Texas' Phil Simms led his conference in passer rating for three consecutive seasons
Chris Simms didn't hear ESPN call his name Saturday, having turned off the network's coverage of the 2003 NFL Draft early in the evening. What he did hear, with the ringing of a phone shortly before 9:00 p.m., was opportunity calling.
"I am really thrilled to play with the Super Bowl Champs and coach (Jon) Gruden, who I've had so much respect for," said Simms, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the last pick of the third round on Saturday. "I know my father has so much respect for him, too. I've heard nothing but good things about him since my dad met him. To be around teammates like Brad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Derrick Brooks, I mean that's just an unbelievable situation.
"I just look forward to being there with the team, learning as much as possible. I look forward to the opportunity to be coached by great coaches, (that) is the most important thing."
Simms' draft spot, at number 97 overall, came as somewhat of a surprise on several levels. Projected in many pre-draft analyses to go early in the second round, or even in the first round, it was a bit of a shock that he was available to the Buccaneers at the end of the evening. And the Bucs seemed like one of the least likely teams to tab a young passer, considering their depth chart reads five deep at the spot and includes four players who have extensive starting experience in the NFL.
The Bucs, however, saw great promise in the son of former New York Giants all-pro QB Phil Simms.
"He's a guy that we selected for a reason, a guy we think has great promise," said Gruden. "We are looking forward to getting this process started.
""I think he is very eager to prove all the analysts and draft experts wrong and show that maybe he was worthy of being picked higher. We all have egos to some degree, especially at that position. I'll say this about Chris Simms: He is a good kid, and he's going to have a great opportunity here in Tampa to do the things he is capable of doing. All I can say is we are going to work hard to back this pick up."
Considering his bloodlines, Simms was a very high-profile recruit by the Longhorns in 1999. In four seasons at Texas, he played in 41 games and started 31, completing 235 of 396 passes (58.7%) for 7,097 yards, 58 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. As a senior in 2002, he started all 13 games and threw for 3,207 yards, the second-highest total ever by a Longhorn, plus a school-record 26 touchdowns versus just 12 picks. A semi-finalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's top passer, Simms finished his career 25-6 as a starter.
There were, however, some big-game struggles along the way, magnified by Texas' high-profile rivalries with powerhouses such as Oklahoma.
"I had a great time at Texas," said Simms. "I have a lot of great memories. I had a great time playing football there. I realize not all the times were great. For some reason people tend to forget the fact that I led the Big XII in passer rating three years in a row (and) that I was 26-5 as a starter. I think it was a great learning experience for me there and a great time. It's a place I'll remember for a long time."
The Bucs appreciated the candor with which Simms spoke of both the highs and lows of his Longhorn career, and believe he is an extremely talented passer who can flourish under Gruden's proven tutelage. Simms is thrilled with the opportunity to work with one of the NFL's noted passing gurus.
"I think that's the great thing I like about coach Gruden so much, he realizes all odds are against you and all odds have been against me for a long time," said Simms. "Now, I just get to team up with him, a guy just like me. Hopefully we can prove everyone wrong."