Rhein Fire defensive tackle Doug Sims is one of NFL Europe's superlatives in 2005. The biggest player in the league, weighing in at 340 pounds, defensive tackle Sims is aiming to kick start a dormant NFL career by proving that size is everything when it comes to his position.
"I am used to being the biggest guy around," laughs the jovial Sims. "Have been all my life. In high school and in college I was always the biggest. You get into the NFL and there are a lot of big guys, but out here I am again.
As with all of the big players at what tends to be the position most NFL teams aim to supersize the most, Sims is well aware that there is a limit to how big you can be and still maintain the effectiveness you need to play the game well.
"It is something I always try to keep under control, but it also adds a lot to my game," he explains. "I have got to play football, that's the bottom line, and if it means playing where I am at I will make sure I am in the best shape to play."
Sims saying that he has to play football rings true, especially after a two year absence from the game has made him even hungrier - to be playing football. A horrific injury in the 2002 preseason as a San Diego Charger looked to have cut short a promising career stretching back to high school during which he was always able to dominate with his size.
"I started my college career at Laney Junior College in Oakland, where I played under coach Dan Peters, who had been there for about 35 years and is still in place," Sims explains. "I grew up and went to high school in the Bay area, played at Auburn high school, so it was a good fit."
Sims' tally of 51 tackles and 4.5 sacks while at Laney Junior College earned him looks from several Division I and I-A college teams, but in the end his decision was made without too much trouble.
"Hawaii was my main choice," he says. "I was being recruited by the University of Washington and Grambling also, but I had been to Washington and I had been to Louisiana, and I had never been to Hawaii, so it turned out to be a pretty easy decision! Playing football and getting a free education in paradise was something I will never forget."
Life on the palm-fringed holiday isle turned out well for Sims, who started 22 of 24 career games for the Rainbow Warriors, collecting 57 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. With Sims' help the team went to two bowl games during his career, heading to the Oahu Bowl in 1999 and the Hula Bowl two years later. On the field, Sims earned the nickname 'Big Business' among the coaching staff and players at Hawaii, often playing like an All-American in the middle of the line, but occasionally falling well short of his vast potential.
The man that encouraged Sims to make the most of his size and potential and head to the NFL was Rainbow Warriors' coach June Jones, whose advice was that much more pertinent given his background as a ten year NFL coach and two-time NFL head coach.
"He was an excellent coach," remembers Sims. "He had that experience in the NFL, which he passed on to us, and he became a good friend off the field."
Jones' advice to Sims ended up taking him to the NFL, where he moved to the Pacific northwest and joined Seattle. His training camp experience did not see him stick in Seattle, but he learned a lot about what it would take to make it in the NFL - and especially that his size would not take him as far as it could do before.
"In 2001 I came out as a rookie free agent and was signed by the Seattle Seahawks," he said. "It felt good to just get a chance, and I played through the preseason, but was released in the final cuts.
"I got picked up by the Washington Redskins, and spent the end of the 2001 season on their practice squad."
The following year a wiser Sims set off for training camp with another new team - the San Diego Chargers, who had picked him up in February 2002. After an off-season in their conditioning program, Sims was in the best playing shape of his life, and proceeded to impress the Chargers' coaches through camp and the preseason, before injury hit.
"I had been playing well in preseason for the Chargers, but then got hurt," he says. "It was a bad injury, I dislocated my ankle and had to spend the year on injured reserve. That's a tough thing to face, and it was one of the hardest times of my career."
Returning to the team in 2003, Sims was unable to perform at the level the Chargers expected of him on his rehabilitated ankle, and that prompted the big defensive tackle to turn his back on the game for two full years. During that time he followed another of his loves - music. The talented musician spent time in the studio producing tunes for R&B and rap songs, as well as playing the bass guitar and drums.
The football bug bit again at the end of last year with a call from his agent asking about his interest in playing in NFL Europe.
"My agent called me up last December and told me that he thought NFL Europe could be my best chance to get back into the NFL," Sims said. "I thought a little about it and realized that it was still my dream, so I am going to do whatever it takes to get there."
With his intention declared, Sims was signed by the Green Bay Packers and submitted for the draft. Rhein Fire head coach Pete Kuharchek thought enough of Sims' skills when scouting for the season that he selected him in the fifth-round of the NFL Europe allocated player draft. On a team which consistently has the best defense, and emphasizes the play of its linebackers, having a defensive tackle of the size, skills and experience of Sims would be a huge advantage, not only to help stuff the run, but also to use his size to collapse the pocket and bat down passes - a Sims speciality.
"I have watched NFL Europe a lot in the past," says Sims. "I have had numerous friends come through this league; Dwight Carter (Rhein 2001) and Marcus Williams (Amsterdam / Frankfurt 2002) for example. They have all said that this league is a great opportunity and not something you should turn down.
"Getting playing time is so important. Those guys, just like I was back before my injury, were stuck behind bigger names and didn't get the chance to get any playing time. Out here you get a chance to play, learn more about your position from some good coaches, and play through an entire regular season, rather than the limited playing time you might get in the NFL preseason. That is not something I was willing to turn down."
Sims has two personal priorities for his time in NFL Europe. Getting used to playing again is an obvious first, but also leaning on the experience of the Rhein Fire coaching staff to learn more about the game and ensure that he comes away from the season in Europe as a better player.
"I am here mainly to just shake the rust off," admits Sims. "If you have not played for two years there are technical aspects of your game you need to relearn, and you have to get back into the mindset of being in the trenches and all the stuff that goes on in there.
"The coaches here should help me improve my overall knowledge of the game. You can never be too knowledgeable about the game. If you keep learning you will find something that makes you a little bit better, and that's what I am trying to do."
Something else that Sims is desperately trying to learn more about currently is his home of the next three months, Germany. With some returning Americans and the six national players on the Rhein Fire, however, he is beginning to get a picture of what he can expect.
"I know absolutely nothing about Germany," laughs Sims. "Literally nothing! I have talked a bit to a couple of the national guys, Willy Bongo, Richard Adjei and Richard Yancy, and they told me it is different, but it also has a lot of similarities to here. I am sure I will be pretty comfortable, I like trying out new things and new places."
One thing that Sims is aware of is that the Rhein Fire is a team steeped in history. With five World Bowl appearances the Fire have been to a championship game every two years since their first season in the league in 1995, but it is now four years since their last win, and that is something that Sims wants to help change.
"There's always pressure to win whenever you step onto the field, no matter whether you are on the worst team or the best team. Anybody who has played football will tell you that," he says. "It is a chip we will carry on our shoulder all year, we are a good team with a good coach, and we want to get to that championship game. World Bowl is in our home town this year, so that maybe picks it up even more. But the important thing is that we focus, and go out and play football the way we want to. I believe that we can take care of business and give the people in Düsseldorf something to be proud of."