Trojans remember Sim Byrd, the ‘Joe Namath’ of small-college football

Sim Byrd died at the age of 75 on Nov. 18. He was the quarterback of the 1968 NAIA National Championship Troy Red Wave team.

Sim Byrd died at the age of 75 on Nov. 18. He was the quarterback of the 1968 NAIA National Championship Troy Red Wave team.

Hall of Fame and National Champion Troy quarterback Sim Byrd passed away Wednesday, Nov. 18; he was 75 years old.

One of Troy’s first modern day All-Americans, Byrd led the then Red Wave to the 1968 NAIA National Championship behind passing numbers that were way ahead of his time. In Troy’s semifinal and championship game victories, Byrd combined for 12 touchdowns (11 through the air), and he finished the season with 41 touchdown passes and 3,569 passing yards. As a comparison, the NCAA’s Division I leader for the year finished with 25 touchdown passes.

“We have lost a special Trojan with the passing of Sim Byrd. Although he is revered by the TROY family through his achievements on the field of play, he was much more to us than a football hero,” TROY Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. said. “Troy University never had a more passionate ambassador, or a more loyal alumnus. Sim Byrd personified the Trojan Spirit. We extend our prayers and best wishes to his wife Faith, his extended family and his close friends.” 

More than 50 years have passed since his last game and Byrd’s season and career numbers have stood the test of time. His 41 touchdown passes during the magical 1968 season still rank as the most in school history – by 10 touchdowns – despite Troy’s propensity for pass-heavy offenses over the years. His yardage total for the season stood as the high-mark in the record book for more than 40 years.

The Montgomery, Ala., native ranks second all-time in Troy history with 79 career touchdown passes. He is third in total offensive yards and passing yards per game and fourth in passing yards, completions and attempts.

His prowess and leadership on the gridiron is not the only thing for which he is remembered, however. 

“He was just a really good human being,” said Lloyd Taylor, an educator from Destin who attended then-Troy State College with Byrd. “He was a leader people could follow and he was one of the main leaders on the football team. His death is a tremendous loss for many, and especially the University. He truly was an ambassador not only for things in Montgomery but for the University as a whole.”

Taylor had rekindled his relationship with Byrd over participation with the Alumni Association board of directors.

“Sim was extremely proud of the growth the University had experienced and would always bring up how different it was now than when he was a student,” Taylor said. “He bragged on Troy University constantly and how its growth was made possible through the University leadership.”

National Alumni President Bill Hopper said that Byrd’s love of Troy was readily evident.

“His love of Troy University was always on display, especially in the Alumni suite during football season and was surpassed only by love of (Alumni Director) Faith (West),” he said. “Sim will be remembered for his engaging smile and his welcoming heart. Sim made everyone feel special while maintaining a very humble self-image.”

“The Troy University National Alumni Board is saddened by his passing, and Sim will be missed by so many. I was proud to know that he and I were friends,” Hopper said.

The first Troy player to participate in the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic, Byrd was a member of the inaugural class of the Troy University Sports Hall of Fame where he was enshrined along with his head coach Billy Atkins in 2012.

Rusty Ninas played with Byrd and was a true freshman linebacker in 1966. He was one of about 35 freshmen who would go on to claim the national title a short three seasons later after having only five or six carryover players from the ’65 season — A feat still heralded in the lore of collegiate football.

“I really looked at Sim as the small-college Joe Namath – their actions and moves were similar, they completed balls and read defenses. From the standpoint of a ball player, he was a passer and playmaker and I’ve always admired him for his ability to do that. That’s what set him apart from others of that time,” he said. “There was no question he was the leader … Sim was a star.”

Ninas remembers how Byrd’s stardom impacted practices.

“We couldn’t touch him in practice,” he remembered. “Coach Atkins once told Coach (Phillip) Creel that if his ‘thugs’ on defense hit Sim ‘one more time,’ he was gonna send the whole defense home for good.”

“The thing about Sim was that he was confident and was always a leader and spoke – and, basically, everybody listened,” Ninas said.

That leadership transcended the years for the ’68 team, which has also lost linemen Mike Sadler and Gary Loggins.

“We used a phrase – ‘Forever First’ – because we will always be the first national champions for TROY. I think Sim was the symbol of that time and era,” he said. “You have someone like Sim come in with the leadership and the ability, and Coach Atkins with his pro style and techniques and it was a whole new ballgame for everybody.”

“The success TROY has had going forward all began with Billy Atkins and Sim Byrd. That’s what our legacy will be: we were the first and from there, it just kept getting better and better,” he said. “We’re going to miss Sim and wish he’d been here longer.”

A member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the Wiregrass Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame, Byrd set the then Troy single-season records for passing yards, completions and pass attempts during the national championship season and was rewarded with first team NAIA All-America honors after leading the nation in passing and punting.

In 1967, Byrd led Troy to its first-ever Alabama Collegiate Championship and a then-school record eight victories as he passed for 2,457 yards and threw 22 touchdowns.  

Byrd retired in Jan. 2014 following a 38-year professional career. He served as the President of the Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC) Control States at the time of his retirement.

The family will hold a private ceremony on Friday and a public Celebration of Life for Sim Byrd will be held in Troy at a later date.

This is an update to the original story posted on on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Adam Prendergast contributed to this story.