rides off into the Burnt Orange sunset, he deserves respect.

About damn time, too.

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