VANCOUVER - Jim Popp calls Geroy Simon “a landmark” in the Canadian Football League. But landmarks can be moved.
Just ask the London Bridge, which was built in 1831 to span the River Thames and now sits in splendid retirement in Lake
Havasu City, Ariz.
In a figurative sense, the bridge between Simon and the B.C.Lions now sits over troubled waters.
Popp, the general manager of the Montreal Alouettes, is aware of reports that the CFL’s all-time reception yards leader is being “shopped” by his Lions counterpart, Wally Buono, because the parties can’t agree on a restructured, i.e. lower contract.
Popp agreed to sign two veteran Lions, Arland Bruce and Byron Parker, almost within hours after their release last Friday, but the Montreal GM said Wednesday he’s had no discussions with Buono about Simon, though he’s not dismissing the idea of trading places entirely.
“It comes down to your situation, and whether the player can be the right fit,” Popp said. “I’d only be interested at the right price.”
“Shopped” is not exactly the plan Buono has in mind, however. He maintains there is the potential for a trade “but it’s the worst of all scenarios” -- that, and the possibility of Simon’s outright release.
“We’ve discussed a number of scenarios -- status quo or the potential for a different role are two others,” Buono said. “We can’t come to an agreement for his role in this organization at this time, and I respect Geroy’s decision, whether we agree with him or not. Usually it’s the club which decides if a player will be moved. But you have to treat Geroy different, a little special. We’re going to be criticized, damned if we do, damned if we don’t, whatever way it goes. A passionate fan never wants to see a player like Geroy leave. But the fan base also has to have confidence in the people making decisions for the right reasons.”
Popp’s admiration for what Simon has accomplished in his CFL career is second to none. “He’s a landmark . . . a great ambassador for our league, and a phenomenal player,” he said. And yet, Popp understands what Buono is going through, trying to build a team for the future, managing the salary cap and massaging the ego of a prideful, 37-year-old veteran who has represented the face of the franchise for the past decade.
Popp experienced it in Montreal with running back Mike Pringle, who fought through nagging injuries and a public feud with head coach Don Matthews in his final season with the Alouettes. Popp wanted Pringle to retire as an Alouette, but the player had other ideas.
Like Emmitt Smith, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice or any number of football legends you can name, Pringle ended his career with another team -- in his case, the Edmonton Eskimos -- even though his name is inextricably linked to Montreal. Pringle hung up his cleats in 2004 as the CFL’s all-time leading rusher. The Alouettes retired his jersey a year later.
“It’s very hard. It’s one of the hardest things you ever have to do as a general manager,” Popp said. “It’s one of those situations you hope, in some way, will take care of itself, with the player walking in the door and saying, ‘I’m retiring.’ Certain players you were willing to pay at one time you’re not willing to pay as much at another. It’s not a question of respect; it’s business. When players move on to become coaches or managers they gain the understanding that it’s not personal.
“We never wanted to see Mike (Pringle) in another uniform,” Popp added. “It bothered us as an organization, it bothers our owner, and it still bothers me. Unfortunately, it’s one of those situations where you have to make a tough decision, so your team can move forward. You can’t keep everybody.”
Hamilton Tiger-Cats GM Bob O’Billovich went through a similar experience in the 1980s in Toronto with quarterback Condredge Holloway, a most outstanding player award winner (1982) who helped bring the Argos their first Grey Cup in 31 years. Eventually, O’Billovich was forced to release him, Holloway ended his career in B.C., and the Hamilton GM still talks, decades later, of the anguish it caused him because of his great personal respect for the man.
“It always comes down to that -- the decision between an experienced guy and a young guy who’s ready for success,” O’Billovich said. “Knowing Wally as I do, and how much he respects Geroy and all he’s done for him, he’s going to try and make it fit. But every fit has a financial implication. The fans, the media, teammates -- they all have an opinion. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do what’s best for the team and the organization. It’s tough.”
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B.C. Lions slotback Geroy Simon is tackled by Saskatchewan Roughriders cornerback Woodny Turenne during the second half of CFL football action in Regina, Sask., Saturday, July 14, 2012. The Riders defeated the Lions 23-20.
Photograph by: Liam Richards, CANADIAN PRESS