September 13, 2017

HOF Profile: Simon spoke on the field and off

The Canadian Press

Travis Lulay remembers each loss and the increasingly deep hole that he and the BC Lions were falling into in the opening weeks of the 2011 season.

There was a four-point loss to Montreal in Week 1; a two-point loss to Calgary in Week 2; losses to Edmonton and Hamilton followed, and were topped by a 25-20 loss to Winnipeg. The Lions were 0-5 and the clouds that habitually hang over Vancouver grew darker, seemingly focused solely on its football team.

A first-year full-time starter at the time, Lulay remembers the voices of the team’s leaders. They never wavered, he said, especially the voice of Geroy Simon.

“I can remember the tone with which he used to speak to the team,” Lulay said. “It was a confident tone and it was never a panicked tone. It wasn’t a start-pointing-fingers type of tone, but it was a very honest, direct, confident tone. It made us believe that we could just be better.

“I think he, along with the other veterans on that team and the coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround that year. That’s the biggest thing. I just remember his demeanour not changing, not wavering in the face of pretty heavy adversity, being 0-5.”


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Geroy Simon seen here in March in Regina moments after being announced that he would enter the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2017.


Simon, Lulay and the Lions bought in, went 11-2 the rest of the season and stormed through the playoffs that year to capture the 99th Grey Cup. It was Simon’s second Grey Cup with the Lions and before he’d retire in 2013, he’d win one more as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He left the game an undisputed winner and as the league’s all-time leader in receiving yards, with 16,352, and career receptions, with 1,029 (He was passed in receptions on Aug. 24 by Montreal’s Nik Lewis). Simon, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2006, enters the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Sept. 15.

Simon’s individual accomplishments run on and on through a 15-year career. As a team, that 2011 Grey Cup-winning squad penned a story that no other team in CFL history has been able to write.

“In 2011 it was pretty funny because we knew we had the talent,” Simon said. “When we started out so slow it was a shock to everybody because we felt we had the ability to be an elite team.

“The one thing about that season was we never panicked (as players). We never panicked as an organization. Wally (Buono) told us that we have the ability to turn it around and we ended up doing that based on his leadership and belief in us.”

Simon’s CFL career started in Winnipeg, where he played the 1999 and 2000 seasons. When Buono came to BC as the head coach and GM in 2003, Simon’s career took off.

“We made him our feature receiver in the offence we run,” Buono said. “With his production, with his rise to stardom, his presence in the locker room, his presence on the practice field, his presence in the game became much more highlighted.

“People have certain leadership skills and certain intangibles and they have to be given the opportunity to be brought out, which Geroy (received).”

When Simon first put on the Lions’ orange and black uniform he didn’t envision a hall of fame career, even if Buono was going to make sure he got the ball.

“I’m trying to use those same lessons I learned as a player in the position I’m in now. I’m content, I’m happy with my career and I was able to move forward without any regrets.”

– Hall of Famer Geroy Simon

“I just wanted to come in and make an impact and help my team win. I can’t say that being in the hall of fame was a goal but it’s something that’s truly special,” he said. “It’s like the cherry on top after having a great career.”

For nine years (2003-2011), Simon stayed above the 1,000-plus-yard mark and averaged 1,457 yards per season. His Superman touchdown pose became iconic in the league and the salt in an open six-point wound for opposing defences.

“I’ve made him do it a few times,” Buono said, laughing about the pose. “I’m cool with all that, as long as they don’t get fined. I know after he (was announced as a hall of fame inductee in March), people asked him to do it. He’s done it for the team when we had training camp. It’s part of his aura and the guys get a big kick out of it and it’s fun.”

Simon heads into the Hall of Fame fully content with his playing career; a distinction few athletes get to enjoy when they hang up their cleats.

“I think that I played as long as I played because I knew I wanted to get every ounce of ability out of my body and I did that,” he said. “When people ask me if I miss playing I instantly say no because I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish, as far as being a player.

“I’m trying to use those same lessons I learned as a player in the position I’m in now. I’m content, I’m happy with my career and I was able to move forward without any regrets.”

As Buono watched Simon grow into a leader on his team and establish himself as the top receiver in the league for almost a decade, he was most impressed by how Simon handled it all.

“A lot of people get notoriety and they kind of forget who they are and become someone you don’t know,” Buono said.

“Success does two things: It either makes you better or makes you worse. I think success made Geroy better because it didn’t change who he was and how he interacted with people, players. Did Geroy know he was good? Yes. But he never flaunted that in your face.

“Too often I’ve seen the opposite. A guy has one year of success and you can’t talk to him. He has one good game and you can’t talk to him. To me, Geroy is a guy who in my mind is in the top-two of the greatest receivers that I’ve ever coached, with Allen Pitts (CFHOF class of 2006). To me, his persona grows but who he is doesn’t change.”