Lions' 'best of the best' Simon left a legacy with younger teammates
Retired, all-time CFL leading receiver to be honoured at halftime of game vs. Bombers
METRO VANCOUVER - “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” U.S. army general Douglas MacArthur famously said, although he was not really speaking for himself.
MacArthur gave his farewell speech before the president, in a joint session of Congress, while directing his message to an audience of 30 million, in the early days of television.
New York city threw him the largest ticker-tape parade in its history. He didn’t exactly slink off silently into anonymity.
Geroy Simon’s send-off Friday night at half time of the B.C. Lions-Winnipeg Blue Bombers game won’t be quite as dramatic, though it has come about quickly.
In June, when the Canadian Football League’s all-time pass reception yards leader announced his retirement after 15 seasons, the Lions wondered about the propriety of honouring a player who spent 12 of those seasons as the face of their franchise, only to end up working for a rival team.
Thankfully, the relationship didn’t evolve into a long estrangement, similar to the frostiness between the Canucks and Pavel Bure that ended last year when his jersey was lifted to the rafters at Rogers Arena.
Unlike Bure, Simon never wanted to leave Vancouver.
The two thorniest questions facing an athlete when he finally retires -- what will I do next, how will I be remembered? -- have been answered in Simon’s case.
A large crowd at BC Place Stadium is expected to show its communal love for the man. And his life after football has begun, appropriately enough, in football -- as a scout and goodwill ambassador for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Indeed, Simon will be leaving soon to investigate National Football League camps and identify talent that could help defeat the team which now celebrates his career.
“I just can’t say enough good things about what he meant to us, what he meant to our organization,” said Lions head coach Mike Benevides, who spent a good deal of his pre-game news conference Thursday laying superlatives on Simon. “He’s a Hall of Famer, the best of the best.”
Going out, on centre stage, with the noise of the fans ringing in your ears, makes Simon that rare, luminous exception, as injured Lions defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell pointed out.
“Rarely do careers end like Geroy’s,” Mitchell said. “Even the good ones just kind of fade away. It’s guys like us who keep their memories alive.”
Mitchell won’t dress for Friday’s game because of a rib injury. The Lions will also be without punter Ricky Schmitt, who was injured in a minor vehicle accident. He’ll be replaced on the active roster by kick returner Tim Brown, with
veteran Paul McCallum handling all three kicking chores in Schmitt’s absence.
On Monday, Simon was presented with a framed certificate by Vancouver deputy mayor Kerry Jang, who proclaimed Friday to be “Geroy Simon Day.” His No. 81 jersey will be included among a select group of Lions players who’ve had their “honoured” numbers taken out of circulation -- Jim Young (30) Lui Passaglia (5), Al Wilson (52) and Brent Johnson (97), to name a few.
“To me, those numbers have been retired,” said equipment manager Ken (Kato) Kasuya. “I don’t know what they’re doing with Geroy’s number. Is it being retired? Is it going on the Wall of Fame? Me, personally, as long as I’m here, nobody’s getting 81. It’s just a respect factor.”
When the Lions announced on June 20 that there would be a special night for Simon, he made no secret of his next career goal, declaring, “I want to be a general manager within the next 10 years.”
He might even fulfill that vision, because he has a fine eye for talent, and he’s been sharpening that eye for a long time.
In 2009, when Andrew Harris was just a junior, Simon identified him as the best running back in training camp, even though the Lions thought Harris’s future in the pros probably would be as a receiver or safety.
That same year, when Manny Arceneaux was an unproven CFL rookie, Simon kept telling everybody the receiver from Alcorn State had the chops to play in the NFL.
“He was the guy in the spotlight, but he was always building up the guys around him,” said Arceneaux, named the CFL’s offensive player of the week.
“He was a superstar, and a young guy might be a little hesitant to approach him at first,” Harris added. “But he let me be in his back pocket and learn from him. He taught me a lot about the ins and out of the game and he understood my frustrations.”
Age and circumstance, as it does for even legendary players, caught up to Simon in the end. But in the stardust he bestowed upon young Lions such as Arceneaux and Harris, it’s as if his legacy never left.
THREE ‘GEROY’ THEMES
Davis Sanchez, retired CFL defensive back: “Geroy always made you feel like he was your friend. I’d call it the brother-in-law treatment, and it probably extended his career. Guys like Nik Lewis (Stampeders) who talk (bleep) to you all game, you just want to whack them. Geroy’s personality was so likable, on and off the field. You’d make a play on him and he’d laugh, slap you on the ass and say, ‘Nice tackle, nice play.’ He was not a (bleep) talker. You’d never want to hurt a guy like that. Then, on the next play, he’d blow by you with that silky smooth stride of his. He was deceptive. ”
Steve Daniel, CFL chief statistician: “I most enjoyed his 63 career 100-yard games (Allen Pitts holds the record with 64) and getting to 1,000 receptions (Simon finished with 1,029). That is really elite company to me. His multiple 200-yard games (three), that is also rare. For me, though, there’s no one instance in Geroy’s career that stands out above the others, and maybe that’s the highest compliment you can pay. He was so consistent that, despite aggressive coverage, he always found ways to make it happen. The very best aspect, from my point of view, is that it was a blessing to be the CFL’s stats guy in his time.”
ON THE CUTTING EDGE
Chris Boyko, strength and conditioning coach: “Geroy hired me to be his personal trainer in 2005, and in those days it wasn’t common for someone to have one. Even back then, when he was at the height of his career, he went out of his way to find something that would take him to a higher level. He was a bit ahead of his time, trying to stay ahead of everything, of everyone. He’d research new training methods. He always said the difference between being good and being great are the little things. Talent can only take you so far. Then you have to add hard work and determination and desire.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
NICK MOORE, WINNIPEG
The Lions’ leading receiver last season, Moore followed the money to Winnipeg when CFL free agency began in February. The move also reunited him with QB Drew Willy, who was acquired in a trade with Saskatchewan. Moore and Willy, both 28 this year, trained together before the 2009 NFL draft and kept in touch after their careers moved from NFL practice rosters to the CFL. “We’re on the same page with a lot of different things,” Willy said. The good karma has seen Moore emerge as the team’s leading receiver, with 15 catches for 221 yards.
ANDREW HARRIS, B.C.
Harris is off to an explosive start reminiscent of July 2012 when he led the CFL in yards from scrimmage and talk of a shocking double — 1,000 yards rushing, 1,000 receiving — was in the air. He rushed for a career-best 1,112 yards that year, but fell short on the receiving end (718). Now he is on pace again in 2014 and gathering momentum. Harris leads the CFL with 518 yards on 63 touches (48 carries, 15 receptions), with 41 of those touches coming in the past two games. He has back-to-back games of 150 and 232 yards.
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