Hays made a big impression on Billy Sims.

“I’ve never seen this many people at an opening,” the Heisman Trophy winner told a cheering crowd at the grand opening and ribbon cutting of Billy Sims BBQ on Friday at Tebo Village.

The Hays store is the 63rd in the chain that started in 2004 in Oklahoma, the seventh in Kansas and the third for franchisee David Dunn.

Dunn said he’s traveled through Hays on his way to skiing trips in Colorado and always has liked the city, so it seemed a good choice for his next store.

The quality of the chain is what attracted him, he said.

“I did my research at it seemed to be one of the best,” he said. “It didn’t hurt that I’m a big fan of Billy Sims.”

The store, with two full-time and 20 part-time employees, opened Thursday. Sims was on hand Friday for a ribbon cutting with the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce and met with customers and fans Friday and Saturday.

Sims has had lots of ups and downs since winning the Heisman Trophy in 1978 while playing for the University of Oklahoma and later as the No. 1 NFL draft pick in 1980 for the Detroit Lions.

A knee injury forced him to retire from football in 1984. In the years after, he invested in several business ventures that led to financial difficulties. He declared bankruptcy in 1990.

But he seems to take it all in stride.

“Most people, if you live long enough you’re going to have some ups and downs,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve had more ups than downs.”

When Sims and co-founder Jeff Jackson started Billy Sims BBQ, the former football star didn’t think it would be a huge success.

“I didn’t think it would work at all,” he said, envisioning one or two restaurants in Oklahoma.

“I never saw it going around the country,” he said.

The chain is now located in six states, and Sims there are seven more stores set to open this year.

Sims is quick to give credit to others for the chain’s success.

“It’s not all about me. We’ve got a lot of great people on board,” he said.

“We are just fortunate and blessed that people will give us a chance and we can introduce some good barbecue, good food on a consistent basis.”