An era officially ended for Johnstown’s Geroy Simon and the British Columbia Lions on Thursday afternoon.
Simon, the Canadian Football League’s all-time leader in receiving yardage, is ready to begin a new chapter with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Lions traded the popular 37-year-old slot back to the Roughriders after Simon asked to explore his options with other teams rather than take on a diminished role in Vancouver.
Thursday was full of mixed emotions for Simon, a fan favorite in British Columbia who is so well known that his likeness appeared on a Canadian stamp last summer.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” said Simon, whose 15,787 receiving yards are the most in CFL history. “They have the best fans in the league. They sell out every game, around 33,000 fans.
“This decision is strictly about football. They are a football-crazy place. Imagine a place like Green Bay where there is nothing there but football. They’re a diehard organization, a diehard province. They love their CFL football and they love their Riders.”
Simon won two Grey Cup championships with British Columbia. A six-time CFL all-star, he was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player after the Lions won the Cup in 2006.
His is a household name in Vancouver, where Simon played 12 of his 14 CFL seasons.
“This has been the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Simon said. “The fans at BC have been the best fans for me anywhere I’ve ever been. They’ve always welcomed me with open arms and have been grateful for what I’ve done on and off the field. For me to leave, especially going to Saskatchewan, one of our hated rivals, it’s a tough decision.
“But when it comes down to the business side of football, you have to make the best business decision. That’s what the team was doing. I had to take the fans out of it. I had to take the feelings I had for my teammates and the organization out of it.
“I wasn’t willing to stand on the sidelines when I know I’m still the best receiver on this team.”
Simon broke Milt Stegall’s CFL receiving yards record in June to much build-up and hoopla. But as the season progressed, Simon was bothered by hamstring injuries that kept him out of five games.
The Johnstown High graduate had a reputation as an iron man who rarely was slowed by injuries until 2012. He finished with only 700 receiving yards in 13 games. By comparison, Simon had nine consecutive 1,000-receiving yards seasons through 2011.
Simon said he and the Lions talked about his future for much of the past two months.
Lions General Manager Wally Buono, who used to be the team’s head coach, spoke about the process during a Thursday media conference that was posted on the team’s website.
“When I got up this morning it felt like I was going to be going to a funeral,” Buono said. “In some ways I guess there is truth to all that.”
Simon said he had a sense his future with the Lions was uncertain following a one-on-one meeting with Buono after the season.
“I didn’t really ask for the trade,” Simon said.
“After our season, I didn’t have my best season because I got injured. The team wanted me to take a reduced role with a reduced salary. They wanted me to be a backup to the younger receivers. I didn’t accept what they offered me. They gave me permission to talk to other teams and seek another contract, thinking it wouldn’t happen.”
Instead, the Roughriders showed interest, and a deal eventually was worked out. The Roughriders gave up a 2014 third-round draft pick and wide receiver Justin Harper.
“Geroy and I have had a very special relationship and one of the things we’ve done in the last number of years is we’ve had a discussion at the end of the season on what Geroy’s role was going to be with the football club,” Buono said. “This year was no different. When Geroy approached me during the exit meetings that’s one of the things we discussed. At that time, to be as up front as can be, I told Geroy I do believe the situation has changed and we need to be able to sit down and go through that process to see what the next step is for all of us.”
While the break was as amicable as possible, Buono said the two parties “agreed to disagree.”
“As administrators we have to be honest with ourselves and we have to be honest with our decisions, and we have to be honest with going forward,” Buono said. “In fairness to Geroy, he has to also be fair to himself. He has to follow his instincts, follow his guts.
“You don’t become the greatest all-time CFL receiver because you don’t have belief in yourself. From that point of view we don’t agree. I think going forward let’s just say that we agreed to disagree. I have a tremendous amount of love for Geroy.”
Simon said he was willing to work with the Lions but eventually it became apparent his next stop was Saskatchewan.
“It wasn’t just about the money. It was about the opportunity to play and end my career the way I wanted to,” Simon said. “I didn’t want to be a guy who ended his career on the sidelines not playing.
“I gave them an opportunity to reduce my salary and make it best for both parties,” he added.
“When they started talking business I had to step back and let my agent handle it.”
Once the trade became official on Thursday afternoon, social media chatter tied to Simon, the Lions, Roughriders and CFL heated up.
Simon’s son Gervon, the former Johnstown High quarterback, tweeted “Congrats to my dad @geroysimon for getting traded to Saskatchewan! I hope the Roughriders nation likes Grey Cups!”
TSN commentator Dave Randorf tweeted, “All the best to one of the best @geroysimon in Regina. There is no denying the class and professionalism he brings to #Riders.”
British Columbia owner David Braley labeled it “a tough day letting Geroy Simon go,” noting the Johnstown native is “a class act on and off the field.”
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