January 25, 2013

Morris: Simon says he still has a lot to prove


SURREY – Sometimes the right decision isn’t the easiest one to make.

Geroy Simon didn’t want to leave the B.C. Lions. The sure-handed slotback knew he could stay in Vancouver, play at least another season, and continue to add to his legacy as one of the greatest receivers in CFL history.

It would have been the easy thing to do. But for Simon it wasn’t the right thing.

It wasn’t the request to take a reduced salary that tipped the scales in Simon’s decision to agree to be traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders Thursday. It was more about rejecting a reduced role in the Lions’ offensive scheme and wanting to prove he still can be a top-drawer receiver.

“The cowardly thing to do, or the easy thing to do, would have just been to work it out and stay,” Simon said after a news conference in the dressing room of the Lions’ training facility in Surrey, B.C. “But in the end I wouldn’t have been comfortable with that.

“I wouldn’t have been comfortable with what was offered to me.”

The classy Simon spoke with emotion but not bitterness. Leaving the Lions hurt his heart but staying would have damaged his pride.

“This is a very tough day,” he said. “In the end this is a decision we had to make.”

Simon has 15,787 receiving yards over a 14-year career, more than any other receiver in league history. He needs just 29 catches to break Ben Cahoon’s career record of 1,017 receptions.

After beginning his CFL career with Winnipeg in 1999, Simon joined the Lions as a free agent after the 2000 season. Since then he’s been a league all-star six times, helped the Lions win Grey Cups in 2006 and 2011, and was the CFL’s outstanding player in 2006.

A star on the field, Simon was a leader in the dressing room and a great ambassador for the game. He coached minor football and made community appearances. Thoughtful and honest when dealing with the media, Simon would stay after practises to sign autographs and chat with fans.

In a perfect world Wally Buono, B.C.’s general manager and vice-president of football operations, would have liked Simon to end his career as a Lion. The problem was, the two couldn’t agree on Simon’s role this season.

Simon believes he still has the skill to be a starter. The Lions saw him more as a backup to be used in certain formations.

More Geroy Simon Coverage

» Video: Nye Breaks Down Simon Trade
» Video: Simon Trade Reaction from Regina
» Video: Simon and Buono React to Trade
» Simon makes toughest decision of career
» Superman flies to Saskatchewan
» Images: The Best of Simon in BC
» Images: Simon says goodbye
» Bio: Geroy Simon

“I was prepared to take a diminished role but not on (that) level,” Simon said. “That’s where the disconnect was.”

It was a like a marriage that had run its course. Better to get a divorce now while the two sides remained friends than risk turning into enemies.

“Let’s just say we agreed to disagree,” said Buono.

“We feel that at this point it was best to part ways. For us to part ways is not something we enjoy. It’s part of the business of sports that you have to deal with. We have to be honest with ourselves and our decision and going forward.”

The decision to put the six-foot, 198-pound native of Johnstown, Pa., on the trade market was made easier this week, but the Simon could see the writing on the wall last season.

The 37-year-old missed five games with two hamstrings injuries. He finished with only 54 catches for 700 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time since 2002 Simon didn’t have over 1,000 yards receiving.

The Lions, who finished first in the West, were 5-0 with Simon out of the lineup. Watching from the sidelines he saw young receivers like Shawn Gore, Nick Moore, Akeem Foster, Marco Iannuzzi and Ernest Jackson step up.

“Just looking around, my eyes were opened during the season,” Simon said. “Just the direction we were going.”

This isn’t the first time Buono has released a popular veteran. In the past quarterback Dave Dickenson, slotback Jason Clermont and offensive lineman Rob Murphy were shown the door. Just last week slotback Arland Bruce and cornerback Bryon Parker were trimmed off the roster. While in Calgary Buono cut slotback Allen Pitts.

Buono admitted parting with Simon was one of his most difficult decisions.

“When I got up this morning it felt like I was going to be going to a funeral,” he said.

In exchange for Simon the Lions get receiver Justin Harper and a third-round pick in the 2014 Canadian college draft. The 27-year-old Harper had nine catches for 95 yards last year.

Simon didn’t want his days in B.C. to end like this.

“Any time I think of myself in a professional football uniform I think of me being in orange and white,” he said. “But in order for me to play at the level I want to play, I feel I had to make this decision.”

Simon isn’t sure what role Saskatchewan has in mind for him.

“That’s the risk you take when you change,” he said. “Change can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. I was willing to take that risk.

“I know I’m going to be a receiver that plays at a high level. That’s all I can control. I am going to go in, I’m going to be in the best shape I can be in, I’m going to practise as hard as I can. I’m going to try and lead the best way I can. That’s all I can control.”

Prior to the speaking to the media Buono and Simon shook hands and posed for pictures. After, they walked to opposite sides of the room for interviews.

It’s obvious the two men still respect each other. They just are not on the same team any more.

“I have nothing but great feelings for this organization,” said Simon. “There is nothing negative I am going to take away from when I leave here.

“I’m going to prove I’m still an elite receiver in this league. It’s not a negative. It’s a positive.”