In his father’s footsteps

Don’t let the costume fool you.

Not the Bernie Kosar outfit that Rob Sims sported on Halloween in 1990. And not the happy-go-lucky disposition that cloaks the 23-year-old Sims these days.

Both of those appearances tell only half the story.

Kosar might have been Sims’ favorite Cleveland Browns player in 1990, but the Ohio native’s true hero was a different Brown. His father, Mickey Sims, played three seasons with Cleveland from 1977 though 1979 before retiring due in part to back problems.

And the temperament that Rob Sims carries with him can’t fully conceal the pain that he felt 16 months ago, when his father died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. The tragic death came as Rob Sims was preparing for his first minicamp with the Seattle Seahawks, and the pain still affects the 6-foot-3, 312-pounder to this day.

On Sunday, Rob Sims will return to the home of his favorite childhood team, at the site where his father used to play football at a now-defunct facility known as Municipal Stadium.

“It’ll be emotional,” the Seahawks’ starting left guard said Monday. “My dad was a Brown, and I always wanted to be a Brown growing up.”

Mickey Sims was a 6-foot-8 mass of man who never had any history of heart problems before going into cardiac arrest in June 2006. He was 51 years old and spent his final hours at work, serving as a sergeant with Cleveland Metro Parks.

At the time, Rob Sims was preparing to participate in his first NFL minicamp.

“It was the most difficult call I’ve ever had to make,” said Brenda Sims, Rob’s mother and Mickey’s widow. “(Mickey’s death) happened just like that.”

Rob Sims immediately returned home, and his life was forever changed.

“I’m definitely not the same person,” he said when asked how his father’s death has impacted him. “I really grew up a lot. Things that used to be funny to me aren’t funny anymore. It’s real life now.

“Before, I was having a good time and joking around and enjoying my youth. But then that happened, and I felt it was my time to grow up.”

Among other things, Rob has taken on a different role in a family that includes his mother and 17-year-old sister, Robyn.

“He’s become the man of the house,” Brenda Sims said. “He’s always concerned about myself and my daughter. He’s calling all the time to make sure we’re OK. He’s really taken on more responsibility in the family.”

Rob Sims went home to spend time with his family last week, when the Seahawks were given several days off leading up to the annual bye. But this weekend will be an entirely different kind of homecoming.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Sims said, “but I have to prepare like any other week. That part of the game doesn’t change. But it’ll be emotional to be in front of all my friends and family.”

Both Rob and Brenda have seen Mickey’s undeniable imprint on his son’s football career. There are the obvious physical similarities — even on cold days when players wear bulky coats, Brenda can find Rob on the sideline because he stands just like his father — but the cross-generational bonds go even beyond those.

“He put the drive in Rob to go beyond what he did,” Brenda said, adding that Mickey had lost his passion for the game even before his back problems ended his NFL career prematurely. “It’s such a competitive sport, and my husband always set the bar high for Rob.”

Mickey was instrumental in Sims’s decision to play offense, telling his son that he might have a longer career on that side of the ball. He also supported Rob’s decision to go to Ohio State, where the younger Sims became a starter as a freshman.

While Mickey Sims’ career as a defensive lineman was over before Rob’s 1983 birth, the father and son bonded through the sport that they both would love.

“He was always encouraging me to get better,” Rob Sims said. “He taught me to never stop working. I think I got my work ethic from him. I always have one speed, and that’s something he taught me.”

Brenda likes to tell the story about draft day in April 2006, when Rob Sims was selected by the Seahawks. While dozens of people were celebrating in the living room of the Sims house, father and son were nowhere to be found. Brenda eventually came upon the two of them huddled together, embracing each other in quiet celebration.

“They had their own private moment,” Brenda Sims said. “I felt kind of left out.”

A few months later, Brenda Sims had her own private moment at Qwest Field. During pre-game introductions at her first Seahawks game, she began sobbing and looking toward the sky.

“The people around me couldn’t understand why I was crying,” Brenda said Tuesday. “I just kept looking up and saying, ‘He made it.’ My daughter had to explain to them that they were tears of joy.”

Rob Sims grew up in Macedonia, Ohio, about 20 miles outside of Cleveland. His room was covered in Browns paraphernalia, including some of his father’s old shoes and game balls, and the young Sims dreamed of one day playing for that NFL team. He was such a big fan that 17 years ago, when he was 6 years old, Sims dressed up as the Browns’ quarterback for Halloween.

“Everyone knew that I was Mickey Sims’ kid growing up, so they all thought I’d be a Browns player when I grew up,” said Sims, who has a contingent of more than 100 people coming to Sunday’s game. “It’ll just be fun going back and playing in front of the home crowd.”

And it will also be emotional. Asked how Mickey would react to seeing Rob play at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Brenda provided a quick response.

“He’d cry,” she said. “I don’t know if you can imagine a 6-8 gentle giant crying, but he would. That’s how he was; he was that kind of emotional person. He was just so proud of Rob.”

And Rob is proud of his father. While he’s still coming to terms with the tragic death, Rob Sims doesn’t feel the need to hide from his feelings anymore.

“I’m at peace with it,” the Seahawks’ offensive lineman said on Monday. “I know that it was something that needed to happen. I just need to move on, keep moving forward, and bring my mom and my sister along with me.”

This weekend, they’ll have plenty of other support as well.

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