VANCOUVER — The BC Lions made a tough decision to part ways with Geroy Simon prior to last season.
When the 38-year-old retired earlier this month, it was an easy call to honour the CFL’s all-time leading receiver as soon as possible.
The Lions announced before Friday’s 37-13 pre-season victory over the Calgary Stampeders that Simon will have his No. 81 added to B.C. Place Stadium’s Ring of Honour this summer.
“It’s something that’s very special and I appreciate it,” said Simon. “This was home for a long time and it’s a place where I feel real comfortable so I’m really happy and really honoured for the recognition.”
But while Simon is more than deserving, the speed at which it has come about is a bit of a surprise.
B.C. traded Simon to the Saskatchewan Roughriders when it was decided his role would change with the Lions for the 2013 season. He went on to have modest numbers during the regular season with the Riders, but scored two touchdowns in the club’s Grey Cup victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Simon had indicated that he wanted to play one more season with either the Lions or Riders in 2014, but wasn’t able to agree to terms with either club.
“That was the plan but it just didn’t work out,” said Simon, who won the Grey Cup with the Lions in 2006 and 2011. “I wanted to play but I also didn’t want to play anywhere else other than B.C. or Saskatchewan. I made that quite clear. When the decision was made that I wasn’t going to come here I just said I’m going to retire and move on.”
The Johnstown, Pa., native added that he doesn’t hold any animosity towards the Lions for what transpired the last two off-seasons.
“I think that takes more effort to be mad and hold a grudge,” said Simon. “I move on. I’m looking forward to my next career and I’m happy with my decision and whatever else happens.”
Lions general manager and vice-president of football operations Wally Buono – who made the call not to bring Simon back as a player – said honouring him was “a no brainer.”
“I want to thank Geroy for making this happen because he could have been difficult to deal with,” said Buono. “He was, as he always is, a great pro, a great human being.”
Now working as a scout for Saskatchewan, Simon was taken aback that his former club would reach out so quickly and honour him on July 25 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, coincidentally the team that gave him his start in the CFL.
“It was totally unexpected. I didn’t expect it,” he said. “I was shocked but happy and pleased with the organization.”
On the field Friday, Lions quarterback Kevin Glenn finished 17 of 21 for 173 yards and a touchdown as he continues to look like the favourite to start the club’s opener on June 28 against the Edmonton Eskimos. No. 1 quarterback Travis Lulay did not take a snap in the pre-season as he continues to recover from off-season shoulder surgery.
Stefan Logan returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter as B.C. jumped out to an 18-0 lead after just 15 minutes, but Calgary quarterback Drew Tate led his team back in the second quarter to trail 21-13 at the break
Lions rookie defensive back T.J. Lee had two interceptions – including one that he returned 15 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the game out of reach at 31-13 – while linebacker Solomon Elimimian added two interceptions of his own.
In a battle to make the team, Lee made quite an impression in his final audition.
“I just appreciate the opportunity of playing this game,” said Lee, who could have had four interceptions on the night. “I’m grateful.”
Lions head coach Mike Benevides, whose team will host this year’s Grey Cup game, definitely took notice.
“I know there’s going to be tough decisions,” he said. “The process today was really good for us. Fast, aggressive defence.”
Tate – who threw a TD – and fellow Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell were both picked off twice, while reigning CFL most outstanding player Jon Cornish rushed for 33 yards on five carries early on before spending the rest of the night as a spectator.
Prior to the game, Buono said there was nothing awkward when the Lions approached Simon about honouring his number, even though they dealt him prior to last season and declined to bring him back in 2014.
“It’s business. Nothing was done on a personal level. When you ask me who one of my all-time favourite players is, I’m going to say Geroy,” said Buono. “He was a tremendous warrior for us, a tremendous ambassador in the community.
“It was tough last year. It was tough to cross that bridge that we had to separate with Geroy. It was tough to know that we were going to line up without Geroy.”
Simon had 1,029 career catches for 16,352 yards and 103 touchdowns with Winnipeg (1999-2000), B.C. (2001-2012) and Saskatchewan (2013). He was the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2006 with 105 catches for 1,856 yards and 15 touchdowns, capping that campaign with his first of three Grey Cup titles.
Buono, who coached Simon with B.C. during his prime, said he never changed who he was on or off the field.
“He responded well to the challenges. The thing about players is you want them to be able to withstand the expectation and the pressure,” he said.
“When you’re the No. 1 receiver year in and year out, there’s a tremendous price to pay because everybody’s on you, everybody’s after you, defences are made to stop you but Geroy overcame all that.
“He was always a guy that worked hard, was very humble, was great in the locker-room and was a superstar in the community.”
Simon said he now wants to build his front-office resume in hopes of one day running a CFL team.
“In 10 years I see myself as being a GM or an president of an organization,” he said. “I want to be running the show somewhere.
“I’m not done (winning Grey Cups). I’m going to win a few more.”